Heritage Ireland

The Golden Locket, The Hidden Grave & The Forgotten Soldier

Dublin Castle holds a wealth of history and there are many stories both old and new that centre around this OPW site.

On Easter Monday, 24th April 1916 as the independent Irish Republic was being declared from the steps of the General Post Office in Sackville Street (now O’ Connell St.), Dublin, Ireland, a young British army officer was preparing to go on duty.

Lieutenant Guy Vickery Pinfield was twenty-one years old and was a rugby-playing, former student of Cambridge University. He had received his commission as a second lieutenant into the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars at the outbreak of war in 1914. A year later he was posted to the 10th Reserve Cavalry Regiment at the Curragh Camp in County Kildare. Born in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire in 1895, Vickery Pinfield came from a successful and prosperous family that had made their money through tea plantations in the Indian province of Assam. Like many other young men of the regiment, he was waiting for his orders to move to the front. The conflict had been raging for two years and he was concerned that the war would be over before he got a chance to join in.

On the 24th April 1916, news reached the Curragh camp that a Rebellion had erupted in Dublin city and reinforcements were needed urgently in order to secure military and government buildings. Vickery Pinfield was posted to the city by train and was sent to Dublin Castle.

Shortly before midday, a section from the Irish Citizen Army commanded by Abbey actor, Seán Connolly, occupied City Hall and other strategic positions in the area. An unarmed policeman, James O’ Brien, was shot dead as he attempted to close the gates of Dublin Castle.  The guardroom of the complex was rushed by a number of armed Volunteers. From these posts, Connolly’s men kept up a relentless fire against British forces within the Castle. It was imperative that this threat be removed immediately. Vickery Pinfield was ordered to lead an attack with the objective of securing the main gate of the Castle and the guardhouse. Under heavy fire, the platoon moved towards the gate but Vickery Pinfield was shot and fell to the ground mortally wounded. A section of his unit moved forward and laid down some strong covering fire while another group of them managed to pull their dying officer into cover. Francis Sheehy Skeffington, a well-known Dublin pacifist, braved the hail of gunfire to bring aid to the stricken officer, but it was too late. The platoon fell back having suffered one officer killed, another officer wounded while approximately thirty ordinary ranks were wounded.

As the rebellion raged throughout Easter week, those that had fallen were hastily buried in the grounds of the complex. Vickery Pinfield’s body was wrapped in a winding sheet and interred in a temporary grave in the Castle gardens, as were many other British soldiers.

After the Rising, the families of the dead came to the Castle to reclaim the bodies of their loved ones. At the end of that month, those bodies that had not been claimed were reinterred at the British military cemetery at Blackhorse Avenue, Grangegorman. However, the bodies of Vickery Pinfield and another four officers, Godfrey Hunter (26), Algernon Lucas (37), Philip Addison (20) and Basil Worsley-Worswick (35), remained in Dublin Castle, unclaimed. Granite slabs recorded the names, regiments and dates of death of the five officers.

There they remained, as the formal garden slowly succumbed to the elements, over decades of neglect. Their temporary graves were rediscovered by chance in 1962 on what was by that time deemed waste ground. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission made arrangements for the bodies to be exhumed and the remains reburied within Grangegorman cemetery. On the 17th May 1963, the five men were buried with the distinctive Commonwealth War Grave headstones marking out their final resting place.

Guy Vickery Pinfield gravestone

Despite appearances and what seems like neglect for his body, Vickery Pinfield was not forgotten. Soon after his death in 1916 The Illustrated London News published his photo on their Roll of Honour. His obituary in The Times announced the much loved only son of Mrs P. Russell had been killed in action in Ireland. At Marlborough College his name appears with 742 others who lost their lives during the Great War 1914–1918. His fellow officers erected a plaque to his memory that is located within St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, the only plaque in the cathedral connected to the Easter Rising. In his home town of Bishops Stortford, his name appears in the local church and town war memorial. His old rugby club at Rosslyn Park also have his name on their memorial. To his family, friends and community Vickery Pinfield was not forgotten, but for the wider world he would have remained another unknown statistic of the Irish Easter Rising if it were not for the recent auction of the locket. This prompted a number of researchers to investigate the story of this young man and why his body was left in the grounds of Dublin castle for so many years.

The 15 carat gold memorial locket sold for £850 and carries his image. It is engraved with the words of the Hussars’ motto “Pristinae Virtutis memores” (The memory of former valour). The officers initials ‘GVP’ and his place and date of death, Dublin April 24th 1916, are also to be found on the locket which his mother wore throughout her life. A letter to her from a brother officer in Pinfield’s regiment may disclose one of the reasons why his body was not removed from the castle and repatriated to England. The officer states that Pinfield’s remains were to be buried within the Castle environs in consecrated ground, a fitting resting place as it was just a few feet from where he fell. It is possible that Pinfield’s mother took solace in this and left the remains of her son where she believed they would be tended to by the military.

An Edwardian gold locket holding an image of Guy Vickery Pinfield of Bishops Stortford, who was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars in August 1914. He was killed aged 21 in the Easter Rising in Dublin. Photograph: Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers
An Edwardian gold locket holding an image of Guy Vickery Pinfield of Bishops Stortford, who was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars in August 1914. He was killed aged 21 in the Easter Rising in Dublin. Photograph: Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers

To most of the world the 1916 Easter Rising was over-shadowed by events on the Western Front later that year. The Battle of the Somme followed that summer and the 116 British soldiers killed during the insurrection in Dublin city were listed as ‘killed at home’. The British military and government were reluctant to remember soldiers killed in Dublin during the rebellion, as the event had caused some embarrassment.

In Britain, Remembrance Day recalls those British and allied servicemen and women who died in two World Wars. The first of these ceremonies took place on the 11th November 1919. As the years went by, the event was commemorated by a two-minute silence, church services and parades to newly erected memorials. In Ireland these events became controversial with the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 and in the years that followed, the memories of the war and those who had fallen became a private recollection for those who had served or who had lost loved ones during the conflict.

Many of the men and women who fought in Dublin city that Spring over 100 years ago have been consigned to dusty annals, a page in an archive or a paragraph in a book. With the passing of time, we are growing ever more distant from one of the most important events in Irish and British history and those from both sides who took part.

The locket that was sold at auction to an unknown Irish bidder had been specifically made to commemorate Guy Vickery Pinfield. Every headstone in a cemetery has a story to tell and Lieutenant Pinfields’ was no exception.

This article first appeared in The Irish Times, May 2013.

About the Author

Paul O’ Brien MA, a military historian and author, works for the Office of Public Works and is currently based at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. The author of fifteen books, he has written extensively on the 1916 Rising, the British Army in Ireland and a number of local histories. He lives in Santry, Dublin with his wife, daughter and two cats. Stay up to date with the author at: paulobrienauthor.ie

Gone But Not Forgotten

Within the grounds of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham there are three graveyards. Adjacent to Bully’s Acre the oldest cemetery in Dublin city are two military graveyards for the pensioners and staff that once resided within the majestic confines of the RHK.

It is said that every headstone tells a story and those that are left here are no exception. Often broken and in disrepair these weatherworn reminders represent an individual’s life, often lost but hopefully not forgotten. This is the story of one such man, a headstone in a forgotten graveyard, a casualty of the Great War.

Charles Harold Blackburne was born on the 20th May 1876. He was educated at Tonbridge School and it was here that his interest in military life commenced. He was described as very much the dashing and handsome young officer. He was five foot and ten inches and a half in height. His weight was twelve stone. His hair was brown and he had blue eyes.

South Africa provided Charles Blackburne with opportunity and fortune. This was far removed from his home in England. Fuelled by the stories of military adventures in India and Africa he enlisted in the Imperial Yeomanry. He joined the regiment on the 9th January 1900 at Maidstone in Kent. He was 24 years old. He enlisted as a private and rapidly rose through the ranks to receive a commission of captain by late 1900.

When the Boer war erupted on the 11th October 1899 British crown forces found themselves involved in a new and difficult type of warfare. Between 1900 and 1902 Captain Blackburne was on active service with the 11th Imperial Yeomanry. Life in South Africa was vastly different to that of England. The open veldt and the excitement of the conflict were to fuel the adventurous Blackburne and reveal a life that he had only dreamed of. He was mentioned in dispatches in February 1901.

“Blackburne for the good work he has done throughout the campaign and especially during the rapid march made by colonel Firman in February 1901. He has trained and turned in to a thoroughly serviceable band of men a squadron of raw recruits.” [1]

On August 30th Captain Blackburne and his troop were patrolling the Elands river bridge crossing, an area that was a constant hive of enemy activity. As his men entered the water, a concealed group of Boer commandos opened fire on the patrol. The troops found themselves prevented from crossing the river by coils of barbed wire that had been anchored to the bed of the river. Withdrawing to the bank, Captain Blackburne shouted the order to dismount and take cover. The patrol returned fire while bullets and shrapnel sprayed around them. The first volley of Mauser bullets had claimed two casualties who now lay wounded in the open under heavy fire. Captain Blackburne assessed the situation, holstered his revolver and ordered his men to lay down a covering fire. He then crawled out to the wounded soldiers and with three of his men carried them to safety behind some rocks.[2] The Boer commandos retreated from their concealed position, and this enabled Captain Blackburne to return to camp.

For his service in the Boer War he was awarded the Kings and Queens medal. However for his decisive action at Elands river crossing he was created a companion of the Distinguished Service Order. This military order was established for rewarding individual instances of meritorious or distinguished service in times of war.

It was generally issued to officers in command above the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. For ranks like Captain Blackburnes they were made for heroic acts of gallantry just short of deserving the Victoria Cross.

On December the 11th 1901 Captain Blackburne was granted home leave and is registered as being a passenger on the ship ‘The Briton’ docking in Southampton on December 27th.

He returned to South Africa to finish his army service and then took up the position in the Transvaal repatriation department where he pursued a career in civil administration.

While stationed in the Transvaal he was to meet his future wife. Here as manager of the Transvaal government stud he met and fell in love with Miss Emily Beatrice, daughter of the Reverend Canon H.D Jones. They soon married and in the years that followed they had two children, Beatrice Audrey born on the 24th June 1907 and Charles Bertram born on the 11th September 1911. Africa had provided a new and adventurous life, crowned by domestic happiness. The sun scorched earth of the Transvaal veldt is a long way from the shores of England. However it was on this continent of Africa that Charles Harold Blackburne was to settle and begin raising his family.

As the storm clouds of war once again appeared on the horizon, Charles Blackburne returned to England and enlisted in the British army. He was appointed Captain of the 5th Dragoons (from the special reserve) on the 5th August 1914.

It was not long afterwards that Captain Blackburne was posted overseas and saw action in the Ypres sector during 1915. This area was under continuous bombardment from the German artillery. The line became untenable and Captain Blackburne regrouped his men and re – occupied the vacant front line positions. He achieved this under devastating shellfire. Captain Blackburne was wounded during this dash to hold the position but remained on duty rallying his troops and urging them to stand fast. On May 14th they marched near the town of Ypres and on May 15th Captain Blackburne was admitted to hospital. For this heroic action he received the Brevet of Major on June 3rd 1915.[3]

After a period of rest and recuperation he was transferred to Dublin and took up a position on the headquarters staff in late 1915. Living in Dublin with his family was a huge change from Africa. The war also seemed distant as life in Dublin seemed to be endless paperwork and social outings. However this changed dramatically with the Rising of Easter 1916. Captain Blackburne was stationed at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. During this difficult and turbulent period he was once again noted for his ability and steadfastness in combat. After the flames of Rebellion were extinguished, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier Major on April 28th 1916 and then was appointed a General staff officer 2nd grade. Two years later while still resident in Ireland he was promoted to a grade 1 staff officer on April 19th 1918.

On October 10th 1918 Charles Blackburne booked passage from Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) to Holyhead on the Royal Mail Steamer ‘The SS Leinster’. Accompanying him on the journey were his wife and two children. The R.M.S Leinster was built in 1897, one of a quartet of identical cross channel steamers. These vessels had been named after the four provinces of Ireland, Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught. They had been built at the Cummel Laird shipyards in Birkenhead in England. The Leinster’s tonnage had been registered at 2646 tons. Because of wartime she had been camouflaged and armed with one 12-pound gun and two signalling guns. As Captain Blackburne and his family boarded the ship they noticed the large amount of passengers and crew many of which were soldiers returning from leave in Ireland. The ship was leaving port with a full complement of 771 persons on board. As the ship sailed out to the Irish channel, the thoughts of U Boat activity were present in the minds of all on board. This stretch of water was notorious for submarine activity. The ship was 16 miles out to sea when a huge explosion shook the vessel.

Portrait

The twenty-seven year old German commander of UB123 Robert Ramm had sighted the ship. He had released three torpedoes. The first had missed the target. The second had struck the port bow.

Smoke filled the cabins as flames shot through the air and acrid black smoke bellowed from below decks. Panic and confusion filled the passengers and crew. Captain Birch of the Leinster tried to manoeuvre the ship in order to return to port. It was then that the third torpedo struck the vessel in the area of the engine room. The final deathblow had struck the ship and it was now beyond saving. The devastation of the Leinster had taken place in under ten minutes. As the ship sank beneath the waves, 501 of its 771 passengers and crew were lost. Among the casualties were Captain Blackburne and his two children. His wife survived.

Captain Charles Blackburne’s body was returned to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham to be buried along with his son, Peter. On Monday 21st October 1918, the autumn sunshine glistened through the stained glass windows of the hospital chapel. The service was conducted by his grace the Archbishop and very Reverend the Dean of St. Patrick’s. The chapel echoed with the voices of the choirboys of St. Patrick’s cathedral as they accompanied the music of Dr. Marchant. Blackburne’s widow stood dressed in black amidst a sea of khaki uniforms.

Their coffins were carried down the avenue and laid to rest side by side in the officer’s cemetery of the Royal Hospital. His daughter though mentioned on the headstone, is not listed at the burial service, her body lost at sea.

The inscription on the headstone reads as follows,

To the glory of God and the beloved memory of Lt. Col Charles Blackburne D.S.O, 5TH Dragoon guards, born 20th May 1876, and of Charles Bertram (Peter) his son born 3rd September 1911 who are both buried here. Also of Beatrice Audrey his daughter, born 24th June 1907. All of whom lost their lives in the sinking of H.M.S Leinster by a German submarine 10th October 1918

‘When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee’

The sinking of the Leinster took place 33 days before the armistice with Germany was signed bringing an end to the Great War.

The cold soil of Ireland is far removed from that of the warm African plains. Captain Blackburne had answered his country’s call and his family had followed him across the world. Charles Blackburne was forty-two years old, his son Peter seven and his daughter Beatrice eleven when they were killed. It is said that as one faces peril the episodes of one’s life pass before one’s eyes. As Charles Blackburne slipped beneath the waves perhaps the thoughts and memories of a life filled with adventure, love, romance and laughter passed before him.

Today, dedicated staff of the  Office of Public Works maintain the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, it’s grounds and cemeteries and tours are ongoing throughout the year.

[1]           London Gazette, 29 July 1902

[2]           W.O 108/161

[3]           W.O 95/1109

About the Author

Paul O’Brien MA, a military historian and author, works for the Office of Public Works and is currently based at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. The author of fifteen books, he has written extensively on the 1916 Rising, the British Army in Ireland and a number of local histories. He lives in Santry, Dublin with his wife, daughter and two cats. Stay up to date with the author at: paulobrienauthor.ie

From Prison to Citizenship

Mary Bourke-Dowling was an Irish suffragette and republican who spent time in prison for both causes in the early years of the twentieth century.

Born in Clontarf in 1882, Mary Bourke-Dowling was an active member of the Irish Women’s Franchise League and was involved in the campaign for women’s right to vote in the early 1900s. She worked on the suffragette paper The Irish Citizen and spoke at meetings around the country.

An inscription on the front cover of Mary Bourke-Dowling’s scrapbook, memorialising her two periods of imprisonment
An inscription on the front cover of Mary Bourke-Dowling’s scrapbook, memorialising her two periods of imprisonment

In their campaign for voting rights, the suffragettes often took part in militant protests. In November 1911, Mary Bourke-Dowling was amongst several hundred suffragettes arrested in London for smashing windows across the city. She threw stones at the windows of the British War Office, though they failed to break. She was tried at Bow Street Police Court on 27 November 1911 and sentenced to 5 days imprisonment in Holloway Jail, alongside several other Irishwomen. At their trials the suffragettes claimed that such destruction was the only form of protest available to them.

Upon her release from prison in December 1911, Mary Bourke-Dowling returned to Dublin. At a special meeting of The Irish Women’s Franchise League to welcome back the released prisoners, she was presented with a medal engraved with the League’s statement of intent: ‘From Prison to Citizenship’. This medal, from which the exhibition takes its name, is displayed to the public for the first time.

A letter sent by Mary Bourke-Dowling’s brother, Joseph, addresses to her in Bow Street Police Station
A letter sent by Mary Bourke-Dowling’s brother, Joseph, addresses to her in Bow Street Police Station

In 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed. This gave women over 30, who also had property rights or a university education, the right to vote. Women all over Ireland cast their vote for the first time in the December 1918 General Election.

Mary Bourke-Dowling later joined the republican women’s organisation Cumann na mBan and took the Anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War. In August 1922, she lost her job as a writing assistant in the Civil Service following her refusal to sign a declaration of fidelity to the Irish Free State government. She was later arrested in February 1923, and spent over six months imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol and the North Dublin Union. As a member of the Prisoners’ Council, Bourke-Dowling drew on her experiences as a suffragette and advised her fellow prisoners on how best to resist the authorities. She was released from Kilmainham Gaol in September, 1923.

A medal presented to Mary Bourke-Dowling in December 1911 by the Irish Women’s Franchise League
A medal presented to Mary Bourke-Dowling in December 1911 by the Irish Women’s Franchise League

The Kilmainham Gaol Archive holds some very interesting items associated with Mary Bourke-Dowling, most notably, a scrapbook created by her to preserve documents and souvenirs associated with her imprisonment in Holloway and Kilmainham Gaols. A letter of support from her brother, Joseph, and addressed to ‘Miss Bourke-Dowling, Sufferagette (sic), Bow Street Police Station, London’ is of particular interest. Other items of interest associated with this remarkable woman include sketches and watercolours painted by Bourke-Dowling whilst imprisoned during the Civil War.

Unfortunately, little is known about Mary Bourke-Dowling’s political life after she left Kilmainham Gaol in 1923. She spent years fighting to be reinstated to her position in the Civil Service and was finally successful in 1932. She married William H. Lewers in 1933 and as a result may have had to leave her job once more. A ‘marriage bar’ was introduced in the 1930s which made it compulsory for female civil servants to stop working once married. This was not repealed until 1973. Mary Bourke-Dowling died at her home in Clontarf in July 1944.

An order for the detention of Mary Bourke-Dowling, signed in August 1923 by Richard Mulcahy, Minister for Defence
An order for the detention of Mary Bourke-Dowling, signed in August 1923 by Richard Mulcahy, Minister for Defence
A watercolour of a fellow prisoner in one of the exercise yards around Kilmainham Gaol, painted by Mary Bourke-Dowling in 1923
A watercolour of a fellow prisoner in one of the exercise yards around Kilmainham Gaol, painted by Mary Bourke-Dowling in 1923

About the Author

Aoife Torpey holds a degree in History and English Literature from Trinity College Dublin, and has recently completed an MA in Museum Studies with the University of Leicester. She has worked in Kilmainham Gaol Museum since 2015, where she looks after the Museum’s wonderful collection of historical objects.

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