Australia and New Zealand Irish Rifle Volunteers


 
 
 
The Australian and New Zealand colonies suffered a series of war scares in the 19th century. Threats which came mainly from France and Russia. In 1870 when the last British troops left, internal defence became the responsibility of locally raised forces. Some of these were raised from the Irish population of the colonies.
 
The first Irish unit to be formed was in New Zealand as the Christchurch Royal Irish Company Rifle Volunteers. And were gazetted on November 18th 1868. The meeting to form this corps was first held at the Zetland Arms Hotel in June. Re-designated No 2 (Royal Irish) Company Christchurch Rifle Volunteers, on April 4th 1871. And disbanded on April 11th 1874. An offer to form an Irish corps in October 1862. At Fortitude Valley Brisbane, in the Australian colony of Queensland was rejected. Attempts were also made to form Irish companies in Adelaide South Australia in August 1866. And a Loyal Irish Corps at Sydney New South Wales in 1868. An Irish corps had also been proposed, in the New Zealand town of Thames in October 1871.
 
 
                                                                                         
                                                                                       Canterbury Irish Rifle Volunteers helmet plate.
                                                                         Illustration from D A Corbett's Regimental Badges of New Zealand.
 
After a meeting held in Christchurch city council chambers on April 29th 1885. Ninety-five members of the Irish community applied to form an Irish Volunteer corps. This was accepted on April 30th 1885, as the Canterbury Irish Rifle Volunteers. A further meeting held on May 9th decided to adopt the same uniform as that worn by the London Irish Rifle Volunteers. On June 1st 1892 they were amalgamated with the Sydenham Rifle Volunteers, to form the Christchurch City Rifle Volunteers.
 
The Dunedin Irish Rifle Volunteers were formed on May 7th 1885. Nine days before an announcement had appeared in the Otago Times. " A meeting of Irishmen desirous of forming a corps to take part in the defence of the colony , to be held in Odd Fellows Hall, Nattray Street Wed. at 8pm". One hundred and eighty-nine men offered their services, "to aid the government in the defence of the colony against Russia". The Dunedin Irish became part of the 1st Battalion Otago Rifle Volunteers on January 25th 1886. And were disbanded on September 13th 1893.
 
One other Irish corps was to be formed on the South Island of New Zealand. The Southland Irish Rifle Volunteers were formed at Invercargill. And accepted on June 10th 1885 as an honorary corps. The Minister of Defence had informed all new corps that as hostilities were improbable. The government would only accept the service of new companies as honorary corps. These corps received no pay or allowance, but arms and accoutrements were provided by the government. It was the intention of the corps to procure at their own expense, a green tunic and trousers and a forage cap to be made locally. They applied to be formed into a garrison corps on August 7th 1885, and were disbanded on July 9th 1896.
 
Another Irish corps was proposed during a war scare in 1885, as the Temuka Irish Rifles. A meeting had been held on May 9th, and sixty-three names were handed in of men willing to join the corps. But the proposal was abandoned when the government deemed it improbable that hostilities would ensure.
 
The Auckland Royal Irish Volunteers were proposed on April 3rd 1887 and accepted on June 24th. They were posted to the 3rd Battalion Auckland Rifle Volunteers on August 13th 1887. When inspected on October 6th 1899, they had a total strength of ninety-three officers and men. They were disbanded on March 5th 1892.
 
The last Irish corps to be formed in New Zealand, was the Irish Rifle Volunteers (Wanganui). A meeting was held in November 1900, where all those who desired to join an Irish corps were requested to meet at Meehan's Hotel. The corps was accepted October 22nd 1901. They were attached to the 2nd Battalion Wellington (West Coast) Rifle Volunteers, as "J" Company, on April 16th 1902. Becoming "I" Company on November 1st 1904. The Defence Act of 1911 saw an end to the volunteer system. And the Wanganui Irish were absorbed into the new system. When the 2nd Battalion Wellington (West Coast) Rifle Volunteers were re-designated. 7th Regiment (Wellington West Coast Rifles) . In March 30th 1911, the Irish becoming "H" Company. The Wanganui Irish formed an old members association in February 1912. And held a smoke concert and final shoot the same month to celebrate passing in their colours, these were open to all members and ex-members of the company.
 

Interestingly an Irish caubeen was worn by the Nelson, Marlborough, and West Coast Regiment. This came about after an alliance with the Royal Irish Fusiliers, which took place on September 23rd 1949. The blue caubeen and green hackle of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, was formally presented to the NMWC Regiment at a Barrosa Day parade in 1961. But may have been worn on special anniversaries and parades before this. On January 24th 1964 the Ist Battalion Nelson, Marlborough, and West Coast Regiment amalgamated into the, 2nd Battalion (Canterbury, Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast) Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment. Army Headquarters ruled that only “A” and “B” Companies of the new regiment were to wear the caubeen and hackle on dates significant to the regiment. This was found to be unworkable, and as a result the caubeen and hackle were not worn until 1968 when the ruling was changed. Only officers and warrant officers seem to have worn the caubeen during formal parades. While the RNZIR cedar green beret was worn for everyday use. By the early 1990’s all ranks were wearing the caubeen and hackle.  On the formation of the Royal Irish Rangers in 1969, the green caubeen of the Irish Rangers was adopted. The 2RNZIR discontinued wearing the caubeen in the 1990’s due to financial constraints, and it was replaced by the cedar green beret.  In November 1998 the mounted rifle hat was introduced army wide, and was worn for formal parades, while the beret was worn for everyday use. In 1999 the rifle green beret was adopted for the New Zealand army, being phased-in in late 2002. The 2nd (Canterbury, Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast) Battalion Group, as the unit was known then,  wore the green hackle on the left side of the mounted rifle hat. This was to signify the continued association with the Royal Irish Regiment.

Eighteen years after the formation of the first Irish corps in New Zealand. The Queensland Irish Volunteer Corps were proposed on February 18th 1887. And gazetted February 24th, as "A" Company Queensland Irish Volunteer Corps. Established at Peel Street South Brisbane with three officers and one hundred other ranks, “B” and “C” Companies quickly followed. Formed on March 11th 1887 at Valley North Brisbane, and Petrie Terrace West Brisbane. “D” Company was formed at Gympie on November 14th 1888. With an establishment of three officers and ninety other ranks. The application to from this company was submitted on May 27th 1887. The application to form a company at Ipswich was submitted on August 26th 1889. They were gazetted September 4th 1889 as “E” Company, and were three officers and ninety other ranks strong. Gazetted the same day were “F” Company, established at Woollongabba East Brisbane. With three officers and ninety other ranks. The final company raised was “G” at Maryborough, again with three officers and ninety other ranks, on December 4th 1889. An application in March 1887 signed by over one hundred men willing to form an Irish corps at Rockhampton was unsuccessful. A band had also been formed at the HQ in Brisbane. “G” Maryborough Company was the first to disband, on August 6th 1891. Followed by “D” Gympie Company on November 7th 1894.  A re-organisation took place in 1896. The Queensland Irish Volunteer Corps were re-designated, 3rd (Queensland Irish) Battalion, Regiment of Queensland Rifles. “A” “B”, “C”,”E” and “F” Companies became, “I” “K”,”L”, “M” and “N”  Companies of the new regiment. On July 30th 1897 “I” “K” and “M” Companies were disbanded. “N” Company was redesignated “M”, and together with “L” Company was disbanded the following year, which brought to an end the Irish Volunteer Corps in Queensland. However there was a proposal to reintroduce the Irish Corps in 1899. And another in 1939 at the annual dinner of the Queensland Irish Association, but nothing came of these proposals. The uniform worn by the corps was of a fine drab serge material (khaki). The cuffs of a fine billiard table cloth, surmounted by an Austrian knot, and the collar composed of the same bright green material.  The buttons were brass, NCO’S stripes were gold. And running down the trousers a green band of braid. The hat was similar to that worn by the Mounted Infantry, with the exception of a green pleated puggaree. The undress uniform was based on that worn by the 1st Bn. Royal Irish Rifles. And was dark green with light green facings, worn with black leather accoutrements. At least some of the companies wore harp collar badges.



                                                                               
                                                                         8th Union Volunteers Infantry Regiment (Irish Rifles), WM and B shoulder titles.
                                                                                                Collar badges consisting of the harp only were also worn.

In November 1895 a meeting was held in Sydney town hall, where it was decided to form an Irish Rifle Corps. Three companies were formed, and gazetted on March 5th 1896 as the New South Wales Irish Rifles. They were grouped together with St. George Rifles, and the Scottish Rifles. To form an administrative regiment. Designated the 5th (Union Volunteer) New South Wales Infantry Regiment, on June 20th 1896. Another Irish company was formed in Sydney in 1898. These national companies split to form their own distinct regiments. The Irish were re-designated as the 8th Union Volunteer Infantry Regiment (Irish Rifles), on July 1st 1899. For administrative purposes two non Irish companies from the Illawarra district, (one at Kogarah and one at Bulli) were attached. A further Irish company was formed at Newcastle the men being sworn in, in June 1900. A regimental band had been formed at Sydney. But the Newcastle Company had the distinction of having its own band, when the Newcastle City Band was attached in October 1902. Although a civilian band they were allowed the wear the uniform of the NSW Irish Rifles. By law militia units were not permitted to serve overseas as they were raised for the defence of Australia, but twenty three men of the 8th fought in the Boer War. Earning the regiment the Battle Honour South Africa 1901, later changed to South Africa 1900-02. The 8th Union Volunteer Infantry Regiment (Irish Rifles), were re-designated, New South Wales Irish Rifle Regiment (Volunteers) in 1903. And 1st Battalion New South Wales Irish Rifle Regiment in 1908. A major re-organisation in 1912 saw the name change to the 33rd Infantry Regiment. And in yet another re-organisation in 1921, it changed to the 55th Battalion. In 1927 the old New South Wales Irish Rifles title was revived. The Irish connection finally came to an end in 1930, when the regiment was re-designated the New South Wales Rifle Regiment. There was an unsuccessful call to reform the NSW Irish Rifles in 1936, following an article in the Sydney Morning Herald marking the 40th anniversary of the formation of the regiment.   
    
                                                                                                                                                                                         
                                                                                       NSW Irish Rifles cap badges and collar badge.
 
The NSW Irish had worn a distinctive uniform. In the 1895 dress regulations the officer’s field service jacket is as infantry, with the following exceptions. Collar and cuffs emerald green, cuff with shamrock of Lincoln green. Ends of collar ornamented with shamrock of 3/8 inch silver braid. Shoulder knot of a silver round cord, to be woven silk cord same colour as facings (emerald green). Trousers were as for infantry with green welt. The puggaree was Lincoln green silk folded with five pleats, with two lines of regimental colour 1/4 inch wide. Between the first and fourth pleats. Mess jacket waist coat as for infantry, with silver braid shamrocks on cuffs.  According to the 1900 dress regulations this had changed to. Jacket green Venetian cloth with scarlet collar edged with black. Scarlet cuffs edged in black and forming a chevron and shamrock. Two breast patch pockets and black gimp shoulder knots. Button and badges of rank steel bronze. Trousers of green Venetian cloth with dark rifle green welts. Service cap folding green cloth, crown shaped similar to glengarry, NSW cap buttons in bronze, and badge worn on left side. Puggaree Lincoln green silk folded into five pleats, with two lines of light green between fourth and fifth pleats. A dark green feather with screw attachments was worn on the helmet. And in the 1906 dress regulations this had changed to.  Hat green felt, edged, bound in ribbon to match. Plume dark green cock’s feathers.  A puggaree of dark green, light green and red cashmere was worn. Tunic green cloth, stand collar which is scarlet and black, shoulder straps are green and scarlet. Seven large buttons on front of jacket and two on the back, under these buttons a row of scarlet cloth 3/8 inch wide to bottom of tunic. Cuffs are scarlet with black braid that extends to a point and above the point three leaves. Trousers green cloth same as tunic, with scarlet cloth 1/4 inch wide down outside seam of each leg. The distinctive uniform came to an end in 1930, when the universal khaki uniform was adopted.
 
                                                                         

                                                                                                                NSW Irish Rifles.
                                                                                                         Vice Regal cigarette card.

                                                                                      
After it was decided to increase the strength of the 1st Battalion Adelaide Rifles, from four to eight companies. The South Australian Register dated February 13th 1900 carried the following public notice. “A meeting of all interested in the formation of an Irish Rifle Corps will be held on Tuesday February 20th at 8pm it the town hall”. After the meeting one hundred and fifty seven names of volunteers were taken. And after selection were to become “F” (Irish) Company 1st Battalion Adelaide Rifles. With the creation of the Australian Commonwealth Military Forces in 1903, the Irish Rifles became part of the newly formed 10th Australian Infantry Regiment (Adelaide Rifles).  On formation of the Irish Company it was suggested that a green uniform be worn, but no distinctive uniform was adopted. However a shamrock worked from black braid was worn on the uniform sleeves. And hand engraved brass harp collar badges were worn. These were worn until January 1910, when the company was ordered to discontinue wearing them. They do so under protest. This was done to secure uniformity of dress with the other companies in the 10th AIR. A green stripe one inch wide was also approved to be worn on the trouser seams, but was later disallowed. This had been the last Irish unit to be formed in Australia.

 Attempts had been made to form other Irish Corps. A five hundred strong Irish Australian Volunteer Corps was proposed in Melbourne Victoria in April 1885. And a number of meetings were held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Hall. Steps were also taken in May 1901 and May 1910, to form an Irish Australian Regiment in Melbourne, and again in 1941. An Irish Volunteer Corps was proposed at a meeting held in the dining rooms of the Shamrock Hotel, in Perth Western Australia on April 18th 1900. Another Irish corps was proposed in Perth in 1904. An Irish regiment was suggested at Bendigo Victoria in April 1906. And a company of Irish Rifles was considered at Broken Hill NSW in April 1910. An Irish corps was also proposed in Queensland, as part of the 9th Australian Infantry Regiment (Moreton) in 1906. Committees were often appointed but these corps were never formed.

 
 
 
 
 
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