Bandboy Matthew Carson
Bandboy Matthew Carson (aged about 18) of the 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment (near Aherla)
Date of incident: 5 June 1921 (captured, executed, and disappeared as suspected intelligence operative by IRA)
Sources: IT, 6 Sept. 1924; British Forces Missing (Military Archives, A/0909); JUS/H/257/13 (NAI); Patrick Cronin’s WS 710 (BMH); Jeremiah O’Herlihy’s WS 810, 18 (BMH); D’Arcy (2007), 50-59; Commonwealth War Graves Commission; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/list-1921.html; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/band-boy-murders/carson/carson.html; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/band-boy-murders/band-boy.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014); http://www.tameside.gov.uk/museumsgalleries/mom/objectfocus/razor (17 Sept. 2015).
Note: The three young bandboys of the First Battalion of the Manchester Regiment were spotted at Srelane Cross near Ovens; they were arrested by the IRA and taken three miles south-west to a house one mile south of Aherla village, where they were tried, sentenced to death, and executed on 5 June 1921. Their bodies were buried in an adjoining yard. Their whereabouts remained unknown for the next two years. In 1923 Carson’s father came to Ireland searching for the bodies and found them with assistance from Civic Guards in Bandon. Their remains were then exhumed on 18 August of that year, conveyed to Bandon, and buried in the workhouse cemetery there. Later still, on 5-9 September 1924, following requests by the parents of the boys to have their remains repatriated, the bodies were exhumed again, transferred to England, and interred in Hurst Cemetery at Ashton-under-Lyne in Tameside in the greater Manchester area. ‘Thousands of local people’ reportedly turned out on 9 September 1924 for the funerals (all with full military honours); there was a Catholic service for Matthew Carson, and a Church of England service for Charles Chapman and John Cooper. For one of the parents of the three dead bandboys a long ordeal was finally over: ‘Matthew Carson’s father, who was himself Irish and had served with the Royal Irish Rifles for 20 years, was unable to get any satisfaction from his correspondence with the various authorities concerned, so he crossed to Ireland and enlisted the sympathy of Michael Collins, and after a two year wait, his efforts [to locate and repatriate the bodies] were rewarded.’ See http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/band-boy-murders/carson/carson.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014).
These three bandboys of the Manchester Regiment were, it seems certain, mistaken for young soldier-spies of the Essex Regiment—a mistake that might help to explain why they were executed. That they were considered ‘spies’ was indicated in correspondence from Carson’s father. See Letter from R. Carson to Freeman’s Journal, 9 July 1923, in JUS/H/257/13 (NAI). In their combined BMH witness statement Jeremiah O’Herlihy and seven other former Volunteers from the Third Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade mentioned the capture and execution of three soldiers of the ‘Essex Regiment’: ‘In June 1921, with a squad from Srelane Company, I captured three British soldiers of the Essex Regiment after a chase from Ovens. We found them hiding in Kilcrea Abbey. They surrendered without a fight. They had been detailed from a special branch organised by the infamous Major Percival, who had committed many wanton murders in West Cork. Our brigade had the three Essex Regiment men shot.’ See Jeremiah O’Herlihy’s WS 810, 18 (BMH).
The men of D or Aherla Company of the Third Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade supervised a prison called Killbawn (a house owned by the Cullinane family) in their area. Held at Killbawn were ‘important prisoners from the 3rd Brigade and from Cork city’. According to former Volunteer Patrick Cronin, who served as a prison guard, ‘There were at least six [prisoners] executed; three British soldiers were captured and executed in the prison yard following the “shoot at sight” order [from Tom Barry]. Then there were three civilians shot.’ See Patrick Cronin’s WS 710, 1 (BMH).