RIC Auxiliary Cadet William Thomas Barnes

RIC Auxiliary Cadet William Thomas Barnes (aged 26) from Sutton, Surrey (Kilmichael ambush)

Date of incident: 28 Nov. 1920

Sources: CE, 30 Nov., 1, 3 Dec. 1920; II, 30 Nov., 6 Dec. 1920; CCE, 4 Dec. 1920; Military Inquests, WO 35/152/1 (TNA); Patrick O’Brien’s WS 812, 14-17 (BMH); Charles Browne’s WS 873, 29-30 (BMH); Timothy Keohane’s WS 1295, 5-7 (BMH); Edward Young’s WS 1402, 13-16 (BMH); Barry (1949, 1989), 36-51; Deasy (1973), 169-76; Hart (1998), 21-38; Abbott (2000), 156-63; Kautt (2010), 99-118; Leeson (2011), 101, 129; Sheehan (2011), 14, 30, 121, 146; Morrison (2012), 160-72; Townshend (2013), 210-15; Murphy (2014), 65-156; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014); http://www.theauxiliaries.com/INCIDENTS/kilmichael-ambush/kilmichael.htmlhttp://www.theauxiliaries.com/men-alphabetical/men-b/barnes-wt/barnes.htmlhttp://www.theauxiliaries.com/men-alphabetical/men-f/forde/forde.html; (accessed 27 Sept. 2015); http://theauxiliaries.com/companies/c-coy/c-coy.html (accessed 28 April 2016). 


Note: A native of Surrey, Barnes was one of the Auxiliaries of C Company killed or mortally wounded in perhaps the greatest single disaster suffered by crown forces in Ireland during the war of 1919-21. The Flying Column of the West Cork Brigade (thirty-two men divided into three sections) under Tom Barry ambushed and wiped out seventeen of eighteen Auxiliaries under RIC District Inspector Francis Crake near Kilmichael in the townland of Shanacastle (actually in Cork No. 1 Brigade territory), located about halfway between Dunmanway and Macroom, on Sunday, 28 November 1920. Kautt argues that this engagement effectively ended police leadership in the offensive against the IRA. See Kautt (2010), 99-118.

The greater scale, ambition, and sheer brutality of this engagement were untypical of IRA operations in the conflict as a whole. The ambush was unexpected and highly effective, reducing the outgunned Auxiliaries defensive and offensive capacity considerably. As the chaotic skirmish unfolded, the Auxiliaries in the first tender were immobilised when initially the driver was shot dead and the vehicle was bombed with a grenade. The surviving occupants were stunned, shot at, and subsequently bayonetted at close quarters; all nine Auxiliaries of the first tender were killed in a matter of five minutes and without any casualties among the attackers. The nine bodies from the first tender were subsequently found heavily bunched together, close to where the disabled tender was discovered. The attack on the second vehicle commenced simultaneously, but the occupants put up a stronger and slightly more prolonged fight, as they were better located to defend themselves and did not suffer the consequences of a grenade attack at the outset. Their quick actions resulted in three IRA fatalities, but ultimately the section that attacked the first lorry (led by Tom Barry) moved on to assist in the assault on the second tender, which ultimately tipped the balance in favour of the IRA. The police bodies in this instance were more spread out, according to a map constructed of the ambush site in its immediate aftermath. Only two Auxiliaries survived—Cadet Frederick Forde because he was assumed to be dead when in fact he was just injured (severely), while Cadet Cecil Guthrie crept away from the fight into the fading light of dusk, only to be picked up later, shot, and disappeared by Volunteers unconnected with the ambush. The outcome indicates that despite the Auxiliaries’ fearsome fighting reputation, they were actually ill prepared, poorly led, and in many cases lacking in combat experience. See Murphy (2014), 65-156.    

The bodies were brought into Macroom. Reprisals quickly followed. The Press Association reported that these occurred on the following day: ‘Shops in the district were set on fire, [and] scarcely a house was left undamaged.’ Many people ‘are clearing out of [the] locality in terror. Business was at a standstill at Macroom yesterday [29 November], all shops being closed.’ See CE, 30 Nov. 1920. Yet the Macroom Battalion adjutant Charlie Browne later acknowledged that certain Auxiliary officers based in that town made effective efforts to curtail reprisals by their men. See Charles Browne’s WS 873, 30 (BMH). In the Cork Examiner of 1 December the ambush site was specified as Gneeve’s Cross, ‘which is at the junction of three roads about half-way on the main road between Macroom and Dunmanway’. It was reported that ‘the wrecked and burning lorries with their gruesome freight remained at the place all through the night, and it was not till next day, when their presence was missed at their station at Macroom Castle, that search patrols were sent out’. See CE, 1 Dec. 1920.

The military death toll at Kilmichael reached seventeen (including one wounded cadet caught after the ambush and executed), with one notable survivor, RIC Auxiliary Cadet Frederick Henry Forde. See http://www.theauxiliaries.com/men-alphabetical/men-f/forde/forde.htmlhttp://www.theauxiliaries.com/INCIDENTS/kilmichael-ambush/kilmichael.html (accessed 27 Sept. 2015).

A former lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, Cadet Barnes had less than two months of service with the ADRIC, having joined the force on 18 August 1920. He was buried in Bexhill Churchyard in Sutton (Surrey). See Abbott (2000), 161. All members of the ADRIC killed at Kilmichael and interred in Britain received full military honours. See II, 6 Dec. 1920.

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