Jul 232017

The 2nd Rifles at Dover 1889-1890

Grand Shaft Barracks

On the 9th August 1889 under the command of Lt. Col. Swaine, the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade arrived in Dover from Aldershot where they had been stationed for the annual army review after departing Woolwich. On arrival the 800 men were split and posted to South Front, a 1860s barracks, and The Citadel, a large Napoleonic fortress, and both at the Western Heights, the sites have been prepared by an advance party who had arrived a few days before. The senior officers under Swaine were Majors Montgomery, Stopford-Sackville and the Hon. W. Curzon, and Captains Fergusson, Hon. D. Lawless, Lamb, Hon. W. Coke, Russell, Campbell, Hon. A.C.E. Somerset and Cockburn, the Adjutant.

Their arrival was greeted with enthusiasm as the Rifles had been posted to Dover on many occasions before, most recently from 1871-73, and they had always proved a popular regiment. The battalion was quickly integrated into local community life; and at the extravagant Dover Regatta on the 19th August their band played at the Granville Gardens to a soaked public braving torrential rains.

On Sunday 1st September the battalion lost their first man at Dover, Private Martin Hyrland, a member of Sergeant Morris’s Company. The inquest was held at the Hotel de Paris under the coroner Mr. Sydenham Payn, and there Private W. Ellis explained what had happened. He, Hyland and Private Pearson had gone to Shakespeare beach to bathe in the sea. Ellis returned to the beach to dry himself off but then heard cries; he looked out and saw Pearson struggling to help Hyland about 400 yards out. Pearson had seen Hyrland having a fit in the water and had swum to his assistance, managing to prop him up above the water as he had been unable to speak or move. Ellis arrived and they managed to swim with him to about 200 yards from the shore but he could no longer maintain his grip and Hyrland slipped under the water. His body was found the following Thursday by bootmaker George Langabeer who lived in a cottage at the cliff and contacted the Rifles to retrieve him. The inquest verdict was ‘Accidental Drowning’. Martin Hyrland was 24 years old and had served 6 years, having been invalided back to England from Burma back in May.

The band played again at the Royal Irish Fusiliers Sports’ Day at Dover College grounds on September 11th to a very large group of spectators. In late September the battalion was partly moved from the Citadel to the Grand Shaft Barracks at the Western Heights, the site having recently been vacated by the 2nd Buffs in mid-August.

A second man was lost on the 28th September, that of 33 year-old Acting Corporal Jackman, the inquest being held again under Sydenham Payn at the Hotel de Paris. Jackman, Private E. Andrews and Private Johnson had left the barracks at 7pm with passes to midnight and had all gone to watch a show at the Clarence Theatre on Snargate Street. After the show they briefly went to the Antwerp public house in the Market Square; time growing short they then decided to head back to barracks before their passes expired. Andrews testified that they had begun walking up Military Hill when Jackman suddenly realised that he had forgotten his pass. Claiming he knew a short-cut into the barracks, Jackman ran up to the top of an embankment near the Drop Redoubt fort and suddenly disappeared. Johnson realised that Jackman had fallen straight into the 40ft high moat and ran for assistance to the nearest guard post, that of North Entrance at the town-side entrance to the Western Heights fortifications. The guard ran back with a light to the top of the moat and they found Jackman’s body lying on the ground, but were unable to retrieve him. A ladder and stretcher was obtained back at the Entrance and the men walked back half a mile to retrieve him; however when they arrived Jackman had already died. An examination of his body at the Military Hospital by surgeon John Reckitt determined he had died of a dislocated neck, the verdict being ‘Accidental Death’.

HRH the Duke of Cambridge arrived at 5pm by South-Eastern train on October 2nd to a resounding artillery salute from the fortifications. The next day a mock battle was staged in the area of high ground between Dover and Deal involving the Rifle Regiment, the Lincoln Regiment, the Leinster Regiment, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the 19th Hussars and some artillery. The Rifles and Hussars were deployed defensively, the Rifles on a ridge facing the Lincolns who were deployed a mile or so away across the fields. The battle began at 10:10 with seven Hussars despatched as scouts toward the attackers, they were spotted and pursued back to the main bulk of the defending cavalry whom the umpires decided should retire, leaving the first skirmish as a victory for the attackers.  The attacking cavalry then attempted to assault the Rifles on the ridge who repulsed them after a few volleys. An artillery duel then commenced between the two forces. The attackers then deployed the Lincolns against the Rifles, seriously overwhelming them, seizing the ridge and forcing them to retire; if it had been a real conflict the umpires determined the Rifles would have been decimated. The Rifles retreated to Frith Farm pursued by cavalry and the Lincolns attempted to seize it, despite strong rifle-fire from the defenders. Forced to retreat again, the Rifles attempted a counter-attack on the farm with the Leinsters and Fusiliers. ‘Cease Fire’ was called at 11:45 ending with the attackers being declared the victors. The only casualty of the day was a Sergeant of the Hussars who was thrown from his horse which rolled on him, but he fortunately made a full recovery. On Friday the 4th October the Duke of Cambridge departed to inspect the troops at Shorncliffe.

The Rifle Brigade staged a popular event at Dover Town Hall on the 22nd November on behalf of the Kent branch of the National Association for the employment of Discharged and Reserve Soldiers. It consisted of military and string bands, comedy acts, songs and recitations with soldiers in the gallery joining in the chorus of comedy songs.

During late February 1890 the first of the new Lee-Metford .303 magazine rifles began to be issued to the NCOs of the regiments at Dover. Issue to the privates took place after the NCOs had become fully acquainted with them.

On the 12th March Mr Mercer, the East Kent County Coroner, was called to Fort Burgoyne to examine the body of Colour-Sergeant Morrish. Morrish was 27 years old, from Hertford, and had a promising career as an NCO. He had managed the canteen at Burgoyne and been responsible for accounts. Preying on his good nature, he had lent other soldiers money to the value of £15 which had not been repaid and thus the account books were not in order. Threatened with arrest, he kissed his wife and child, went to his room stating he was fetching his books, and there shot himself. The verdict was that he was ‘temporarily insane’ and was buried without military honours.

Another tragedy occurred on April 20th when a further suicide took place, this time at South Front Barracks. Private Peter John Grant, a company storesman, did not turn up for parade at 06:30 so the bugler was sent to find him. Grant was discovered lying on the bed with his rifle across him, a bootlace having been tied to the trigger and his foot. The reason he had shot himself through the head remained unknown as he had left no note other than asking for his pay to be sent to his mother. Lieutenant Richard Foord testified that he had been brought before him a few days earlier for having a dirty rifle but he had not been charged due to his previous good conduct. Grant was 37 years old, came from Ivernesshire and had four years and five months service behind him.

The 7th and 8th May saw the band of the Rifles play again at the Town Hall to raise money for the Gordon Boys Orphanage and Victoria Seaside Orphan’s Rests. The next day the Rifles were moved by route march to Lydd for six weeks field drill, and then in late June on to Aldershot for Whitsuntide Manoeuvres, their place being taken by the Leinsters and Highlanders to perform garrison duties. At Lydd and Aldershot the battalion was trained to use and drill with the new rifle. 

On the 21st July the 2nd Rifles returned to Dover, now fully equipped and competent with the Lee-Metford. During their absence a new hat, designed by the Duke of Connaught, was introduced. This was a shako dented down on top covered in Astrakhan skin with a brush in front for the men and a plume for officers. According to comments in the Dover Express the new cap was not popular as it did not protect the back of the neck from the sun or prevent rain from running down their faces.

Private Fortesque had a lucky escape on Sunday 3rd August. For reasons only known to him he had attempted to climb the cliffs near the Coastguard station at Cornhill but when he was 150 foot up he had become stuck, unable to climb or descend. Fortunately a resident named Mr. Chadwin saw him and called the coastguards who came to the rescue. Chief-boatman Devereaux lowered boatman Palin down the cliff, where he fixed a rope to the hapless soldier. The pair were then lowered to safety to the beach, a total height of 324 feet.

The return was brief for on the 23rd August the battalion was despatched to Belfast on the Troopship Assistance. Although the departure was early morning, hundreds of spectators assembled in a gale to watch the men depart on the Admiralty Pier. Their place at Dover was taken by the Border Regiment.

Credited to Phillip Eyden

Author Name Phil Eyden

Source: Dover Express