On 28 November a flying column of 36 riflemen under Tom Barry ambushed an Auxiliary patrol. The IRA column had 35 rounds for each rifle as well as a handful of revolvers and two hand grenades. The ambush site was on the Macroom–Dunmanway road, between Kilmichael and Gleann. The Auxiliaries based in Macroom used this section of road every day.
The IRA men reached the ambush site on the night of the 27th and took up positions in the low rocky hills on either side of the road. The ambush took place as dusk fell between 4:05 and 4:20 PM on 28 November
A photograph taken a few years later, shows how barren the landscape was at that time.
The first Crossley Tender carrying 9 Auxiliaries, came round the bend into the ambush position moving fairly quickly. The column commander Tom Barry, dressed in a military style uniform stepped onto the road from behind a low wall, put his hand up and the lorry slowed. When it was about thirty-five yards from his command post he threw a Mills bomb into the open cab of the Crossley tender. He also blew a whistle blew to signal his men to open fire.
The mills bomb killed the driver of the first lorry, and with its driver dead, moved forward and stopped a few yards from the small stone wall in front of the command post. A sharp and bloody battle ensued with hand to hand fighting. In the close-quarter fighting some of the British were killed, in Barry's account, with rifle butts and bayonets. The British claimed that the dead had been mutilated with axes. All nine Auxiliaries in the first lorry were killed. T/Const Poole was driving the first lorry, and Crake, the patrol commander was in it too.
Fleming's map showing where the 17 men fell. Gutherie escaped, but was found and shot.
The second Crossley Tender stopped and came under fire from No. 2 section. The Auxiliaries jumped out of the tender and took up positions along the road to return fire. Three IRA men from the command post, Murphy, Nyhan and O'Herlihy, moved in to attack the second party from the rear. At this point the controversy arises over "the false surrender", which does not concern my narrative. Apart from Forde there were not British survivors, so it is virtually impossible to determine what happened..
Crossley Tender (funeral of Major Holmes in Jan 1921)
16 Auxiliaries now were dead and two badly injured. One of the injured, Frederick Henry Forde in fact had survived, though shot in the head and left for dead by the IRA. He was picked up by the British the following day and taken to hospital in Cork. The other survivor, Cadet Cecil Guthrie (ex Royal Air Force),was badly wounded but somehow escaped from the ambush site - it is not clear when he escaped. However he eventually got to within 2 miles of the Auxiliary Barracks at MAcroom, before he was found and shot, appartently with his own gun, his body dumped in Annahala bog. In 1926, Guthrie's remains were disinterred after various negotiations locally and handed over to the Church of Ireland for a Christian burial at the Inchigeelagh Churchyard..
It is impossible to know if this is Forde's actual account or a story made up by the British Porpaganda department, or a mixture of both. Cafferata was another auxiliary in the same company, and should have been on this patrol, but got last minute leave. His account (which I found in his papers in Palestine Archives of St Anthony's College, Oxford) talks about what Forde told him. The two tenders were traveling at 40 mph, about 50 yards apart.
Crake, the platoon commander and officer i/c the patrol, sat next to the driver of the leading tender. They entered the portion of the road in the form of a narrow S bend. It ran through a heavy bog land which rose a couple of hundred yards away to low rock and boulder strewn hillocks. The whole length of the S bend was about 200 yards in length. The leading tender entered the bend, and about two thirds of the way along saw a large British lorry with its rear end toward them. Two or three figures in khaki uniform grouped around the front end where the bonnet appeared to be open. Crake slowed down his truck in order to stop and offer help. His tender got to within some 15 to 20 yards of the lorry and had all but stopped when the back covers of the canvas covered lorry were whipped back and a machine gun opened up full into the unprotected tender, either killing or wounding its entire compliment. Meanwhile the second tender was entering the bend as the burst of firing broke out. Realising that there was an ambush, the driver slammd on the brakes and jammed his gear leaver into reverse in order to get his tender out of the trap and give the chaps a chance of taking up defensive positions as a withering rile fire was now opening up from the rocks and boulders of the surrounding hillocks. The old Crossley tenders we had were cursed with a great weakness. They had a very poor differential assembley. When the driver to the second tender tried to get back out of it all, his differential broke completely and the tender just ran off the edge of the road and slipped into the bog. A few of them managed to fight for a time - evidence was there in plenty beside their bodies - little heaps of .303 empties, but from first to last they never had a chance.
The savagery which ensued is unbelievable but by some miracle one cadet survived the massacre. A young ex-Captain by the name of Forde. He had three years in France, got his MC, and was one of the nicest chaps I have ever met. Though badly shot about and partially scalped and having lain out on the open road for over 24 hours. Left for dead, when the search party found him he was still alive. The nearest hospital was some 20 miles or more away in Cork. He was taken there in an open Crossley tender and by some miraculoous work on the part of the doctors and nurses, he revovered and lived. It was from him that we finally learn the full details of the brutal massacre.
On body was never found, and strangely enough it was the Guthrie who had blown the gaff on the Chichester affair, and had stopped his fellow Auxiliaries from trying Chichester. Gutherie had been in the second tender with Forde who believed that he saw him trying to get across the bog to gain cover behind some of the heavy rocks, but that he had been sucked down by the soft unstable bogland and had drowned.
Forde estimated that some 80 to 100 IRA man had taken part in the ambush, mostly dressed in British Army uniforms. And the arms used were .303 rifles, Lewis guns, Mills grenades and possibly one or two American Thompson sub-machine guns (a number of which were finding their way into the IRA via American sympathisers.
Forde further said that when all resistence from the patrol had been silenced, any survivors were lined up on the road and shot to death out of hand. The leader appeared to be an enormous red headed Irishman who personally inspected each body for signs of life. He was armed with a pistil and a small axe. The last thing Forde remembers was lying on the raod with the red headed giant bending over him taking a swing at his head with the axe.
Two IRA volunteers – Michael McCarthy and Jim O'Sullivan – were killed outright during the ambush and Pat Deasy later died of his wounds.
The IRA then set the lorries on fire. It was only about thirty minutes after the opening of the ambush the the IRA column moved away to the south. They marched through heavy rain via Shanacashel, Coolnagow, Balteenbrack and arrived in the vicinity of dangerous Manch Bridge, which was held by the ritiah. They crossed the Bandon River without incident and reached Granure, eleven miles south of Kilmichael, by 11 p.m.
The scene after the ambush - Daily Sketch
1920 Nov 29. Colonel Buxton Smith who commanded C Coy in Macroom Castle sent a contingent of Auxiliaries to investigate the disaster and recover the bodies. Included in that group was Lieutenant E. Fleming, whose job was to assess and document the ambush site, and map the site of the ambush. Fleming was able to work out the number of volunteers in each section from footmarks left on the soil and vegetation. He also plotted the positions of the fallen auxiliaries. His map is shown above on this page.
It was around 1 p.m. on Monday 29th November before the British forces reached Kilmichael. Munro's account of what they saw is on Forde's page
The full list of the dead ADRIC men from that patrol is:-
|Dist/Insp Francis William Crake MC, 27|
|T/Cadet William Thomas Barnes DFC, 26|
|T/Cadet Cyril Dunstan Wakefield Bayley, 22|
|T/Cadet Leonard Douglas Bradshaw, 22|
|T/Cadet James Chubb Gleave, 21|
|T/Cadet Philip Noel Graham, 31|
|T/Cadet William Hooper Jones, 24|
|T/Cadet Frederick Hugo OBE MC, 40|
|T/Cadet Albert George Jones, 33|
|T/Cadet Ernest William Henry Lucas, 31|
|T/Cadet William Andre Pallister, 25|
|T/Cadet Henry Oliver Pearson, 21|
|T/Cadet Frank Taylor, 22|
|T/Cadet Christopher Herbert Wainwright, 36|
|T/Cadet Benjamin Webster, 30|
|T/Const Arthur Frederick Poole 22|
|T/Cadet Cecil James Guthrie, 21|