Three "Deserters" shot as spies

February 22, 1921, the bodies of three British soldiers were discovered by a farmer on the Woodford to Cahir  road near the shores of Lough Attorick at Poolagoond near the Clare – Galway county border. The three soldiers had been executed by the I.R.A.’s East Clare Brigade, each been shot in the head. One of them had a label hung around his neck which read  “Spies. Tried by courtmartial and found guilty. All others beware.”  All three were members  of ‘B’ Company, 1st Battalion the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry stationed at the Strand Barracks in Limerick City.

The British said that the three were deserters from the British army who were “murdered by rebels”. The IRA had condemned them as spies posing as deserters. On balance the probability is that they were on an intelligence gather operation.

The men were :-

Some British deserters did actually join the IRA. But as the War of Independence progressed, the IRA got more wary about accepting British deserters into their ranks, as they discovered a number of such men to have been "planted spies"

According to the regiment these three men “ had been missing from Strand Barracks since February 13 and nothing more was heard of them until their dead bodies were found at Woodford some 40 miles away.

The RIC report on their deaths said that “These soldiers were supposed to have been deserters …” The three men’s movements between the time they left the Strand Barracks in Limerick on 13 Feb and discovery of their bodies on 22 Feb 1921 is vague. Local accounts say that the three visited houses in the area demanding food from the occupants at the point of a gun. Their presence was reported to the local IRA.

IRA man Sean Moroney said that the three were held for some time before being court-martialled and executed. “About this time three men, (they were English and of the officer class) who claimed they were deserters from the British army, were arrested by volunteers in my battalion area. During the trial it was proved that they had tried to, and did in fact, keep in contact with their own forces. The result was that they were found guilty of being spies and sentenced to death. The sentence was duly carried out.”

After the soldiers’ bodies were discovered, the British army carried out reprisals by burning houses and killed a man named Grogan.

The soldiers’ bodies were brought into Limerick and then eventually on to England for burial. Neither of the men’s obituaries in the Oxford regiment’s chronicle, nor Lieutenant Jarvis’s account (he was the Ox & Bucks Intelligence Officer) cast any light on the reason for the men’s disappearance and neither do they say that the men were deserters. The Regimental Chronicle say just that they were “missing”.

It is difficult to see that Morgan, Walker, and Williams were deserters. If they had been, then they would have wanted to get back to England. If these three soldiers were trying to return home in England, they could walked to Limerick railway station, taken the train to Dublin, and from there a boat to England. To walk into the hostile territory of remote Clare, which they would have known to be a hotbed of the IRA, seems illogical. It is 40 miles or more, and they would have had to avoid army and RIC patrols

Army records show that the three soldiers were paid up to February 22, 1921, the day their bodies were discovered. This would have been standard practice for serving soldiers killed on duty, but deserters would have ben paid only till 13 Feb, when they deserted. The intelligence officer in charge of the Oxford & Buckinghamshire regiment was Lieutenant John Basil Jarvis. It is not inconcievable that Jarvis sent Walker, Morgan and Williams on an intelligence-gathering mission for the British army in the Lough Attorick area when they were captured and executed by the IRA.

The graves of all 3 have been given CWGC recognition, implyig that they were serving soldiers when they died.


British Soldiers died in Ireland