by ehistoryadmin on June 16, 2020

The war experiences of Andrew Cousins, of Mountrice

By James Durney

The Local Studies Department, Newbridge Library, recently received a donation of a slightly rusted steel helmet belonging to Andrew Cousins, of Mountrice, who was awarded the Military Medal at the Battle of the Somme and later served in North Russia where he was wounded.

Andrew Cousins was born in Monasterevan, Co. Kildare, on 6 February 1886. His father Richard, was a book-keeper clerk for the Great Southern & Western Railway, and his mother the former Anne Duffy. Richard Cousins, of Dublin, had married Anne Duffy, of Mountrice, on 18 June 1884, at St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church, in Monasterevan. Andrew was educated at the Christian Brothers Schools, Monasterevan. Qualifying for the British Civil Service and the Railway he chose to follow the paternal path. His father, Richard, was later stationmaster at Railway House, Hazelhatch, Celbridge. Andrew remained on the staff of the GS&WR for six years until he left home in 1908 to work in Argentina where he was employed as a superintendent or sectional secretary, of the Central Argentine Railway.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914 Andrew Cousins decided to return to Ireland. He enlisted in the Irish Guards, in Dublin, on 17 November 1914 for the duration of the war. He gave his employment as a clerk, his age at twenty-eight and his height at five foot, seven-and-a-half inches. Cousins joined the 2nd Battalion at Caterham, England, two days later. The 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, had deployed to France eight days after the declaration of war and in August that year, the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion was raised at Warley Barracks, Essex. In July 1915, the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion was re-designated the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, and another battalion, the 2nd Battalion was formed at Warley Barracks. Cousins joined No. 4 Company, 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, on 24 May 1915 and embarked at Southampton for France.

In August that year the 1st Irish Guards and the rest of the 4th (Guards) Brigade was moved to the the Guards Division. The brigade was re-designated the 1st Guards Brigade. Andrew Cousins was promoted to Lance Corporal on 6 August 1915. In September that year, the battalion, as well as the 2nd Irish Guards, who had reached France in August, took part in the Battle of Loos, which lasted from 25 September until early October. Andrew was either wounded or sick, as he is recorded as having returned from hospital on 5 October 1915.

The 1st Battalion, Irish Guards spent much of the remainder of 1915 and early 1916 in the trenches in the Ypres Salient. On 27 July 1916 the Battalion was relieved from the Salient and moved to the Somme, where a great battle had been raging since the beginning of the month. After a period of rest and re-training the Battalion moved into the line, on 10 September, to the Ginchy area. On 15 September the week-long Battle of Flers-Courcelette began. It heralded the dawn of modern warfare because on this day the British introduced to the battlefield a brand new weapon known as the tank. The aim of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette was to push through the German lines with a phased attack between those two villages, through a series of objectives, representing an advance of some 2½ miles on a front of 3½ miles.

The 1st Guards Brigade attacked on the left and 2nd Guards Brigade on the right in lines of platoons: 1st Guards Brigade’s first objective was part of Serpentine Trench. They reached this objective behind a creeping barrage at 7.15 am having suffered heavy casualties to withering machine gun fire from Pint Trench and the sunken road leading to Flers. This attack was supposed to be supported by ten tanks, but only five made the start line. Of the five three got lost and two ran out of petrol. By mid-afternoon the British attack had been halted. Battalions from the reserve brigade were sent forward to reinforce in the evening. The most famous casualty of the day was Lt. Raymond Asquith, Grenadier Guards; he was the son of the British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. The official history recorded:

That scattered forward fringe among the shell-holes gave what help it could to the trench behind it, which filled up, as the day wore on, with more Irish and Coldstream [Guards] working their way forward. Formation was gone—blown to bits long ago. Nearly every officer was down, and sergeant after sergeant succeeding to the command, had dropped too; but the discipline held, and with it the instinct that made them crawl, dodge, run and stumble as chance offered and their corporals ordered, towards the enemy and not away from him.

Andrew Cousins was awarded the Military Medal for ‘gallant conduct’ on that day. His was one of five MMs awarded, along with three Military Crosses and two Distinguished Conduct Medals for that day’s battle. The awards were announced in the London Gazette on 29 September 1916. The battalion also took part in the action at Morval. They were involved in the capture of the northern part of a village, during the action and were relieved the following day by the 2nd Irish Guards. The 1st Irish Guards suffered quite heavily during the Morval engagement.

Cousins was later promoted to Lance Sergeant with effect from 10 September 1916. He was admitted to hospital on 17 March 1917 suffering from trench foot and was discharged on 29 March. On 2 June 1917 he was transferred to England. Without having made an application to become an officer Lt.-Col. H. R. Alexander, Officer Commanding 1st Irish Guards, selected Cousins for an officer’s commission.

Earmarked for an officer’s commission Cousins joined the No. 17 Officer Cadet Battalion, No. 15 Camp, Kinmal Park, Rhyl, North Wales, on 9 November 1917, to undergo a course of instruction. His confidential military report stated that he was fluent in Spanish, his standard of education was ‘fairly good’; his military knowledge ‘good’ and that he was a ‘Very good man. Smart bearing on and off parade. Thoroughly sound in practical work. Has initiative and power of control, and will make a good Officer.’ Andrew Cousins was subsequently commissioned as a Second Lieutenant to A Company, 17th Battalion, the Liverpool Regiment, joining them at Yarmouth, England on 14 May 1918.

The 17th King’s sailed from Glasgow on 10 October on board the SS Requiem for Murmansk, Russia, as part of an Allied intervention force assembled to support the ‘White’ forces in their civil war against the ‘Red’ Bolsheviks. The British and French governments had decided the western Allies needed to begin a military intervention in North Russia.  The objectives were: to prevent Allied war materiel stockpiles in Archangel from falling into German or Bolshevik hands; to mount an offensive to rescue the Czechoslovak Legion, which was stranded along the Trans-Siberian Railroad; and by defeating the Bolshevik army with the assistance of the Czechoslovak Legion, to expand anti-communist forces drawn from the local citizenry.

On 24 October the 17th King’s Battalion was moved to Archangel, where it was based intact for a short period. The battalion’s companies served separately for the duration of their stay in Russia. A Company were attached as railway troops and Lt. Cousins as a Railway Traffic Officer (RTO). On 6 December 1918 Lt. Cousins was ‘wounded in action’ – he was hit with a rifle bullet which passed through his left lower hip. He was hospitalised at Seletskoe for two months. On 18 January 1919 the Leinster Leader reported that the British War Office had informed his father, Richard that Andrew had been wounded and was ‘progressing satisfactorily’.

Although he had pain on walking, Andrew was discharged and placed on staff duty, on 6 February 1919, at the Obozerskaya base, about 160km south of Archangel. On 22 February he rejoined A Company. The 17th King’s Liverpool left in September 1919, but Andrew Cousins had fallen ill with typhoid fever and was transferred to Britain on board the hospital ship, SS Kalyan, which left Archangel for Leith, in Scotland; he disembarked on 29 August 1919. He was due to be discharged on 10 April 1920, on completion of service. However, the Leinster Leader of 6 March 1920 reported that he had left Hazelhatch, Celbridge, ‘last evening to return to the Argentine’. Family information said that Andrew Cousins left the helmet at Mountrice.

Andrew regained his employment with the Central Argentine Railway Company, attaining to the position of Assistant General Superintendent, when ill-health forced him to retire in 1937. He travelled back and forth from Buenos Aires to Ireland, but eventually settled in Donnybrook, Dublin, with his wife Mary Ellen, a member of a Co. Cork family who had emigrated to the Argentine. On the formation of the Local Security Force, during the Emergency, Andrew gave valuable service to the Howth-Sutton Division, but a serious recurring illness forced him to retire. Andrew Cousins died, aged fifty-seven, on 13 July 1941 and was buried in Rathangan Cemetery. His wife Mary Ellen returned to Buenos Aires.

Note: Our thanks to Marian Walsh.

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