A recent purchase that attracted me on many levels; Talana, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, interesting combination of LSGC (GV, Military Foot Police) and MSM (GVI, Corps of Military Police), late issue QSA & KSA. Add to this that the recipient was POW at Talana – one of the many “unrecorded” POWs for the Anglo-Boer War that I have been recording in a recent project, and the question of service in Dublin in 1916 at the time of the Easter Rising.
Thomas Bracken was born in Kilcock, County Kildare, Ireland, and was baptised in May 1878. In November 1896 he enlisted for the militia, 3rd bn Dublin Fusiliers, at Naas, he was an 18 year old labourer. Eighteen days later he joined the regular Army at Naas, enlisting for the Dublin Fusiliers number 5931. In 1898 he was sent to South Africa to join the 2nd battalion at Pietermaritzburg, Natal. In September 1899 the Dublins were part of a small force, under the command of Major-General Sir W Penn-Symons, sent to Dundee in northern Natal to counter any Boer invasion. At the first pitched battle of the war on 20th October, 1899 at Talana the Dublins were in the van storming the hill. The battle was not a great success for the British, the infantry were subject to heavy artillery and rifle fire as they advanced and stormed the hill. Additionally they were enfiladed, casualties were high. With true British infantry grit bayonets were fixed and the hill carried. As the Boers fled northwards the 18th Hussars set off in pursuit splitting into two, a portion of the regiment became stranded on Adelaide farm and forced to surrender. Despite winning the battlefield the British were forced to retreat to Ladysmith to avoid being caught by the invading Boers.
Thomas is not listed in the published casualty rolls (Natal Field Force and Palmer’s) but is shown in the regimental history as missing since 20th October, 1899 at Talana. The only Dublin Fusiliers to be captured unwounded were members of the Mounted Infantry stranded with the 18th Hussars. Unfortunately very few Dublin Fusiliers are identified as MI in any source. Thomas is shown in The Times as being released 6th June 1900 at Waterval. His clasp entitlement on the QSA of Orange Free State, Transvaal and Talana is typical of a POW. Those Dublins who survived Talana would be eligible for the Relief of Ladysmith and Tugela Heights clasps. A handful of the 2nd bn remained in Ladysmith during the siege. Following his release in June 1900, Thomas rejoined the 2nd bn. In January 1902 he was transferred to the 1st battalion in South Africa. The 2nd bn headed for Aden, Thomas was probably transferred as he was eligible for transfer to the Reserves after six years Colour service and would be heading towards the UK.
In November 1902 the 1st battalion left South Africa for Malta. Thomas was stationed here for eight years. In 1903 Thomas transferred to the Military Foot Police, number 762 and was immediately advanced to Lance-Corporal. He married a Maltese lady, Evelyn Sultana, in May 1905 at Sliema Parish Church. By coincidence last December on my first visit to Malta I stayed in a hotel across the street from this church. Thomas with his wife and two sons arrived in Southampton in November 1910, a third son was born at Aldershot in October 1911. They moved to Dublin in 1913, Thomas passed his second class Certificate of Education at Portobello Barracks and shortly after was promoted to Corporal.
The outbreak of WWI did not impact Thomas like many other soldiers, he did not serve overseas and seems to have remained in Dublin (or Ireland at least). Thomas was awarded his LSGC in April 1915, appointed acting-Sergeant with pay in November. A fourth child, a daughter, was born in January 1916 in Dublin. During the Easter Rising in 1916 Thomas was stationed at Ship Street Barracks not far from the castle and in the centre of the fighting. In April a prominent British diplomat was arrested on the Irish coast after being landed by a German submarine, this was Sir Roger Casement CMG, who had earlier tried to recruit Irish soldiers in German POW camps to fight the British. Casement was bought to Dublin and Thomas was given the job of escorting him to London to hand him over to the Metropolitan Police. Casement was tried at the Old Bailey where Thomas gave his brief evidence. He was sentenced to death for treason, stripped of his knighthood and hung in August 1916.
Advancement to Sergeant came in 1918, Thomas was discharged in 1920 after 24 years’ service his address was 19 D Block, Iveagh Buildings, Patrick Street, Dublin. He was awarded a pension with an extra sum for 30% disablement due to myalgia. What happens to Thomas after the war is not clear, in 1919 his wife, who could not sign her name, applied to be repatriated to Malta. This appears to have been unsuccessful. I have traced one son, Thomas George Bracken, who died in 1997 in Roanoke, Viriginia after a long career with the US Army. His obituary states he grew up in Dublin and joined the US Army in England in 1941 – this is curious, why the US Army, surely he was eligible for the British forces?
At some stage after 1949 Thomas (senior) was awarded an MSM – can anyone tell me which year? Amongst his service papers is a letter from the War Office dated 1920 referring to an application made for an MSM with annuity for Thomas, the letter states that his “name has been placed on the register..the list is a long one..only the few strongest claims can be eventually rewarded”. It took at least 29 years for the award to be made.
The medals are interesting, they all come in “modern” boxes of issue with handwritten labels except for the MSM which is typed and stamped. The QSA and KSA have swivel suspenders and are impressed in small capitals of the post WW1 era. They are not marked as replacements. The LSGC is not one would expect to be issued in 1915 but one from 1930 onwards – crowned bust and coronation robes, with the fixed bar “Regular Army”. The MSM dates from 1949, coinage profile “FID DEF. All medals are in mint condition. There are, unfortunately, no remarks on the QSA and KSA rolls or in his service papers regarding the issue of any of these medals. Were all the medals issued at the same time, i.e. after 1949 when the MSM was issued?
And finally, in the dealer’s blurb was the following unusual statement taken from the service papers:
“ he was specially enlisted by the Colonel of his Militia Regiment; “This lad is slightly under height but is otherwise a good man. He has no parents and no home to go to when he leaves the Militia. He is exceedingly anxious to join the Army.””
Inspecting the page closely reveals the entry relates to a different youth, one Thomas Murphy and not Thomas Bracken. There is a set of service papers for this Thomas Murphy, number 5908 a contemporary of Thomas’s, who was captured at Estcourt in the Armoured Train disaster on 15th November, 1899. They may well have known each other as POWs. Murphy is another unrecorded POW as well.
Thank you for posting your most interesting account of the life and times of Thomas Bracken. One of my earlier interests in the ABW centred on the RDF, and I hoped in vain to get the medal of a man captured at Talana. I did subsequently get medals to men of the KRRC MI (both 1st and 2nd), one of them being a Talana POW. Bracken is the first RDF Talana POW that I have come across.