Let right be done for Patrick Fitzsimmons

Age 14, the youngest soldier killed in the Great War?
The John Condon myth explained

Error occludes the true identity of the soldier in Condon's grave

 

Latest news from the CWGC regarding the case of John Condon

"As you are no doubt aware, the MOD are responsible for any amendments relating to First World War casualties. Having discussed the issue with our contact there they have advised that based upon the information provided to date (I believe by Mr Ariel Bercu) they do not propose to make any amendments to the record. Mr Bercu did suggest that he planned to provide further evidence, but has not yet done so."

After a very long interval & despite overwhelming evidence, the CWGC have reported that nothing is to be done to correct the error of misidentification in this case. The CWGC are willing, but the MoD are not.

However, the CWGC Records and Enquiries Manager has stated that he will approach the MoD once more, to try & gain justice for the man who is actually buried in the grave attributed to John Condon. It is certain that the CWGC wish to "do the right thing" & are troubled that a simple error made 80 years ago has robbed the man who is truly buried there of his rightful grave marker.

Let us hope that the CWGC will be successful in their renewed efforts to convince the MoD that truth & justice are the most important principals at stake here. We are sure that everyone will join us in wishing them every success in pursuing this & similar cases in the future.

However, the very high profile of the "John Condon age 14" grave is undoubtedly the core reason for the MoD's refusal. Indeed, it has been suggested that only one grave is better known to the majority of the British Public: that of the "Unknown Soldier" buried in Westminster Abbey. Imagine that someone could prove that the "Unknown Soldier" was actually a German & you would have a disturbance similar to that which the Condon case would create.

We believe that the real reason for the MoD's refusal is that too many 'Third parties' have a financial interest in the continued propagation of the "Condon Myth."

 

CONDON "AGE 14" A TYPESETTING ERROR?

It has recently come to our attention that another soldier is similarly listed by the CWGC as "Age 14." Below is a scan from an original Thiepval Memorial Register showing Pte. Reginald Giles as "age 14." The CWGC claim this was a typesetting error, but their online database still shows him as age 14. Reference to the 1901 Census returns shows Reginald Giles residing at the same address as shown in the CWGC Register, age 5.

This new evidence suggests that the "Condon age 14" error (& the associated "Bandwagon" of con-merchants exploiting the myth) originated from a simple mistake, made in faulty CWGC typesetting.


 

The grave of John Condon in Poelcapelle Cemetery, Belgium, is the most well known & visited grave of any soldier who died in the Great War. Generations of families & many hundreds of thousands of people have journeyed there over the past 78 years & it is currently a site of pilgrimage for battlefield tours, school trips & independent tourists wishing to pay their respects to the soldier reputed to be the youngest battle casualty of WW1. The example of "John Condon, age 14" is employed to portray the tragic death of underage youth in the Great War & to invest in the minds of our youngest generations a tangible connection with the sacrifice of their forefathers.

It is with a burning sense of responsibility to all John Condon grave visitors, past, present & future, that we present here the findings of our investigation into the case of John Condon & of Thomas Carthy, who supposedly lies buried next to him.

The results of our investigation show two major problems:-

(a) John Condon was not age 14 when KIA 24/5/15, he was age 18.

(b) The two unknown British soldiers exhumed in 1923, were misidentified as Ptes. Condon & Carthy & the true identity of the man buried in the grave marked 'John Condon' is 6322 Rifleman Patrick Fitzsimmons, 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, KIA 16/6/15, age 35, the husband of Bridget Fitzsimmons, of 9 Raphael St., Belfast.

Listed below are all the relevant details from the CWGC burial return, Irish Civil Registers, War Diaries, Army service papers, medal rolls, trench maps & information from the "Soldiers Died CD" database, which form the evidence of an irrefutable case of the two mistaken identities made in 1923 & the true age of John Condon.


 

Age 14?

If John Condon was age 14 in 1915, then one would expect to find evidence of this in the Irish Civil Registers of Births, Deaths & Census'. However, no information can be found to support this claim. All available documents show John Condon's age as 18 or more.
The documents consulted for John Condon with their details are listed below:-

1. Birth Certificate.

John Condon's Army service record shows his age on enlistment as 18 years 0 months and his birthplace as Trinity Without, Waterford. Working from that information, a search of the Irish Civil Registration Index to Births was completed for all John Condon's registered in Waterford from January 1892 to the end of June 1903 to encompass all 'John Condons' age 23 to 12. Only two candidates were found:-

a) John Condon registered in the July/August/September quarter of 1894.

b) John Condon registered in the October/November/December quarter of 1896.

The John Condon born 1896 was shown to be 'our man' following reference to other known facts, covered later in this article.

The details recorded on his Birth Certificate state that John Condon was born in a Waterford Hospital on the 16th October 1896, the son of John and Catherine Condon (formerly Hackett), of Jenkins Lane, Waterford.


2. 1901 Census.

Census of Ireland 1901 & 1911
The census was a survey taken by the government every ten years to collect information on the population. Personal information on individuals in each home was taken on census night, with detail such as Christian name, surname, age, occupation, and place of birth being recorded. In most cases the head of household would be responsible for ensuring the form was correctly filled out and passed to the enumerator. When compared, the 1901 & 1911 returns relating to the Condon family exhibit minor differences in the ages of certain family members, but not sufficient to cause concern with regard to John's age.

1901 (census night 31st March) No.12, Jenkins Lane, Waterford. Centre Ward. Parish of St. Patricks.
John Condon - Head of family - Age 38 - Married - Born: Waterford City.
Kate* Condon - Wife - Age 35 - Married - Born, Waterford City.
Kate Condon - Daughter - Age 12 - Not married - Born, Waterford City.
Peter Condon - Son - Age 11 - Not married - Born, Waterford City.
Maggie Condon - Daughter - Age 7 - Not married - Born, Waterford City.
John Condon - Son - Age 4 - Not married - Born, Waterford City.
Patrick Condon - Son - Age 1 - Not married - Born, Waterford City.

*Kate diminutive of Catherine.


3. 1911 Census.
1911 (census night 2nd April) No.2, Wheelbarrow Lane**, Waterford. Centre Ward. Parish of Trinity Without.
John Condon - Head of family - Age 46 - Married 26 years - Born, Waterford City.
Catherine Condon - Wife - Age 40*** - Married 26 years - Born, Waterford City.
Kate Condon - Daughter - Age 22 - Single - Born, Waterford City.
John Condon - Son - Age 15 - Single - General Labourer - Born, Waterford City.
Margaret Condon - Daughter - Age 17 - Single - Born, Waterford City.
Patrick Condon - Son - Age 12 - Single - Born, Waterford City.
Peter Condon - Son - Age 20 - Married 1 year - Born, Waterford City.
Mollie Condon - Daughter-in-law - Age 19 - Married 1 year - Born, Waterford City.

**Wheelbarrow Lane also known as Thomas's Avenue (given in John Condon's Army service record as father's address)
***Age 40? "Married 26 years" would mean she was married at 14. Unlikely. 1901 Census reads "35 years." True age probably 45 years in 1911. It appears both parents were unsure of their age in 1911, whereas their children were all (more or less) correctly aged 10 years from their ages given in the 1901 Census.


4. Death Certificate.


The Army Overseas Death Certificate records the following information:-
6322 Pte. John Condon
2nd Bn. Royal Irish Regt.
Country of Birth: Ireland
Date of Death: 24/5/15
Place of Death: France
Cause of Death: Killed in Action
Age: 20

We honestly expected to find that the Death Certificate would give his age as 19 (which is what the Army believed), with an alteration instigated by the family to give age 14. We were most surprised to find the age given as 20 with no alteration. We guess that the recording officer probably calculated Condon's age by referencing his service record, which shows his date of birth as 24/10/1895. Working from this information the officer should have noticed he was actually 5 months short of his 20th birthday. Note that the place of death is given as "France", probably meaning "France & Flanders."


5. Army Service Papers.
The WW1 service papers of John Condon survived the WW2 'Blitz' & are available on microfilm at the Public Record Office. They tell the true history of his Army enlistment, service, death & subsequent correspondence with his father in 1924, contrary to what can be found on some websites on the net (see weblinks & text below).

John Condon enlisted in the 3rd Reserve Bn. of the Royal Irish Regt. on 24/10/13 as a 'Special Reservist.' He stated that he was born 24/10/1895 & was therefore enlisting on the occasion of his 18th birthday. This was a lie, he was actually age 17 years & 8 days. However, even before the Great War, it was not uncommon for lads to put on their age by a year or so in order to be accepted for early enlistment. But one must also consider that if John was supposed to be age 14 at death, then he would have been age 13 on enlistment. It is easy to believe that the Recruiting & Medical officers could accept a 17 year old for 18, but harder to believe that these peacetime recruiters could take a 13 year old for 18. (It appears to be a common misconception that Condon was a 'boy' who enlisted at the outbreak of war & epitomises those brave, patriotic underage lads who were allowed/encouraged to join up. The truth of the matter is that Condon joined up 9 months before the war, a 17 year old Irish lad enlisting as a part-time/reservist in his local regiment & ended up fighting with the British against the German invaders in Belgium).

His Next-of-kin were listed as:-
Father, John Condon, Thomas Avenue, Waterford.
Brother, Patrick (younger), Thomas Avenue, Waterford.
Sisters, Katie (older), Mary (younger), Thomas Avenue, Waterford.
(It would appear that John's mother, Catherine, was deceased by October 1913).

John officially began his 'Recruits Training' 24/10/13, completing this on 23/2/14, when he was released to his home. As a member of the 'Special Reserve' he was not expected to attend as would a full-time Regular Soldier. He was recalled to begin his 'Recruits Musketry Training' two months later on 18/4/14, completing this on 17/5/14, when he was again released to his home. On the outbreak of war John was mobilised from the Special Reserve 7/8/14 & rejoined the 3rd Reserve Bn. Of the Royal Irish Regt. However, as he was 'officially' still only age 18, he remained with the 3rd Reserve Bn. in Ireland until after his 'official' 19th birthday 24/10/14 (the Army had fixed the minimum age for service overseas at 19). On 28/11/14 John committed his only offence on an otherwise spotless record at the Dublin Barracks of the 3rd Reserve Bn.: (i) Being in a dirty state for 2pm parade. (ii) Absenting himself from his barrack room when orderly man. He received 4 days confined to barracks as punishment (a very minor penance). The Company Conduct Sheet also records the date of punishment as 30/11/14 & is date stamped as 'complete' (sheet ended on draft to active service), 3rd Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, 17/12/14. John was drafted to the 2nd Bn. Of the Royal Irish Regt. serving in Belgium on 16/12/14, nearly two months after his 'official' 19th birthday, now believed to be age 19 (by the Army). The date he actually joined the 2nd Bn. R.I.Regt. In the Field' is not recorded, only that he was KIA 24/5/15. On documents relating to his effects (the lack of) in 1916 & in hand-written correspondence dated 1924 his Father's address is recorded as:- 2 Thomas' Avenue, Waterford (the correspondence dated 1924 is relevant to the case, in that it shows the notification, request & receipt of the 'piece of boot' bearing the number "6322 R.I.R." which was recovered from the body & the main evidence for the ID).

Interestingly, the CWGC record that John Condon was age 14, the son of John & Mary Condon of Waterford, Ireland. From the information in the above quoted documents, we see that John Condon's true age was 18 & that his mother's name was Catherine. This erroneous information dates from the earliest 1920's Poelcapelle Cemetery register & is identical with that currently available from the CWGC.


John Condon on the Internet

There are three main sites on the Internet which purport to tell the story of John Condon. Links are provided & we recommend the reader inspects these sites.

The "AGE 14" Website
This website was of key inspiration & interest to us, as it shows a photo provided by the Condon family of the 'piece of boot' found on the body & a scan of the CWGC burial return. We find it very difficult to believe that the authors of such an in-depth Condon history neglected to research the validity of the 'age 14' claim.

Waterford Today Website
This site contains a story telling of how in January 1915, John & his pal stowed away on a ship to Liverpool to enlist, & how John didn't like serving with the English, so requested his transfer to an Irish Regiment. This story does not tally with his service records, which state that John enlisted in the 3rd Royal Irish Regiment at Waterford in October 1913 & was posted to the 2nd battalion in Belgium from the Dublin Reserve Barracks on the 16th of December 1914.

Waterford History Website
This website carries an interesting contradiction. The text reads "John Condon was born 1901, the son of John & Mary Condon of Jenkins Lane, Waterford" with an instruction to view the 1911 Census information. When one views the information, it gives the mother's name as "Catherine" & John's age as "15." This is an interesting blend of CWGC error & 1911 Census truth, quoting the CWGC version of parentage & age, but showing the Census information, which confirms his mother's true name & John's true age.

Waterford Today Website
Covers a recent visit by the Condon relatives to Poelcapelle Cemetery with a photograph at the graveside. Makes mention of a new story about Nicholas Condon (see below).

Waterford News & Star Website
More coverage of the recent visit by the Condon relatives to Poelcapelle Cemetery. A new story about Nicholas Condon, a cousin of John, who is said to have enlisted with him & returned after the war is mentioned. We have looked for Nicholas Condon in the Medal Indexes at the Public Record Office. Nicholas was an unusual name in the early 20th Century & only one man with this name served in the British Army:- 3/4941 Private Nicholas Condon, York & Lancaster Regt., who first went to France 2/6/15 & was discharged to the Special Reserve 11/4/19.


The Identity Swap story

A commonly quoted story to explain the 'age 14' claim, is that Patrick Condon went to Belgium in the place of his brother John. There are several problems with this: (a) Patrick was born in January 1900 & would therefore have been age 15 on 24/5/15. (b) Patrick signed the receipt for John's British War & Victory medals in 9/9/22. Why should John be masquerading as Patrick in 1922? & why was it necessary for John to masquerade as Patrick at all? (c) If it was Patrick who was killed in John's place, then why isn't the grave marked "Patrick Condon, served as John Condon?"

There is no evidence to support this claim & even if by some stretch of the imagination it were true, it would not affect the evidence of the misidentification & burial in Poelcapelle Cemetery.



 

Exhumation & misidentification.

Following the Armistice, battlefield clearance programs began across the Western Front. Many small cemeteries and isolated battlefield graves were concentrated into larger burial grounds. Poelcapelle British Cemetery north of Ypres was one of many cemeteries created for this purpose.

The burial return (below) for the exhumation of the 10 bodies found in square I.11.b.15.45 in 1923 shows all the evidence of how the misidentification was made.

The graves were all originally unmarked, no crosses being found on them, with 9 of the 10 bodies originally noted as "Unknown British Soldier." The Exhumation Unit therefore gathered all clues to ID from the bodies & recorded what little was found on the burial return. At some later date, someone has overwritten "Unknown British Soldier" on two of the entries with the details of John Condon & Thomas Carthy. Clearly an effort to identify them was made with reference to IWGC records & a seemingly convincing match found for these two men only.

Map with 25 yard square I.11.b.15.45 (marked in green) site of exhumations.

 

The body found noted as "6322 Unknown British Soldier 4/R.I.R., Clothing & Boots stamped 6322 4/R.I.R." was taken to be 6322 Pte. John Condon, 2nd R.I.Regt., KIA 24/5/15.

 

The body found noted as "656 Unknown British Soldier 4/R.I.R., Clothing & Braces marked 656 4/R.I.R." Was assumed to be 6566 Pte. Thomas Carthy, 2nd R.I.Regt., KIA 24/5/15.

There are several problems with these conclusions, but first consider the problems faced by the IWGC in 1923. They had no computers to aid a speedy search of casualty service numbers as we do today. Everything was filed or found manually, an unenviable task when searching any regiment for a single service number. The same task today is made immeasurably easier for the CWGC with computer aids, reducing search times to just a few seconds for a given enquiry.

We believe that the IWGC searched only the Royal Irish Regiment casualties (neglecting to check the Royal Irish Rifles) & found a match for the service number, a soldier who died around the same time as indicated by the dates of other graves close by & killed in Belgium within a mile or two of the exhumations. They probably found a near match for 6566 Thomas Carthy in the same exercise, having failed to find an exact match for "656." It would have appeared at the time to be a good piece of detective work, having successfully identified John Condon, together with some logical supposition to assume the identity of Thomas Carthy. However…


Clue: 4/R.I.R.
The 4th Battalion of both the Royal Irish Regt. & the Royal Irish Rifles were extra reserve battalions raised in August 1914 & did not serve overseas. They merely supplied reinforcements to the battalions at the front. Therefore, the "4/R.I.R." markings found on both bodies must have originated with either of the two 4th Reserve Bns. In Ireland, most certainly the reserve battalions with which the two men had originally served & had subsequently been drafted from. (There are no 4th Bn. casualties of either regiment buried in France or Belgium).

Clue: 6322 4/R.I.R.
In Condon's case, the ID was based upon the number "6322" & "4/R.I.R." However, "4/R.I.R." is rather ambiguous & could mean one of two things: 4th Royal Irish Regiment, or 4th Royal Irish Rifles. Usually, the two are abbreviated as "R.I.Rif." or "R.I.Rgt." whereupon any doubt is removed, but as this is not the case here, one is forced to accept that "R.I.R." could apply to either regiment.
One important conclusion can be drawn from this:- John Condon enlisted & served in the 3rd Reserve Bn., Royal Irish Regt. & never served in the 4th Reserve Bn. Therefore, his kit would certainly have been marked "3rd R.I.R" making it highly unlikely that the body found with the markings "6322 4/R.I.R" was John Condon.

6322 was a number shared by many soldiers in many different regiments (there were ten soldiers killed with the number 6322). This fact must be born in mind when searching for an ID based on number & regiment alone. Thanks to the "Soldiers Died CD" another candidate for the body emerges:-
6322 Rifleman Patrick Fitzsimmons, 2nd Bn. Royal Irish Rifles, KIA 16/6/15. Fitzsimmons has the same service number but with a different regiment. However, considering the ambiguity of the abbreviation "R.I.R", one that equally fits the bill.
Of great significance is the fact that Fitzsimmons had originally enlisted in the 4th Battalion R.I.Rifles & was drafted to the 2nd Battalion in Belgium 9/11/14 from the 4th Battalion. Fitzsimmons' service papers are missing, but one piece of evidence can still be found. The image below shows the 'British War & Victory Medal Roll' entry for Fitzsimmons & gives his number in three places as "4/6322." Although the "4" prefix appears to have been dropped on joining the 2nd Battalion in Belgium, this is definite proof of his origin in the 4th Extra Reserve Bn. R.I.Rifles.


 

Clue: 656 4/R.I.R.
The ID of Thomas Carthy attributed to the body found next to that of Fitzsimmons also causes us much concern.
The IWGC seems to have made the assumption that the number "656" was only partial & have written in the extra "6" to complete the number of Thos. Carthy, a man killed in the same battalion, the same day as Condon, a reasonable conclusion. Had the ID of Condon been sound, then it would seem logical that one of his battalion comrades would be buried next to him, given that they both had "4/R.I.R." found on their remains. However, as the Condon ID is now known to be in error, then the basis of this logic is flawed. They should have been looking for a man killed in the same battalion & date as Fitzsimmons, with a number containing "656." Unfortunately, no such candidate can be found.

"656" a partial service number?
Returning to the IWGC assumption that the number "656" was only partial. If it was thought to be partial when the body was exhumed, this should have been recorded on the burial return. Despite this, the IWGC added a "6" & made "6566" to complete Carthy's number. Strangely, the IWGC were quite correct in theory, but for the wrong reason. Now armed with the knowledge that the two men were 2nd R.I.Rifles, a search of their casualties from August 1914 to June 1915 reveals that no three digit service numbers occur at all. It would appear that the regular & reserve battalions of the R.I.Rifles did not employ number blocks under '1000.' Therefore, if the man was 2nd R.I.Rifles, then the number "656" must be incomplete.

It is interesting that the Exhumation Officer did not note that "656" was a partial number & therefore must have believed the number was complete. The IWGC knew that the number was incomplete, but wrongly assumed he was a soldier of the R.I.Regt. As there are no R.I.Rifles casualties who immediately fit the partial number "656", it may help to speculate why the Exhumation Officer made this error.

It may be noted that the burial return shows that the details of soldier "6322" were "stamped" on the boots & clothing, whereas the "656" were "marked" on clothing & braces. Also, that the piece of boot & piece of braces were forwarded to the Base (the piece of boot was eventually sent to John Condon's father in 1924 & is still in their possession. A fairly good photo of it can be seen on the "AGE 14" website). The piece of boot is quite clearly stamped "6322" but the "R.I.R." Is less distinct. However, the quality of the photo may be to blame for this. The Exhumation officer made the distinction between "stamped" & "marked" on the two pieces of evidence & this may be a clue as to why "656" was incomplete or misread. No mistake could be made over the piece of boot, clearly stamped, but a piece of braces merely "marked 656" was most likely more difficult to interpret after eight years underground, a faded marking applied by the owner. As such, it may have been hand-written & susceptible to the owner's peculiar script & therefore far more likely to have been misinterpreted. It is our conclusion that the piece of braces was most likely misread as "656" & was in fact a four figure number of a 2nd R.I.Rifles casualty with a similar number. Two possible candidates arise in this event:-
6545 L/Cpl. Patrick Condon, 2nd R.I.Rifles, KIA 16/6/15.
6528 Cpl. William Harold Henderson, 2nd R.I.Rifles, KIA 16/6/15.

Bearing in mind that the Exhumation officer did not state that the number "656" was incomplete & yet it cannot have belonged to a 2nd R.I.Rifles casualty (nor anyone with that exact number), we deduce that it was misread from a four figure number. Our best guess is that 6545, unofficially hand-marked in faded letters, may have been misread for "656" (we imagine the 4 may have faded sufficiently & combined with the last figure "5" to form a "6". However, this is too thin a premise to be sure of a definite ID. The only hope is that the piece of braces was also forwarded to the family of Thomas Carthy & is still in their possession, & that it would provide the necessary evidence (fat chance). What can be shown is that the man who lies in the grave attributed to Thomas Carthy is 99.9% sure to be a soldier of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, KIA 16/6/15, who formerly served in the 4th Extra Reserve Bn. Of the Royal Irish Rifles.

It is not unusual to fail to identify a soldier even though a number was found on the remains & this is in keeping with the third man listed on the burial return with service number known (9274) who was not identified.



Evidence by comparison of Exhumation site & battlefield locations of 2nd Royal Irish Regt. 24/5/15 & 2nd Royal Irish Rifles 16/6/15.

(A) 2nd Royal Irish Regt. 24/5/15. (B) 2nd Royal Irish Rifles 16/6/15. (C) Exhumation site.

On the 24th May 1915, the Germans launched an attack along a front running from Mauser Ridge to the north of Ypres down to the village of Hooge in the south-east. The 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, of the 12th Brigade, 4th Division was holding trenches near Shell Trap Farm* when the Germans advanced. The battalion war diary gives a detailed account of their engagement at what became known as the Battle of Bellewaarde. (Reference point "A" in green on our maps)

* Later known as Mouse Trap Farm.

(A) Position of 2nd Royal Irish Regt. 24/5/15 (War Diary map).

 

2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment War Diary 24th May 1915

2.a.m, Trenches: Battalion stood to arms.

2:20.a.m, Trenches: The enemy, preceded by gas, attacked. A mild wind blowing from the north-east brought the full volume of the gas on that part of the line occupied by the battalion. Although every step regarding the use of respirators and sprayers was taken, many of all ranks were overcome by gas. Shell Trap Farm, which had been held by 2 platoons of the 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was taken by the enemy, thus enabling them to enfilade our position of the line, which they worked down bombing us with hand grenades. The enemy took our trenches down as far as the right of the "King's Own", only a few men of our battalion now being left. Here the attack was checked, the enemy holding the ground he had taken., two platoons of "A" Company, under the command of Lieut. McKay, 4th Connaught Rangers, who were in support at point 'A' on map, held on until the following morning. Our casualties were 17 Officers and 378 other ranks, Approx.

Of the 62 officers & men of the 2nd Battalion who were killed in action or died of wounds on the 24th May, only two are alleged to be buried at Poelcapelle; 6322 Pte. John Condon (Plot LVI grave F.8) and 6566 Pte. Thomas Carthy (Plot LVI grave F.7).

 

2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles 16th June 1915

On the 16th June 1915 the British launched a minor offensive against German positions on Bellewaarde Ridge close to the village of Hooge.

The following is a description of the 16th June "First Attack on Bellewaarde" from the "Official History of the War, Military Operations, France & Belgium 1915", an excellent narrative of the action:-

SECOND ARMY: BELLEWAARDE, 16TH JUNE

(B) Position of 2nd Royal Irish Rifles 16/6/15. (C) Exhumation site.

From Bellewaarde ridge, situated on the eastern side of the lake, the enemy was able to overlook the greater part of the ground east of Ypres. A minor operation was therefore planned by the V Corps. Its object was to improve the position by the capture of the ridge, which would deprive the enemy of observation, and at the same time straighten out the re-entrant in the British line between Hooge and Railway Wood.
On the front of attack the enemy's trenches were about fifty yards distant in the centre, and about two hundred on the flanks. The wire, being hidden for the most part by the remains of trees, was impossible to reach and cut with shrapnel; high explosive shell was therefore used and proved very effective, and the wire formed no obstacle to the assault. Eight lines of jumping-off trenches, four behind the front trenches and four behind the support line were dug; but, all the ground being under observation, they were discovered and ranged on by the enemy, and to save the troops from being heavily shelled whilst waiting for the assault it was decided to attack at dawn. Unfortunately the German observation posts on Bellewaarde ridge were too far away to be taken in the first rush; they commanded all the ground over which the advance was made, and as long as the Germans held them, they directed converging fire on it.
The actual assault was entrusted to the 9th and 7th Brigades of the 3rd Division.

1st Line: 9th Brigade: 4/Royal Fusiliers, 1/Royal Scots Fusiliers and the 1/Northumberland Fusiliers, with the 1/Wiltshire (7th Brigade) to cover the right of the attack.
2nd Line: 9th Brigade: 1/10th King's (Liverpool Scottish) and 1/Lincolnshire.
3rd and 4th Lines: 7th Brigade: H.A.C. and 2/Royal Irish Rifles; 3/Worcestershire and 1/4th South Lancashire.

The attack was divided into three stages: the first objective was the German front line; the second, the line of the road from Hooge to Bellewaarde Farm; and the final one the trench on the edge of the lake. After the first objective had been taken by the 1st Line of the 9th Brigade, the 2nd Line was to go through it and capture the second objective, the artillery lifting from the first objective to the second at a fixed hour, but remaining on the second until ordered to lift. The three battalions which took the first line, were to reorganise there, and eventually pass through the 2nd Line and capture the third objective, the artillery action conforming as before.
The bombardment was begun at 2.30 A.M. and continued, with pauses, until 4.15 A.M., when the artillery lifted, and the infantry assaulted and captured the German front line with very little resistance. But as soon as the 2nd Line of the 9th Brigade, the Liverpool Scottish and Lincolnshire, rose, the Royal Irish Rifles of the 7th Brigade, in the 3rd Line - who were in reserve and not to advance unless ordered - could not be restrained and rushed forward also, the H.A.C. In the trenches alongside them following suit. The spirit which prompted the movement was excellent, but the result was disastrous. The 3rd Line caught up the 2nd, which was waiting for the barrage to lift, and so fast did the four battalions push on, that they ran into their own artillery fire, mist and smoke preventing the gunners from seeing what was happening.

Upset by two battalions of the 7th Brigade unexpectedly passing through them, the Royal Fusiliers, Royal Scots Fusiliers and Northumberland Fusiliers reorganising in the German front line preparatory to going through to the third objective, advanced too soon. The trenches grew crowded with men, units got mixed up, and it became almost impossible to organise or control the fight; and to add to the confusion, German artillery fire, very heavy and accurate, swept the battalions of the 3rd Division from three sides. Nevertheless, the German second line was reached, and a party of the Royal Scots Fusiliers actually got through to the final objective, only to be driven out by their own artillery fire. A combat with bombs and bayonets in the network of trenches now ensued and swayed backwards and forwards. About 7.30 A.M. the enemy made a definite counterattack, which was repulsed, and two further attempts later in the day were broken up by fire; but at 9.30 A.M., being still under very heavy shell fire and having no bombs left, the attackers fell back to the first line of German trenches, with the exception of one of the parties of the 1/4th South Lancashire, used to reinforce, which hung on in trenches south of Bellewaarde farm till 3 P.M. At the same time the 1/Wiltshire, the right flank guard, which had gained ground towards Hooge in the German trenches by bombing, was also forced back to the Menin road, losing heavily in the open.
The 42nd Brigade of the 14th Division, assembled south-east of Ypres, had at 9 A.M. been ordered up by the V. Corps to support the 3rd Division. It was to make a decisive attack and confirm the success won; and to this end a new bombardment was begun, to terminate at 3.30 P.M. The brigade was directed to move into the fire zone at 1 P.M., but was then delayed by a particularly heavy barrage put down by the Germans for the very purpose of preventing reinforcements from coming up. The leading battalions therefore did not arrive in the front trenches until 4 P.M., and the attack was delivered at 3.30 P.M. by less than two battalions (3/Worcestershire and 2/Royal Irish Rifles, reorganise as two companies) of the 7th Brigade. With an open glacis slope in front of them, the two leading companies of the Worcestershire were immediately met by heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, soon followed by shell fire; Lieutenant Colonel B.F.B. Stuart, the commanding officer, the officers leading, and many men fell, and the advance of the other companies was therefore stopped. On the left, the two companies of the Royal Irish Rifles, starting from good cover on the eastern edge of Railway Wood, went forward most gallantly until destroyed by fire. Thus no further progress could be made, and eventually, at 6 P.M., it was decided to consolidate what had been previously gained, the German front line for half a mile between the Menin road and Railway Wood, and the area of No-Man's-Land behind. The re-entrant had been slightly reduced, and the British line had been carried forward to just north of the Menin road, but the enemy remained in possession of Bellewaarde ridge and the observation posts on it.
The 8th Brigade took over the line won, and the 7th, 9th and 42nd Brigades were withdrawn to rest. The casualties of the 3rd Division had been 140 officers and 3,391 men, and of this total the 9th Brigade had lost 73 officers out of 96, and 2,012 men out of 3,663. These heavy losses were almost entirely due, like the casualties at "Second Ypres", to the enemy's artillery fire with which the British heavies, handicapped by inadequate and limited ammunition, were unable to cope.

 

Conclusions:

The burial return confirms that all the bodies in Plot LVI, Row F, Graves 1-10 were exhumed from the railway cutting close to Railway Wood at map reference: Sheet 28 N.W. Square I.11.b.15.45. (Reference point "C" in green on our maps). This is exactly where one might expect to find soldiers buried by their comrades following the 16th June attack on Bellewaarde. The location is both sheltered and just 225 yards (205 metres) from the centre of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles starting position on that day.

The distance to the positions held by the 2nd Royal Irish Regiment at Shell Trap Farm on the 24th May is 1.86 miles (3 kms), an unfeasibly long distance to have carried bodies for burial.

 

 


Evidence from adjacent burials in Poelcapelle British Cemetery & examination of known grave locations of 2nd Royal Irish Regt 24/5/15.

Further evidence of the misidentifications of Thomas Carthy (Plot LVI grave F.7) & John Condon (Plot LVI grave F.8) is found by comparing identified burials in adjacent graves at Poelcapelle. Amongst the high number of unknown graves surrounding those attributed to Condon & Carthy are a number of men from units involved in the 3rd Division's attack of 16/6/15:-

4169 Sgt. Francis Frederick CASEY, 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, KIA 16/6/15 (Plot LVI grave E.9)

 

1650 Pte. Frank WILLIAMS, 4th South Lancs., KIA 16/6/15 (Plot LVI grave F.12)

 

7335 Rfn. Francis DUNNE, 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, KIA 16/6/15 (Plot LVI grave F.14)

 

1593 Pte. John Henry CARTER, 4th South Lancs., KIA 16/6/15 (Plot LVI grave F.16)

 

1614 Pte. James SHARP, 4th South Lancs., KIA 16/6/15 (Plot LVI grave F.20)

Although we do not have burial returns for the above graves, it is safe to assume that these soldiers were exhumed from the same map reference in the Railway cutting.

The approximate distance from the centre of each unit's starting point on 16/6/15, to the exhumation site is as follows:-
2nd Royal Irish Rifles - 225 yards (205 metres)
4th South Lancashire Regiment - 80 yards (73 metres)
1st Northumberland Fusiliers - 140 yards (128 metres)

We repeat the statement from our text above: The distance to the position held by the 2nd Royal Irish Regiment at Shell Trap Farm on the 24th May is 1.86 miles (3 kms), an unfeasibly long distance to have carried bodies for burial.

Added to the above evidence of close burials from the 3rd Division 16/6/15, is the burial of the man in the very next grave to that attributed to John Condon, in Grave F.9. This man's exhumation is shown on the burial return (shown earlier) & was partially identified by "Clothing & Titles, R.S.F." The CWGC have therefore erected a headstone as pictured below:-

Grave next to that attributed to John Condon, Plot LVI, Row F, Grave 9.

The 1st Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers were also part of the 3rd Division's attack 16/6/15. The distance to their starting point 16/6/15 is 325 yards (300 metres). In light of the evidence presented here, we think it highly likely that this soldier was from the 1st Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers KIA 16/6/15. As such, his headstone might now be justifiably altered/replaced to reflect this likelihood.

 

2nd Royal Irish Regt. KIA 24/5/15 known burials

Of the 46 soldiers killed in action with the 2nd Royal Irish Regiment on 24th May only 5 have identified graves:-

Lieut. William Herbert Stuart BERRY - Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension.
8089 Pte. William Henry KERSHAW - Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery.
7598 Pte. Michael MAHER - White House Cemetery.
4087 L/Cpl. Bernard MONAGHAN - Roeselare Communal Cemetery.
10899 Pte. Augustine POWER - Duhallow ADS Cemetery.

The remainder of those killed in action are listed on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing. Those who died of wounds on the 24th are, as expected, to be found in concentration cemeteries or cemeteries connected with casualty clearing stations & base hospitals, so we feel it unnecessary to list them here.

It is important to note that apart from the two graves incorrectly attributed to Condon & Carthy there are no burials of 2nd Royal Irish Regiment casualties from the 24th May 1915 in Poelcapelle British Cemetery.



Justice for Patrick Fitzsimmons

 

Menin Gate Memorial inscription for Patrick Fitzsimmons

 

Let Right Be Done

Mr Peter Francis, the Commission's Media Spokesman, has informed us that a meeting with the MoD is scheduled for the end of March 2003 & this case is on their agenda for discussion.

It is a chance in a million after so much time has passed, that an identification can still be made to give a 'missing' soldier his rightful headstone & marked grave. John Condon's name will not pass into the obscurity that befell Patrick Fitzsimmons & 99% of the soldiers of the Great War. He will undoubtedly continue to be amongst the best known of "The Fallen." It is a strange turn of events that, as a direct result of the 'myth' & fame falsely attributed to John Condon, has ultimately led to the exposure of the truth. If it were not for the 'age 14' error & the subsequent mistaken martyrdom, this case would never have come to light.