Small but bloody incidents – Ireland, the British Army and the IRA, 1920

Richard Maddox

THE EASTER RISING in April 1916 is well known as a major step in the campaign that would eventually lead to the establishment of the Irish Free State and the country that would become known as ‘Ireland’ in 1937. (1)

The process of independence was bloody and brutal on both sides – something that is still remembered in some quarters almost a century later.

One of the most contentious areas is that of what would today be called ‘Dirty War’ operations – the use of intelligence information to target key members of the enemy in ‘shoot-to’kill’ attacks.

Such operations were carried out by both the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Crown Forces (British military and police), often on a ‘tit for tat’ basis – an attack by one side provokes a rapid response by the other.

As often happens in such situations, the ‘occupiers’ and ‘occupied’ lived very close to each other.

Just over a century ago, in the early hours of 21 July 1920 two British Army soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment – Major Arthur Percival and Lance Corporal Thomas Maddox – were on a mission to attack the home of Seán Buckley, an IRA West Cork Brigade Intelligence Officer.

Buckley’s home was very close – just a few hundred yards or metres – to the British Army barracks at Bandon, County Cork.

Given the political situation and what was seen by many as an ‘occupying force’ the area was used to attacks by one side or the other.

Two days earlier Detective Sergeant William Mulherin a Royal Irish Constabulary Special Branch officer – the section of the police that deals with intelligence matters – was shot and killed as he entered a church to attend a service. (2)

As the two British soldiers approached through a field they were spotted by IRA Volunteers Michael Doyle and John Coveney who were armed with shotguns and guarding Buckley’s home.

Lance Corporal Maddox was ahead of Percival and the IRA men waited until he was about 10 yards (metres) away before opening fire, hitting him in the head and killing him. In the hours and days that followed Buckley’s house was burnt down and several incidents of violence between soldiers and local men were reported. (3) (4)

A FUNERAL CORTEGE at Bandon Barracks, Cork, Ireland - probably of Lance Corporal Thomas Maddox of the Essex Regiment who was shot whilst carrying out investigation against the IRA. Image Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue Q 71702. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205316606

A FUNERAL CORTEGE at Bandon Barracks, Cork, Ireland – probably of Lance Corporal Thomas Maddox of the Essex Regiment who was shot whilst carrying out investigation against the IRA. Image Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue Q 71702. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205316606

ANOTHER IMAGE OF THE SAME FUNERAL PROCESSION setting off from Bandon Barracks. Image Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue Q 71703. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205316607.

ANOTHER IMAGE OF THE SAME FUNERAL PROCESSION setting off from Bandon Barracks. Image Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue Q 71703. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205316607.

Thomas Maddox’s body was repatriated back to Britain and he is now buried at Chiswick Old Cemetery. (5)

And the killings continued.

THE IRISH WAR OF INDEPENDENCE, 1919-1921. Memorial marking the place at Waterfall, County Cork, Ireland where Walter Leo Murphy, Commander of the 3rd Battalion, Cork.  No. 1 Brigade, Irish Republican Army fell on 27th June 1921. Image Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue reference Q 107779. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205350618

THE IRISH WAR OF INDEPENDENCE, 1919-1921. Memorial marking the place at Waterfall, County Cork, Ireland where Walter Leo Murphy, Commander of the 3rd Battalion, Cork. No. 1 Brigade, Irish Republican Army fell on 27th June 1921. Image Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue reference Q 107779. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205350618

On 21 July 1920 Walter Leo Murphy, Commandant of 3rd Battalion, Cork Brigade, IRA was killed following a raid on a crowded pub at Waterfall. (6)

Volunteer Battalion Commandant Walter Leo Murphy – The Irish Revolution

Seán Buckley died 27 August 1920. (7)

Major Percival managed to escape this blood letting.

He would later be remembered when – as Lieutenant General Percival – he failed to stop the Japanese attack on Singapore in February 1942 resulting in the surrender and Japanese occupation of the British colony until September 1945. (8)

Update

Percival later became the Chairman of the National Federation of Far East Prisoners of War and was instrumental in voicing that the 1957 film ‘Bridge on the River Kwai‘ was giving an inaccurate impression. (9)

Sources

(1) https://www.theirishstory.com/2012/09/18/the-irish-war-of-independence-a-brief-overview/ – retrieved 24 January 2020

(2) http://theirishrevolution.ie/1920-42/#.XititB6nzZE – retrieved 24 January 2020

(3) http://theirishrevolution.ie/1920-46/ – retrieved 24 January 2020

(4) https://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/maddox/maddox.html – retrieved 24 January 2020

(5) https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/388819/maddox,-/ – retrieved 24 January 2020

(6) http://theirishrevolution.ie/1921-308/#.XiuMnR6nzZE – retrieved 24 January 2020

(7) http://theirishrevolution.ie/1920-65/#.Xite9B6nzZE – retrieved 24 January 2020

(8) https://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/percival-ambush/percival/percival.html – retrieved 24 January 2020

(9) The Archivists’ Guide to Film: The Bridge on the River Kwai – The National Archives blog
https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/the-archivists-guide-to-film-the-bridge-on-the-river-kwai/ – retrieved 13 August 2020

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