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SAMUEL IRWIN, Royal Engineers, in the Great War

SAMUEL IRWIN, Royal Engineers, in the Great War

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Published by Nebukadnezza
The illustrated story of Samuel Irwin, an Irishman from Co. Monaghan, who in February 1915 volunteered to serve in the Royal Engineers for the duration of the First World War, and the special medal he was awarded in 1919.
The illustrated story of Samuel Irwin, an Irishman from Co. Monaghan, who in February 1915 volunteered to serve in the Royal Engineers for the duration of the First World War, and the special medal he was awarded in 1919.

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Published by: Nebukadnezza on Aug 22, 2013
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Sapper
Samuel Irwin
, MSM,Royal Engineers,
in the Great War
 
 
64219 Sapper SAMUEL IRWIN, MSM, Royal Engineers
 
Samuel served in 121
st
Field Company, Royal Engineers, 36 (Ulster) Division, during the First World War He was born in 1885, the elder son of Francis and Jane Irwin (née McMinn) of Cumry House, Ballybay,Co. Monaghan, Ireland. See pages 3, 13-15 at 
 In January 1919, two months after the Armistice which ended the four long years of the First World War,
Samuel Irwin
received the 
 . It was for distinguished service with the Royal
Engineer’s Field Company in which he served continuously on the Western Front from 7
February 1916when 36 (Ulster) Division took over their first sector of the front line, which was followed on 1
st
July by the battle of 
Albert
(part of the Somme offensive in which the British lost 60,000 men on the first day), until hewas wounded near 
Courtrai 
on 20
th
October 1918, just 22 days before the end of the war. Over this periodthe Company fought in nine major operations or full scale battles in France and Belgium (they are named in
red
in this text and on the time-line below with their dates).
A sketch map of the Front is on the last page.
 The MSM was instituted only for Army non-commissioned officers in 1845, and this was extended to
 private soldiers in 1916. It is clear from the record that Samuel’s service was quite exceptional if only
 judged on his survival under the conditions and pressures of the Western Front over more than years.Following the leave he was given after the death of his father in 1916, we found only one record of histaking home leave
 – 
a mere ten days in October 1917. Very soon after his return then, he was engaged in theBritish attack at
Cambrai
, a battle which for him continued day and night for two weeks, and endedinconclusively with heavy casualties on both sides. Thus it was that Samuel was chosen for this specialaward from among the thousand or more NCOs and men who had served during the war in the two RoyalEngineer Field Companies, each established with over 200 men, who remained as Divisional troops of the36 (Ulster) Division throughout their time on the Western Front.
Meritorious Service Medal
Instituted in 1845 for distinguished or gallant service by non-commissioned officers of the British Army. Private soldiersonly became eligible in 1916. Sapper Samuel Irwin received the award in January 1919 for his distinguished war service
 The role of 
Royal Engineers
in the field is to help the Army to survive and fight. So in 1914 their tasksincluded a whole range from preparing defences such as the trenches, gun emplacements, dug-outs, barbedwire, which were such a feature of the Western Front, to creating obstacles to enemy movement withexplosives, laying minefields and booby traps, while also detecting and clearing enemy mines, removingobstacles to our own movement by bridging rivers and the quagmires in no-
man’s
-land, building roads,clearing routes for resupply and laying railway and telephone lines. Samuel would have been trained toundertake many of these tasks. A record of 12 April 1917 shows he was raised to the highest rate of pay for his rank 
 – 
on the basis of qualifications and performance. Other records are lacking but from the War Diaries it is clear, for instance, that his whole Field Company was employed in the tunnelling and laying of explosives in the months before the storming of the
Messines
Ridge in June 1917 when 19 large detonations(totalling 600 tons of explosive) were detonated simultaneously under the enemy front line trenches as theattack went in. As General Herbert Plumer said to his staff the evening before the attack: "
Gentlemen, wemay not make history tomorrow, but we shall certainly change the geography
." See bottom of next page.
 
TIME-LINE
Sapper Samuel Irwin, MSM, 121
st
Field Company RE, 36 (Ulster) Division
1915
8 Feb Attested at Cavan, Ireland, as a carpenter. Had worked for his father, Francis (1847-1916)a coach builder. Joined
121
st
Field Company, Royal Engineers
, in 36 (Ulster) Division.Samuel, then aged 30, claimed some previous military service (details unreadable).July
36 (Ulster) Division
moved to Sleaford, Sussex. Inspected by Gen Kitchener 27 July.3-6 Oct Moved to France 10 miles north of 
Arras
. Nov Moved to
Abbeville
where 36 Div spent the winter in reserve, attached to 4 Div (regular Army) for trench warfare training on a (then) quiet part of the front near 
Albert
from5 Nov 1915 to 3 Feb 1916.-----------------------
1916
7 Feb 36 Div took over a complete sector of the front near 
Albert
on the River Ancre, 15 milesnorth-east of 
Amiens
on the Somme.1-13 Jul 
Albert
was part of the
Somme Offensive
: 36 Div (with 9 Battalions) attacked the SchwabenRedoubt just north of 
Thiepval
achieving all their objectives but with very heavy losses. Dueto neighbouring Divisions failing to achieve their own objectives,
36 Div’s flanks were left
 exposed to a full German counter attack which came in after dark and forced the Ulstermen towithdraw. Four Victoria Crosses were awarded to men in the Division.July- Aug 36 Div, regrouped and reinforced, move 50 miles north to
Flanders
west of the Belgian border to be joined there by the 16
th
(Irish) Division, both becoming part of the BritishSecond Army under General Plumer, already planning for the
Messines
operation.-----------------------
1917
8 Feb Samuel “Awarded 1
st
 
Gb Badge”
(trade qualification)12 Apr 
Samuel “Raised to the superior rate of Engineer Pay
...
(increase in trade pay)Apr-Jun 121
st
 
Company tunnelling at ‘Bus Farm’ to lay explosives for the
Messines
attack. In all theEngineers and Tunnelling Companies dug 19 tunnels totalling 9000 yards to place a total of 600 tons of explosives under the enemy trenches. Preliminary artillery bombardment of German positions was started on 21 May and continued until H Hour for the attack at 0310hours 7 June when the resulting explosions could be heard by Lloyd George in London.7-14 Jun 
Messines
w
as meticulously planned and prepared over a long period by Plumer’s staff who
 corrected many of the mistakes made during the Somme Offensive of 1916. Apart from the19 initial explosions, the shock of which had a major effect on the enemy, tanks and gas werealso used in support of the infantry. Surprise and almost complete success were achieveddespite an enemy counter attack on 8 June. By 14 June the entire
Messines
salient was inallied hands.
Troops view a mock-up of the ground over Another part of the pre-battle briefingwhich they will be fighting at Messines

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