RIC Auxiliary Cadet Spencer Rougier Chapman

RIC Auxiliary Cadet Spencer Rougier Chapman (age 27) from Westcliffe-on-Sea (Dillon’s Cross ambush, Cork city)

Crown casualties in this ambush: 14 Auxiliaries wounded, 5 or 6 seriously, 2 fatally.

Date of incident: 11 Dec. 1920

Sources: CE, 13 Dec. 1920, 4 March, 14 July 1921; II, 14 Dec. 1920; CWN, 18 Dec. 1920; Weekly Summary of Outrages against the Police, Dec. 1920 (904/150, TNA); Seán Healy’s WS 1479, 55-58 (BMH); Abbott (2000), 164; White and O’Shea (2006), 109, 111; Kautt (2010), 156; Leeson (2011), 170, 204; http://www.theauxiliaries.com/INCIDENTS/dillons-cross/dillons-cross.html;  http://www.theauxiliaries.com/men-alphabetical/men-c/chapman-sr/chapman.htmlhttp://www.theauxiliaries.com/adric-general/compensation/compensation%20claims.html (accessed 27 Sept. 2015).


Note: A veteran of Great War from England, Chapman died of his wounds at Dillon’s Cross. The notorious IRA ambush at Dillon’s Cross prompted the burning of much of Cork city on the night of 11-12 December 1920 and other military and police outrages, especially house-burnings. In this ambush of a convoy of cadets from K Company of the Auxiliaries, a squad of six IRA men inflicted casualties of one dead (not immediate) and twelve wounded by hurling bombs into two military lorries, following this up with revolver shots and then escaping as quickly as possible, since the attack was staged very close to Victoria Barracks.

The raid was carried out by members of the First Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade. One member of the raiding party—Seán O’Donoghue—‘was still carrying some unused grenades, and these were hidden on the Delany farm [at Dublin Hill], after which the two men [O’Donoghue and his comrade James O’Mahony] split up and went their separate ways’. Besides prompting the horrendous crime of the burning down of a large part of the city centre of Cork, the ambush at Dillon’s Cross also led to other reprisals close to the scene of the ambush: ‘Incensed by an attack in such close proximity to their headquarters, and still seeking retribution for the deaths of their colleagues at Kilmichael, the Auxiliaries in Victoria Barracks assembled to exact their revenge. . . . At approximately 9.30 p.m. lorries laden down with armed Auxiliaries and British soldiers left the barracks for Dillon’s Cross, where they dismounted, made their way to a number of houses, broke open the doors, and forced the occupants on to the street. Once vacant, the Auxiliaries then proceeded to set the houses alight; among those targeted was the former home of Brian Dillon, the famous Cork Fenian after whom the cross-roads was named. They then stood guard as several houses were razed to the ground, and when some poor unfortunates tried to intervene to save their homes, they were fired upon.’ See White and O’Shea (2006), 109, 111.

The official account of the ambush at Dillon’s Cross provided the names of the victims (not altogether accurately) and offered a partly dubious context: ‘Bombs are believed to have been thrown from houses at Dillon’s Cross, in the north district of Cork, into lorries containing cadets as they were leaving Cork Military Barracks, and it is suggested that the bombs used were supplied to the assailants from the bomb factory which was discovered in Dublin, and in connection with which four men have been arrested. The ambush took place at 8 p.m.’ This account was reportedly issued from the Irish Office in London. But the reporter for the Cork Examiner told a different story in the same issue. He argued that the attack (and presumably the bombs, or some of them) apparently came ‘from behind a dead wall on the Old Youghal Road, where that thoroughfare runs into Dillon’s Cross when travelling from the direction of the barracks; and as there is practically a right-angle turn here, over a very short stretch of road, all cars must of necessity pull up to a dead slow pace’. He stressed how fast the action must have occurred: ‘Certain it is . . . that in the space of a few short seconds at least a dozen men were nearly hurled into eternity, and one of them has since gone before his Maker.’ See CE, 13 Dec. 1920.

One of the other wounded cadets, John Leslie Emanuel, later told the Recorder of Cork that he had been travelling in the first of the two Crossley tenders that left Victoria Barracks on the night of 11 December 1921: ‘Having been satisfied there was no signal from the second lorry, they put on a little speed, and immediately a bomb was thrown into the car. This landed on the applicant’s [Emanuel’s] lap, and he threw it out. Another bomb followed, and then there broke out rifle and revolver fire. All the occupants in both cars [said to include fourteen cadets] were injured, some of them very seriously, one of whom, Cadet Chapman, died in hospital next day. The second bomb blew them all out of the [first] lorry.’ See CE, 4 March 1921.

Participating Volunteer Seán Healy later provided a succinct and gruesome account of the Dillon’s Cross ambush: ‘The date was fixed for Saturday, 11th December, and the hour 7:30 p.m. The night was bright, with a heavy frost falling. Six picked men assembled as arranged, armed with Mills bombs, revolvers, and a good supply of ammunition. Seán O’Donoghue, who was the battalion commandant at the time, was in charge of the party, and I was second in command as captain of A/Company. Volunteer Michael Kenny took up his position on the roadway to act as scout. The other Volunteers who took part in the ambush were Mick Baylor, Jim O’Mahoney, and Gus O’Leary. We took up our positions in the same field as we were the first night. [This was the second attempt to ambush soldiers at this spot.] Just at 8 p.m. we heard two blasts of a whistle from our scout, which indicated that two lorries of Auxiliaries had left the nearby barracks. This was the signal to “get ready”. As the lorries slowed down on nearing Dillon’s Cross, Seán O’Donoghue gave the order, “Ready—Fire”. We hurled our “eggs” into the lorries and quickly followed up the attack by a discharge of revolver shots. The two lorries swerved and ditched. Wounded and screaming Auxiliaries could be seen on the roadway. We learned afterwards that at least one was killed and twelve seriously wounded.’ See Seán Healy’s WS 1479, 56-57 (BMH).

Of the twelve soldiers wounded in the Dillon’s Cross ambush, eleven received compensation awards—three for sums of £2,500, £1,800, and £1,000; five for sums of £500 to £750, and three for sums under £500. See http://www.theauxiliaries.com/adric-general/compensation/compensation%20claims.html (accessed 27 Sept. 2015). 


The Irish Revolution Project

Scoil na Staire /Tíreolaíocht

University College Cork, Cork,