49th Battalion. Canadian Infantry - Alberta Regiment(formerly 5169 Sgt. 1st. Battalion The Royal Dublin Fusiliers)
Kilkenny man Nicholas Walsh, a son of James Walsh, originally from Baronsland, Bennettsbridge was born on June 12th 1876. By the standards of the day he was a relatively tall well built man of five foot eleven with brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion. A Catholic, by trade he was a clerk. Before he emigrated to Canada he served for eight years in the Dublin Fusiliers.
At the time of his attestation into the Dublin Fusiliers on 9th August 1894, he was twenty two and a half years of age and gave his previous trade as a farm labourer Most likely his labouring days were spent on his Father’s farm near Bennettsbridge. Walsh was medically examined and passed fit for service in the Dublin Fusiliers on the 7th. August 1894. His application for enlistment was formally approved by the officer commanding the 18th. Regimental District at Clonmel on August 10th. 1894. By August 11th. Walsh found himself at the Regimental Depot in Naas where he was sworn in as a private in the RDF.
For the next five and a half years until 8th November 1899 his service with the 1st Battalion RDF was entirely at home. Drawing from the information given in his service papers one can conclude that he was an enlisted man with some ability as indicated by his promotion through the ranks. By August 1895 he was promoted to the unpaid rank of lance corporal. The following February this appointment became a paid rank. In August of 1896 he earned a good conduct badge and the following October he was promoted to the rank of corporal. January 1899 saw his promotion to lance sergeant which became a paid position the following month. The 4th of August 1899 was his final promotion in the RDF, at this stage he became a sergeant, the rank he took overseas to South Africa
Sergeant Walsh served with the 1st Battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers throughout the Boer War from 9th November 1899 to 12th September 1902. He was awarded the Queens and Kings South Africa Medals. His QSA was with five bars, Transvaal, Orange Free State, Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith and Laing’s Nek.
Walsh was discharged from service with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers on the 8th August 1906 on the termination of his engagement. At some stage after this he emigrated to Canada where he found work as a clerk. With the outbreak of the Great War he chose to rejoin the army. Having been medically examined at Edmonton, Alberta on the 4th January 1915 by the M.O., and at the age of thirty nine and a half years, he was passed as medically fit for service overseas with the Canadian Army. The date is important; being the date of establishment of the unit, Walsh, a man of significant previous military experience would have been identified as someone who could make an important contribution to the development of the new regiment.
Some background data on the 49th Canadian Infantry Battalion in which Walsh served. This unit was raised and organised in Edmonton Alberta, (Canada) and served there from January 4th 1915 until June 4th 1915 when it moved to England. The unit arrived in England on June 13th remaining until October 9th 1915 when it went to the Western Front as part of the 7th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division. At the end of the war the Battalion returned to Canada in March 1919. The contribution of the Canadians to the war effort in France and Flanders is significant, the 49th Battalion Battle honours were extensive – Mount Sorrel; Somme 1916; Flers-Courelette; Ancre; Arris 1917, 1918; Passchendaele; Amiens; Scarpe 1918; Hindenburg Line; Canal du Nord; Pursuit to Mons.
We will probably never learn the full extent of Walsh’s distinguished military service with the Canadians, but piecing together the available evidence from primary source material, we can determine that he was quite a brave soldier and leader.
Entries in the 49th Battalion War Diaries on the 28th February 1916 had two recommendations for gallantry. The first was for Major A.K. Hobbins Adjutant who was recommended for the D.S.O. for his
“steady and consistently good work in the organisation and since the organisation of this Bn. 29th/ Dec.1914 to the present time as Adjutant.”
On the same date (28th February 1916) the War Diary recommends a second award
“432178 Company Sergeant Major Walsh. N. ‘B’ Company recommended to G.O.C.7th. Canadian Infantry Brigade, for D.C.M., for efficient faithful and consistently good work as Company Sergeant Major since the organisation of this Bn. 29th Dec.1914 to the present time.” Despite the recommendation for a D.C.M., it was not awarded. Amongst the names recorded “for gallant and distinguished conduct” in the London Gazette of Tuesday 13th June 1916, RSM Nicholas
Walsh was mentioned in the despatch (MID) of General Sir Douglas Haig Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in France.
As a result of further gallant actions later that year he was awarded an M.C. A posthumous entry in the London Gazette on the 14th November 1916 states that
“His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to confer the Military Cross on No. 432178 Sgt. Major N. Walsh (W.O. First Class) 49th. Canadian Infantry Battalion for conspicuous gallantry in action. He acted as Adjutant with courage and efficiency. Although very seriously wounded, he continued at his duty. He set a fine example”.
Arising from the above action, Walsh was seriously wounded and evacuated to the 2nd Northern Special Hospital, Leeds where he died on the 24th of September 1916
Over 30 pages of photocopied records supplied by the Library and Archives Canada helps greatly in adding information to the personal and service history of this man. However, the Leeds Hospital medical records contained in the file show graphically how RSM Walsh suffered as a result of his wounds.
He had multiple gunshot wounds to both arms, hands, thigh, feet and right leg. He received these wounds on the Somme on the 15th September. His worst wound was on his left thigh, which was described on the 23rd. of September as “very septic – swollen – smelly”. By the following day his general condition was described as “much worse” with gangrene spreading much further around his thigh with “bubbles of gas coming from front wound”. His pulse was very feeble and he spent a “poor night”. At some stage during the night a decision was taken and a guillotine amputation of the upper third of the thigh took place.
In preparation for the operation Walsh was given “N2O” (used for anaesthesia, commonly known as laughing gas) Ethanol was also administered to him. After the amputation he was given two pints of blood and brandy. He died on the 24th September as a result of his wounds. His body was returned to Ireland and is buried at Bennetts Bridge Catholic Churchyard which is located five miles south of Kilkenny city. His is the only Commonwealth grave in the cemetery. He was survived by his parents, siblings and his wife Nellie Walsh whose address was the Nore View Hotel, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny.
Nicholas Walsh was awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry in the action which ultimately caused his death as a result of the wounds he received.
The cased and engraved M.C. was presented by General Doran to Nicholas Walsh’s widow Nellie at a ceremony in Cork on the 22nd. February 1917.
To date I have been unable to locate any reports on this particular event. However, on May 12th 1917 General Doran officiated at a similar presentation of a D.C.M. to Battery Sergeant Major Pounden of Enniscorthy. A huge crowd had assembled with troops of the Munster Fusiliers and Royal Irish Constabulary. Without doubt the presentation of the M.C to Nellie Walsh in Cork would have been quite like the Wexford conferring.