Royal Ulster Rifles
Thomas Shaw June 1899 – 2 March 2002
Shaw was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in June 1899. He first enlisted as a rifleman at 15 in 1914 and went into battle, but was sent home after his brother, a military policeman, met him by chance while in France. In 1916 he joined the 16th battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles and fought in battles such as Messines and Passchendaele. He stayed in Germany as part of the Army of Occupation for six months after the war ended and returned home in April 1919.
During World War II he was in charge of meat rations in Belfast. In 1942, he married his girlfriend Nell; they spent the last 12 years living at sheltered accommodation in Savoy, Bangor, County Down. He died on 2 March 2002 at the age of 102 and was buried in Clandeboye cemetery in Bangor.
A plaque in honour of Thomas Shaw was put up at the front door of the Savoy in Bangor on 4 August 2014
Royal Ulster Rifles
D Company, Eighteenth Platoon, 2nd Battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles
The Royal Irish Rifles (became the Royal Ulster Rifles from 1 January 1921) was an infantry rifle regiment of the British Army, first created in 1881 by the amalgamation of the 83rd (County of Dublin) Regiment of Foot and the 86th (Royal County Down) Regiment of Foot. The regiment saw service in the Second Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War.
In 1968 the Royal Ulster Rifles was amalgamated with the other regiments of the North Irish Brigade, the Royal Irish Fusiliers (Princess Victoria’s) and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers to create the Royal Irish Rangers. However, in 1992, the Royal Irish Rangers was later merged with the Ulster Defence Regiment to form the Royal Irish Regiment.
Royal Ulster Rifles – 1954
|Size||1-2 Regular battalions|
3 Militia and Special Reserve battalions
Up to 16 Hostilities-only battalions
|Garrison/HQ||RHQ – Victoria Barracks, Belfast (1881-1937)|
St Patrick’s Barracks, Ballymena (1937-1968)
|Nickname(s)||The Stickies, The Rifles|
|Motto||Quis Separabit (Who shall separate us [from the love of Christ]) (Latin)|
|Colours||None as a rifle regiment|
|March||Quick: “The Ulster Rifles march ‘Off, Off, Said the Stranger'”
Slow: “The South Down Militia”
|Engagements||Badajoz, Jhansi, Somme, Normandy Landings, Rhine Crossing, Korea
The regiment’s history dates backs to the reign of King George III. In 1793 the British army expanded to meet the commitments of the war with the French First Republic. As part of that expansion it raised two new regiments of foot, the 83rd and the 86th. At the same time the counties Antrim, Down and Louth regiments of militia were raised.
In 1881, under the Childers Reforms, the 83rd and 86th were amalgamated into a single regiment, named the Royal Irish Rifles, one of eight infantry regiments raised and garrisoned in Ireland. It was the county regiment of Antrim, Down, Belfast and Louth, with its depot located at Belfast. Militarily, the whole of Ireland was administered as a single command within the United Kingdom with Command Headquarters at Parkgate (Phoenix Park) Dublin, directly under the War Office in London.
South African War 1899–1902
Also known as the Second Boer War.
In October 1905, a memorial was erected in the grounds of Belfast City Hall in memory of the 132 who did not return. Field Marshal Lord Grenfell unveiled the memorial while the Times reported the event.
First World War
The regiment provided battalions to all three Irish infantry divisions of the Great War: 10th (Irish), 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster). Members of the Ulster Volunteers, Young Citizen Volunteers (and national Volunteers served in all three divisions with the majority of the first two named in 36th (Ulster) Infantry Division. In addition, the 7th Battalion became home to a company of the Royal Jersey Militia, sometimes known as the Jersey Pals.
The Royal Irish Rifles lost 25,000 officers and men throughout the Great War, with over 7,000 of them being killed in action.
Between the world wars
After the Great War the War Office decided that Ulster should be represented on the Army List as Connaught, Leinster and Munster already had their own regiments and so, in 1920, a new name was proposed for the Royal Irish Rifles. From 1 January 1921 the regiment became the Royal Ulster Rifles.
Despite the change of name, the Regiment continued to accept recruits from the rest of Ireland; for example, almost 50% of personnel in the 1st Battalion who arrived in Korea in 1950 were Irish nationals.
In 1937 the already close relationship with the London Irish Rifles was formally recognised when they were incorporated into the Corps while still retaining their regimental identity as a territorial battalion. Two years later the London Irish formed a second battalion.
Second World War
When war was declared the 1st Battalion was serving in India, with the 31st Independent Brigade Group, which was trained in mountain warfare. When the brigade returned to the United Kingdom, it was decided that, with its light scale of equipment, the brigade could be converted into a glider-borne unit. 31st Infantry Brigade, which also included the 1st Border Regiment, 2nd South Staffs and 2nd Ox and Bucks, was renamed 1st Airlanding Brigade and trained as glider infantry.
They were assigned to the 1st Airborne Division, part of the British Army’s airborne forces. The battalion, along with the 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, were later transferred to join the 12th Devonshire Regiment in the 6th Airlanding Brigade as part of the newly raised 6th Airborne Division which was actually only the second of two airborne divisions created by the British Army in World War II.
Carried in Horsa gliders, the battalion took part in Operation Mallard, the British glider-borne landings in the later afternoon of 6 June 1944, otherwise known as D-Day. They served throughout the Battle of Normandy employed as normal infantry until August 1944 and the breakout from the Normandy beachhead where the entire 6th Airborne Division advanced 45 miles in 9 days. They returned to England in September 1944 for rest and retraining until December 1944 when the 6th Airborne was then recalled to Belgium after the surprise German offensive in the Ardennes which is now known as the Battle of the Bulge where the division played a comparatively small role in the mainly-American battle.
They then took part in their final airborne mission of the war known as Operation Varsity, which was the airborne element of Operation Plunder, the crossing of the River Rhine by the 21st Army Group in March 1945. The 6th Airborne was joined by the US 17th Airborne Division, and both divisions suffered heavy casualties.
The 2nd Battalion was part of the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division serving with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France from 1939-1940. The division was commanded by the then Major General Bernard Montgomery who would eventually lead the Anglo-Canadian forces as commander of the 21st Army Group in the North West Europe Campaign. The 3rd Infantry Division took part in the Battle of Dunkirk, where it gained a decent reputation and earned the nickname of ^Monty’s Ironsides^, and had to be evacuated from Dunkirk with the rest of the BEF.
The battalion returned to Europe for the D-Day landings in June 1944 and fought in the Battle of Normandy, specifically in Operation Charnwood where they were the first British troops to enter the city of Caen, which had previously seen bitter fighting in the British attempt to capture it. The battalion later fought in Belgium, Holland and Germany
The 6th (Home Defence) Battalion was raised in 1939 from No. 200 Group National Defence Companies and consisting of older men with previous military experience who were unfit for active service. On 24 December 1940 the battalion was redesignated as the 30th Battalion, dropping the Home Defence from its title, and converted to a regular infantry battalion. It was disbanded in Northern Ireland in May 1943.
The 7th (Home Defence) Battalion was raised on 29 June 1940, joining the 215th Independent Infantry Brigade (Home). The battalion served in Ulster until leaving for the United Kingdom in September 1942. On 24 December 1941, the battalion was redesignated the 31st Battalion and dropped the Home Defence title.
The 8th Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles was also raised in 1940, and joined 203rd Independent Infantry Brigade (Home). In early 1942 the battalion was transferred to the Royal Artillery and converted into the 117th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. The regiment served with Home Forces until November 1942 when it was sent overseas to North Africa to fight in the final stages of the North African Campaign as part of the British First Army.
In September 1943 the regiment landed in Italy shortly after the initial invasion, now as part of the British Eighth Army, and served on the Italian Front until June 1944, when the regiment was broken up and the men were retrained as infantrymen, due to a severe shortage of infantrymen, particularly in Italy. Many of the men retrained were sent to the 2nd, 7th and 10th battalions of the Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own), another rifle regiment, in 61st Lorried Infantry Brigade, 6th Armoured Division.
The 70th (Young Soldiers) Battalion was formed on 12 September 1940 at Holywood from the younger soldiers of the 6th and 7th battalions and volunteers of the ages of 18 and 19 who were too young for conscription. The battalion spent most of its time guarding airfields and aerodromes before moving to the United Kingdom in October 1941.
The Royal Ulster Rifles had the unique distinction of being the only infantry regiment of the British Army to have both of its regular battalions involved in the Normandy landings.
After World War II
In 1947 the Royal Ulster Rifles were grouped with the other two remaining Irish regiments, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Fusiliers, into the North Irish Brigade. A year later, the regiment formed a pipe band, wearing saffron kilts and playing Irish Warpipes. In the same year, in 1948, the 2nd Battalion was amalgamated with the 1st Battalion to form the 1st Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles (83rd and 86th), thus retaining the history of both of the previous regiments of foot. This happened throughout the British Army in 1948 after India gained its independence.
The 1st Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles disembarked at Pusan in early November as part of the 29th Independent Infantry Brigade Group. They were transported forward to Uijongbu, where under the direct command of the Eighth United States Army they were directed against guerrilla forces swept past by the rapid progress of the United Nations Army.
By mid December a defensive line was being prepared on the south bank of the River Han on the border with North Korea. protecting the approach to Seoul, the capital of South Korea. As the New Year started, the Fiftieth Chinese Communist Army engaged the United Nations troops focusing on 29 Brigade, who were dispersed over a very wide front (12 miles). The Rifles fighting with 1st Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers were able to hold their position in their first major action at the Battle of Chaegunghyon and the Communist Army’s progress was halted, at least temporarily.
The Chinese Fifth Phase Campaign or the Battle of the Imjin River began on 22 April with the goal of taking Seoul. By 25 April, the Brigade was ordered to withdraw as the Communist forces were threatening to encircle it. With virtually no cover and seriously outnumbered, the Rifles came under heavy fire as they withdrew to a blocking position. The Brigade was able to hold its position, despite fierce fighting, and neutralized the effectiveness of the Sixty-fourth Chinese Communist Army. Although the enemy’s offensive had come within 5 miles of Seoul, the capital had been saved.
At the time, the Times reported the Battle of Imjin concluding with:
The fighting 5th wearing St George and the Dragon and the Irish Giants with the Harp and Crown have histories that they would exchange with no one. As pride, sobered by mourning for fallen observes how well these young men have acquitted themselves in remotest Asia. The parts taken by the regiments may be seen as a whole. The motto of the Royal Ulster Rifles may have the last word Quis Separabit. (Who shall separate us)
As a result of this action, members of the Rifles were awarded 2 Distinguished Service Orders, 2 Military Crosses, 2 Military Medals, and 3 men were Mentioned in Despatches. When the area was recaptured, a memorial was erected to the 208 men killed or missing after the battle. It stood over-looking the battlefield till 1962 when Seoul’s growth threatened to consume it, and it was carried by HMS Belfast back to Ireland where it was the focusof the Regiment’s St Patrick’s Barracks in Ballymena. When the barracks closed in 2008,[ the Imjin River Memorial was again moved, this time to the grounds of the Belfast City Hall.
In 1968 the Royal Ulster Rifles amalgamated with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Fusiliers to form the Royal Irish Rangers (27th (Inniskilling), 83rd and 87th). A further amalgamation took place with the Ulster Defence Regiment in 1992 to form the Royal Irish Regiment (27th Inniskilling, 83rd, 87th and the Ulster Defence Regiment).
Veterans of the Royal Ulster Rifles in Northern Ireland remain few, as only around four veterans are known to be still alive today in Northern Ireland. However, many of them are still widely involved today, as several of them have participated in the annual Korea Day in Northern Ireland, along with three of them travelling to South Korea on the Revisit Program in April 2013 in association with the Somme Association to visit the sites of Battles like the Battle of the Imjin River, with the help of current serving Army officers in Northern Ireland. The legacy of these veterans is still alive today, as one of the dedicated veterans’ grandson travelled to Seoul, South Korea to attend a United Nations Youth Peace Camp in Seoul with 16 other delegations in July 2014, to learn about the sacrifice their grandparents had made to themselves and their country, and the Republic of Korea 60 years ago.
Recipients of the Victoria Cross:
- Lieutenant H. S. Cochrane, 86th (Royal County Down) Regiment of Foot, Betwa, India, April 1858
- Lieutenant H. E. Jerome, 86th (Royal County Down) Regiment of Foot, Jhansi, India, April 1858
- Private James Byrne, 86th (Royal County Down) Regiment of Foot, Jhansi, India, April 1858
- Private James Pearson, 86th (Royal County Down) Regiment of Foot, Jhansi, India, April 1858
- Rifleman William Frederick McFadzean. 14th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. 1916. Thiepval.
- Rifleman Robert Quigg. 12th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. 1916. Hamel, Somme.
- Second Lieutenant Edmund De Wind. 15th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. 1918. Grugies, France.
Visit the Royal Ulster Rifles Museum