Easter Rising and The Sherwood Foresters

Sacknville Street after Easter uprising
Sackville Street after the Easter Uprising

By Rosemary Collins, 4th April, 2016

The Easter Rising 1916 centenary commemorations in Dublin took place on Easter Monday 2016. During the three hour parade and ceremony, prayers of remembrance outside the Post Office expressed Ireland’s wish for peace and reconciliation. The Irish president laid a wreath ‘in honour of all those who died’. On April 3rd 2016, the names of those killed in the Easter Rising were unveiled at Glasnevin cemetery where they are now engraved on black granite slabs. The names include rebels, civilians and British soldiers. John Green, chair of the Glasnevin Trust, said the wall reflected modern Ireland:

Behind each and everyone of these lost lives is a story of heartbreak, no matter what side the person served on or indeed for those innocently caught up in the conflict. One hundred years on we believe this memorial reflects the time we live in, with the overwhelming majority of the Irish people wishing to live in peace and in reconciliation.

The Easter Rising was a Republican rebellion aimed at ending British rule in Ireland and establishing independence. The British government had already passed a Home Rule Act in September 1914 to come into force after the war was over. Most Irish nationalists appeared to support suspending the battle for autonomy until the cessation of hostilities. John Redmond for instance, the leader of the Irish Nationalist Party, called for nationalists to enlist in 1914. However, a significant minority saw the war as an opportunity to gain independence. Arrangements were made for an uprising. The rebels’ plans for smuggling German weapons into Ireland in aid of their cause were instigated by Sir Roger Casement. The German ship Libau/Aud landed in Tralee Bay on April 20th 1916 with a cargo of around 20,000 rifles, a million rounds of ammunition and ten machine guns. For a variety of reasons, the attempted transfer of weapons did not take place and the Libau was trapped by a blockade of British ships. The rebels’ involvement with Germany, regarded by the British authorities as an act of treachery, was a factor in the way they were dealt with after the rising.

Rebellion

The uprising began on Easter Monday, April 24th. The republicans attacked key buildings in Dublin, captured the General Post Office and declared a republic. Patrick Pearse read out a proclamation of independence on the steps of the building. Although they had no democratic mandate for their actions, they hoped the rebellion would trigger an uprising across Ireland. Fierce fighting in Dublin continued for six days until the authorities regained control; incidents in support outside the city remained limited.

Involvement of British Army

The British authorities responded initially by protecting strategic positions such as Dublin Castle, the seat of government. The third reserve cavalry brigade, Royal Irish Rifles and Royal Dublin Fusiliers were brought to the city  immediately from the Curragh. Reinforcements were needed before the Army could go on the offensive. Orders were given for the 178th Brigade of the 59th (2nd North Midland) Division to entrain to Liverpool and sail for Ireland on April 25th; in the rush some men were left behind including the Lewis Gun section. A third of the twelve infantry battalions sent to Ireland were Sherwood Foresters (2/5th, 2/6th, 2/7th and 2/8th). Among them we have confirmed that there were two Foresters from the parish of Holme Pierrepont,  Francis and Curzon Cursham, John Nowell from Radcliffe on Trent and possibly Leonard Brice (we have been unable to verify his enlistment date).

The second line Sherwood Foresters battalions were mainly inexperienced territorials who were not trained in urban warfare and did not expect to be fighting against Irishmen. Most had less than three months’ military service. The Foresters were the first infantry force sent into the city. On April 26th, the 2/7th and 2/8th  encountered strong fighting at Mount Street Bridge, a key crossing point into the city, as they attempted to march into the centre of Dublin. The bridge was held at strategic points by only seventeen rebels who caught the Foresters  in cross fire at Northumberland Road. The soldiers were exposed and had no cover on the bridge – they were at the mercy of rebels shooting at them from well barricaded houses. Despite the carnage, orders were given for the advance to continue. Captain Francis Cursham from Holme Pierrepont, Notts. was shot during the frontal assault on Mount Street Bridge by rebels occupying Clanwilliam House. The Foresters unsuccessfully charged the house before laying down covering fire with their rifles while the building was assailed with hand grenades.  Francis Cursham was then wounded again by shrapnel from a grenade which had been thrown at a window of the house and then bounced back (see pp. 41-42 The Sherwood Foresters in the Great War by Lt.Col. Oates and The Sherwood Foresters in the Easter Rising Dublin 1916 by Cliff Houseley). By the end of the desperate battle, 230 Sherwood Foresters were dead or wounded, some of the rebels had been killed and Clanwilliam House was a ruined shell. The army gained control by Friday, April 29th having brought in 20,000 soldiers to face around 1600 rebels. They conducted a ferocious attack on the Post Office which also caused much damage to Sackville Street and elsewhere in Dublin. The rebels were forced to surrender.

Clanwilliam House after the Rising. Image courtesy of www.1916.com

Casualties

The Easter Rising resulted in at least 485 deaths, according to the Glasnevin Trust. Civilian casualties were higher than military casualties: around 260 civilians were killed in the six days of the rising, including forty children. Many were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Around 126 military and 17 police were killed. There were around 2600 people injured of which 368 were military casualties. The Glasneven Trust gives a figure of 82 rebels who lost their lives.

Aftermath

At first, the Easter Rising was considered to be a betrayal by many Irish citizens; it had not been supported by a majority. However, opinions shifted once the British Army cracked down by arresting and imprisoning about 3000 people and conducting the brutal execution of sixteen of the leaders in May 1916. While the Easter rising was a military failure for the revolutionaries, it represents a watershed in Irish politics and led ultimately to the creation of an independent republic. The results of the 1918 general election show the Irish public had turned  towards supporting full independence and away from home rule. The moderate nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party experienced an overwhelming defeat and the radical Sinn Fein party achieved a landslide victory. The wave of nationalism led to the secession of all but six of the 32 Irish counties from the U.K. and the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922.

Sherwood Foresters in Ireland

After the Rising, the 178th Brigade remained on garrison duty at the Curragh until they were transferred to the Western Front in early 1917 where they stayed until the end of the war. Although none of the four Radcliffe and Holme Pierrepont men identified above as members of the 178th brigade were killed in Dublin, two were to lose their lives later as a result of the war including Major Francis Cursham who died in 1918, age twenty nine.

Author: Rosie Collins