2nd Battalion, Leinster Regiment,
Killed in Action, 12th April 1917,
From Longford, aged 24
Thomas was born in Mostrim Co. Longford in May 1893. His father a serving soldier, was killed in action in Oct 1899 during the Boer war, whilst serving with the Royal Irish Fusiliers, at Talana.
Thomas O’Rourke enlisted for the Leinster Regiment, in October 1914.Thomas joined the 6th (Service) Battalion Leinster Regiment on enlistment and began basic training at the regimental depot, Crinkill Barracks near Birr Co. Offaly. Not too far from home in Longford. February, March and April of 1915 were spent at the Curragh. On the 4th May the battalion moved to Basingstoke to complete their training.
He departed for the Dardanelles on the 9th July 1915, as part of the 29th Brigade in the10th (Irish) Division, embarking at Liverpool, and sailed to Gallipoli via Mudros. Landing at Anzac Cove 5 August 1915. Straight into trench life for Thomas as the battalion moved into reserve dug outs near Shrapnell Gully.
These new landings made on 5/6 August were part of a plan which called for a co-ordinated surprise landing at Sulva and attack on Sari Bair (Anzac Cove). The 6th Leinsters were detailed for the attack on Sari Bair. They were in reserve as stated until the 9th August, when they moved forward to relieve the New Zealanders on Rhododendron Spur. They came under heavy fire by mid afternoon and dug in at the foot of the ridge for the remainder of the night.
The Turks attacked on 10 August at daybreak and before too long two English battalions were destroyed (Wiltshires and Loyal North Lancs). On the right the Leinsters held firm, hand to hand fighting ensued. The Turks then pressed on over Rhododendron Spur and as they came over the ridge they were annihilated by naval, artillery and machine gun fire. Both sides paid a terrible price.
The Battalion dug in once again on the 10 August. More fighting occurred, the Turks continued to edge forward and made their final attack at dawn. The Leinsters standing alone, met the enemy with a bayonet charge until eventually the Turks retreated. The men had been in action for over 36 hours.
4 Officers and 44 men lay dead with scores wounded. Thomas O’Rourke being among the wounded. Out of the 1,100 men from the Leinsters who landed to give battle, only 100 were fit to walk when they pulled out.
Nothing more is known about Thomas after this action. We pick him up again on 11th April 1917 as part of ‘C coy’ 2nd battalion, part of 73rd Brigade 24th Division.
The 24th Division was now holding the front immediately north of Vimy Ridge by the Souchez river with the 4th Canadian Division to its right. The 2nd Leinsters and the 9th Royal Sussex both of the 73rd Brigade were to make a assault, their objective was the Bois – en – Hache to the north east of the Souchez and the strongpoint known as the Pimple.
Zero hour was 5.00am the next morning the 12th. The Leinsters were to carry the southern and central sections of the wood. ‘C coy’ was to capture an allotted sector of the enemy’s front line, with ‘A’ & ‘B’ in support, ‘D’ in reserve.
At 5.00 a.m. the attack began and three companies moved off in two waves accompanied by a British barrage. Weather conditions were poor, with a blinding snowstorm now blowing. Landmarks were quickly concealed by the snow and the ground, comprising mainly of shell holes and craters, quickly became slushy.
At ten minutes past five, the British barrage lifted and the men closed with the enemy in the German first line. Instantly a hand to hand fight, the Lewis gunners, used their guns as monstrous clubs, doing great execution.
After beating the Germans back from their first line, the leading men moved downhill towards the wooded slope and the German second line. Meanwhile, hostile enfilade fire from across the Souchez Valley continued and took its toll. By half past seven the position was that the Battalion was holding what had been the German front line in touch with the 9th Royal Sussex on the left and reaching on to the right where the Battalion’s old trenches had been. Every effort was being made to reorganize, and to consolidate the line.
Fair progress continued to be made and by 11.30, enemy rifle and machine gun fire had practically ceased. Stretcher parties were ordered out and they searched No Mans Land for the wounded. no opposition being shown by the enemy.
With all objectives being achieved the work of the Battalion was done, being relieved at dawn on the 14th.
Success had however, been purchased at a heavy price, and the 2nd Leinster regiment, although taking part in what was technically an operation merely co-ordinated with the regular assault upon the ridge, had paid its share.
Casualties were reported as;
KILLED 4 Officers 48 Other Ranks
WOUNDED 4 Officers 155 Other Ranks
MISSING 3 Other Ranks
Thomas O’Rourke was one of those killed during this gallant action on the 12th April. His body was never found.
He is remembered with honour on the Arras Memorial
“Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.”
Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967)