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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of George Arthur French, Army Officer

george-arthur-frenchMajor General Sir George Arthur French, KCMG, British Army officer, is born in Roscommon, County Roscommon on June 19, 1841. He serves as the first Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police, predecessor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, from October 1873 to July 1876, and as Commandant of the colonial military forces in Queensland (1883–91) and New South Wales (1896–1902). He is also a relative of songwriter Percy French.

French is educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and commissioned in the Royal Artillery in 1860.

In 1871, at the request of the Canadian government, French is sent to Canada as a military inspector, eventually becoming head of the School of Gunnery at Kingston, Ontario.

French is appointed to organise the North-West Mounted Police on its creation in 1873, and the next year he leads the force on its famous march to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

French resigns in 1876 and returns to duty in the British Army, eventually attaining the rank of major general. The organizational skills developed in Canada are used to establish local defence forces in India and Australia. In September 1883 he is appointed Commandant of the Queensland Local Forces with the local rank of colonel, and arrives in the colony on January 4, 1884. In 1862, he marries Janet Clarke, daughter of the late Robert Long Innes, formerly of the 37th Regiment. French retires in 1891 and returns to England.

French retires from the army on September 3, 1902 and is knighted as Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (KCMG) in the November 1902 Birthday Honours. For the next 19 years much of his time is spent guarding the crown jewels in London, where he dies on July 7, 1921. He is buried in Brompton Cemetery in London.

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Birth of John Pitt Kennedy, Engineer & Agricultural Reformer

john-pitt-kennedy-gravesiteLieutenant-Colonel John Pitt Kennedy, British military engineer, agricultural reformer and civil servant, is born at Carndonagh, County Donegal on May 8, 1796.

Kennedy is educated at Foyle College, Derry, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, becoming lieutenant in the Royal Engineers in 1815. Four years afterwards, he is sent to Malta, and thence to Corfu. He superintends the construction of a canal at Lefkada in 1820, serves next under Sir Charles James Napier at Cephalonia building lighthouses, roads, and quays, and is sub-inspector of militia in the Ionian Islands (1828–31).

During a period in India Kennedy meets Sir Charles James Napier and when he returns to Ireland he sets up agricultural schools designed to improve the economy of the country. One is at Cloghan near Ballybofey, and another at Eglinton near Derry. He becomes a farm manager and marries Anna, daughter of Sir Charles Styles, who owns large estates around Ballybofey, in 1838. Kennedy′s methods of improving the condition of the agricultural classes are indicated by the title of his work, Instruct; Employ; Don’t Hang Them: or Ireland Tranquilized without Soldiers and Enriched without English Capital (1835). He writes several others of similar nature, and as inspector general for Irish education (1837), as secretary to the Devon Commission (1843), and to the Famine Relief Committee (1845), his labours are unceasing in behalf of his native land.

Kennedy returns to the army in 1849 as military secretary to Sir Charles Napier and accompanies him to India, where he builds the military road named after him and extending from Kalka via Shimla to Kunawur and Tibet. He publishes British Home and Colonial Empire (1865–69), as well as a number of technical works relating to his Indian career. He also serves as District Grandmaster of Bengal.

John Pitt Kennedy dies in 1879 and is buried in Highgate Cemetery (East) in Highgate, London Borough of Camden, Greater London, England.

(Pictured: John Pitt Kennedy gravesite in Highgate Cemetery, London)


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Birth of Explorer Robert O’Hara Burke

robert-o'hara-burkeRobert O’Hara Burke, Irish soldier and police officer who achieves fame as an Australian explorer, is born in St. Clerens, County Galway on May 6, 1821. He is the leader of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition which is the first expedition to cross Australia from south to north.

Burke is the second of three sons of James Hardiman Burke, an officer in the British army 7th Royal Fusiliers, and Anne Louisa Burke (nee O’Hara).

Burke enters the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich in May 1835. In December 1836 he fails his probationary exam and goes to Belgium to further his education. In 1841, he enters the Austrian army and spends most of his time posted to northern Italy. Towards the end of 1847 he suffers health problems and ultimately resigns from the Austrian army in June 1848.

After returning to Ireland in 1848, he joins the Irish Constabulary (later the Royal Irish Constabulary). He does his cadet training at Phoenix Park Depot in Dublin between November 1849 and January 1850. At the end of 1850 he transfers to the Mounted Police in Dublin.

Burke emigrates to Australia, arriving in Hobart, Tasmania on February 12, 1853 and promptly sails for Melbourne. On April 1, 1853 he joins the recently established Victoria Police force.

After the South Australian explorer John McDouall Stuart reaches the centre of Australia, the South Australian parliament offers a reward of £2,000 for the promotion of an expedition to cross the continent from south to north, generally following Stuart’s route. In June 1860, Burke is appointed to lead the Victorian Exploring Expedition with William John Wills, his third-in-command, as surveyor and astronomical observer.

The expedition leaves Melbourne on August 20, 1860 with a total of 19 men, 27 camels and 23 horses. They reach Menindee on September 23, 1860 where several people resign.

Cooper Creek, 400 miles further on, is reached on November 11, 1860 by the advance group, the remainder being intended to catch up. After a break, Burke decides to make a dash to the Gulf of Carpentaria, leaving on December 16, 1860. William Brahe is left in charge of the remaining party. The small team of Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray reach the mangroves on the estuary of the Flinders River, near where the town of Normanton now stands, on February 9, 1861. They never see open ocean due to flooding rains and swamps.

Already weakened by starvation and exposure, progress on the return journey is slow and hampered by the tropical monsoon downpours of the wet season. Gray dies four days before they reach the rendezvous at Cooper Creek. The other three rest for a day when they bury him. They eventually reach the rendezvous point on April 21, 1861, nine hours after the rest of the party had given up waiting and left, leaving a note and some food, as they have not been relieved by the party supposed to be returning from Menindee.

Burke’s party attempts to reach Mount Hopeless, the furthest outpost of pastoral settlement in South Australia, which is closer than Menindee, but fail and return to Cooper Creek. While waiting for rescue Wills dies of exhaustion and starvation. Soon after, Burke also dies, at a place now called Burke’s Waterhole on Cooper Creek in South Australia. The exact date of Burke’s death is uncertain, but has generally been accepted to be June 28, 1861.

King survives with the help of Aborigines until he is rescued in September by Alfred William Howitt. Howitt buries Burke and Wills before returning to Melbourne. In 1862 Howitt returns to Cooper Creek and disinters Burke and Wills, taking them first to Adelaide and then by steamer to Melbourne where they are laid in state for two weeks. On January 23, 1863 Burke and Wills receive a State Funeral and are buried in Melbourne General Cemetery. Ironically, on that same day John McDouall Stuart and his companions, having successfully completed the south-north crossing, are received back at a large ceremony in Adelaide.


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Birth of Fighter Pilot George Edward Henry McElroy

Captain George Edward Henry McElroy, a leading Irish-born fighter pilot of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force during World War I, is born at Donnybrook, County Dublin, on May 14, 1893. He is credited with 47 aerial victories.

McElroy enlists promptly at the start of World War I in August 1914, and is shipped out to France two months later. He is serving as a corporal in the Motor Cyclist Section of the Royal Engineers when he is first commissioned as a second lieutenant on May 9, 1915. While serving in the Royal Irish Regiment he is severely affected by mustard gas and is sent home to recuperate. He is in Dublin in April 1916, during the Easter Rising, and is ordered to help quell the insurrection. McElroy refuses to fire upon his fellow Irishmen, and is transferred to a southerly garrison away from home.

On June 1, 1916 McElroy relinquishes his commission in the Royal Irish Regiment when awarded a cadetship at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from which he graduates on February 28, 1917, and is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery.

McElroy is promptly seconded to the Royal Flying Corps, being trained as a pilot at the Central Flying School at Upavon, and is appointed a flying officer on June 28. On July 27 his commission is backdated to February 9, 1916, and he is promoted to lieutenant on August 9. On August 15 he joins No. 40 Squadron RFC, where he benefits from mentoring by Edward “Mick” Mannock. He originally flies a Nieuport 17, but with no success in battle. By the year’s end McElroy is flying Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s and claims his first victory on December 28.

An extremely aggressive dog-fighter who ignores often overwhelming odds, McElroy’s score soon grows rapidly. He shoots down two German aircraft in January 1918, and by February 18 has run his string up to eleven. At that point, he is appointed a flight commander with the temporary rank of captain and transferred to No. 24 Squadron RFC. He continues to steadily accrue victories by ones and twos. By March 26, when he is awarded the Military Cross, he is up to 18 “kills.” On April 1, the Army’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) are merged to form the Royal Air Force, and his squadron becomes No. 24 Squadron RAF. McElroy is injured in a landing accident on April 7 when he brushes a treetop while landing. By then he has run his score to 27. While he is sidelined with his injury, on April 22, he is awarded a bar to his Military Cross. Following his convalescence, McElroy returns to No. 40 Squadron in June, scoring three times, on the 26th, 28th, and 30th. The latter two triumphs are observation balloons. That runs his tally to thirty.

In July, he adds to his score almost daily, a third balloon busting on the 1st, followed by one of the most triumphant months in the history of fighter aviation, adding 17 victims during the month. His run of success is threatened on the 20th by a vibrating engine that entails breaking off an attack on a German two seater and a rough emergency landing that leaves him with scratches and bruises. There is a farewell luncheon that day for his friend Gwilym Hugh “Noisy” Lewis. Their mutual friend Edward “Mick” Mannock pulls McElroy aside to warn him about the hazards of following a German victim down within range of ground fire.

On July 26, Mannock is killed by ground fire. Ironically, on that same day, “McIrish” McElroy receives the second Bar to his Military Cross. He is one of only ten airmen to receive the second Bar.

McElroy’s continues apparent disregard for his own safety when flying and fighting can have only one end. On July 31, 1918, he reports destroying a Hannoversche Waggonfabrik C for his 47th victory. He then sets out again. He fails to return from this flight and is posted missing. Later it is learned that McElroy has been killed by ground fire. He is 25 years old. McElroy is interred in Plot I.C.1 at the Laventie Military Cemetery in La Gorgue, northern France.

McElroy receives the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously on August 3, citing his shooting down 35 aeroplanes and three observation balloons. The Bar arrives still later, on September 21, and lauds his low-level attacks. In summary, he shoots down four enemy aircraft in flames and destroys 23 others, one of which he shares with other pilots. He drives down 16 enemy aircraft “out of control” and out of the fight. He also destroys three balloons.