Private Norman Thornton Fielding (aged 19) of the 2nd Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment (near Liscarroll)
Date of incident: 26 April 1921 (executed as intelligence operative by IRA)
Sources: CE, 27, 28, 30 April 1921; FJ, 28 April 1921; CC, 27 April, 21 May 1921; Patrick O’Brien’s WS 764, 40; Denny Mullane’s WS 789, 26 (BMH); Sheehan (2011), 157; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014); Commonwealth War Graves Commission; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/list-1921.html; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/fielding/fielding.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014).
Note: British soldier Fielding, stationed at Buttevant Military Barracks, was out walking near Freemount when he was captured and abducted by the IRA. His body was found one mile west of Buffers Cross on the Liscarroll-Buttevent road. According to one report, he had eight bullet wounds in his body, seven of them in the back and one in the neck. The members of Sterling’s regiment were outraged by the manner of his death. The regimental journal captured their sense of outrage: ‘The murder of Pte. Fielding was one of the foulest crimes in the particularly foul record of the IRA; the poor lad was walking alone and was absolutely unarmed when he met his death.’ Quoted in Sheehan (2011), 157.
British forces carried out ‘official’ reprisals for this killing by bombing and destroying the farmhouses of Mrs Mary O’Brien of Knockardbane and Patrick Regan of Rockspring in the Liscarroll district. Three of Mrs O’Brien’s sons were in prison and two others were on the run. (Aged about 60 in 1921, she was the widowed mother of eight adult children.) Patrick Regan was the father of as many as ten children. ‘Much sympathy’ was reportedly ‘felt for the victims in their terrible plight’. See CE, 30 April 1921.
Patrick O’Brien, Vice O/C of the Charleville Battalion of the Cork No. 2 Brigade, later claimed (without mentioning his name) that Fielding had been executed as an intelligence operative pretending to be a deserter: ‘About this time the enemy resorted to a trick of sending out men as alleged deserters, and this was done on a few occasions from Buttevant barracks. On the first occasion a supposed deserter was held up in Liscarroll Company area, where he was held for a few days and afterwards allowed to move on. It was found that he had returned immediately and was actually with a raiding party that raided some of the houses in which he had been kept a prisoner. The [Charleville] Battalion O.C. and myself decided that this should stop, and about a week later—about mid-April—another supposed deserter, who had moved out about ten miles from Buttevant, was captured in the Freemount area. This man was questioned, and it was felt that he was more on intelligence than as a deserter, so it was decided to take drastic action with him. He was taken back and shot within a few miles of Buttevant. This undoubtedly had the effect of rousing the tempers of the enemy, but it also had the effect of stopping any soldiers posing as deserters. As a reprisal for the shooting of the supposed deserter, my own home [at Knockardbane] and the home of the company captain of Liscarroll were both blown up by explosives.’ See Patrick O’Brien’s WS 764, 40 (BMH).
Denny Mullane, formerly captain of the Freemount Company of the Newmarket Battalion of the Cork No. 2 Brigade, gave the most detailed account of this incident: ‘On the 25th April, 1921, a British soldier, who gave his name as Private Fielding, and who posed as a deserter from Buttevant Barracks, was captured by Denny Noonan, who was in charge of a party of three, namely, Mick Collins, Con Browne, and Jack Sheahan. He was tried by court martial and executed as a spy in the Charleville Battalion area. Later, I learned from the regiment’s official ‘Lily White Magazine’ that he was a high ranking, highly efficient intelligence officer. No more would-be deserters visited the area.’ See Denny Mullane’s WS 789, 26 (BMH).
Fielding was probably not a deserter; he was interred in his native Blackburn with full military honours: ‘The coffin, covered with the Union Jack, was conveyed on a gun carriage drawn by a team of six horses, [with] a detachment of twenty officers and men of the East Lancashire Regiment from Preston following on foot.’ But why he had taken such risks is unclear. As the grandson of another soldier then stationed at Buttevant later remarked, ‘What this young man was doing walking alone in one of the most dangerous areas in Ireland at the time remains a mystery. Fielding must have known of the dangers of being out of barracks alone. Indeed, a month earlier, an army convoy was trapped in a well prepared ambush, and four soldiers, including a general and two East Lancashire soldiers, Private Turner and Private Walker, were killed.’ See http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/list-1921.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014).