Although Edward Irish attended Batley Grammar School from the Autumn Term of 1902, he was not originally a ‘Batley Lad’. His birth was announced in the Greenock Telegraph in Scotland on 26 May 1891. The notice read: ‘A son to Mr and Mrs Thomas Irish, teacher, born at 8 Lyle Street, Greenock’.
Edward’s father, Thomas, was a student teacher at the Worcester Teacher Training College in 1881. Ten years later he was teaching at an elementary school in Greenock. The first mention of the family living in Yorkshire, comes from the census of 1901, which has Thomas and his wife Jessie living at Holme Street, Liversedge. At that time the Irish’s have three sons, Edward, Harry and Frank, the latter was 5 years old in 1901 and his birthplace was Liversedge so the family were well established in Yorkshire by the turn of the twentieth century. Thomas was obviously doing well enough in his profession as an elementary school teacher that he could afford a domestic servant, a Mary Crawshaw from Dewsbury completed the Irish household in that role in 1901.
By 1911 the family had moved to Churchfield Terrace, Liversedge; a row of terraced houses which still exists today. The three sons were all in their teens at the time and all three had attended Batley Grammar School. The need for a servant, or perhaps the financial means to have one had gone and the family was completed now by the addition of a younger sister to the three Irish Brothers. In the 1911 census, Edward was recorded as a 19 year old Chemistry student, whilst Harry was a 17 year old bank clerk. The younger Irish brother, Frank was starting a career in weaving design as an apprentice. Edith May, their nine year old sister was still at school.
The school magazine for December 1910 shows the high regard in which Edward Irish was held when it laments, ‘We resumed without Irish, who, having obtained a County Major Scholarship, will, we doubt not, keep up the school’s reputation at Leeds. We wish him every success.’ Some 5 years later the school magazine of July 1915 was sadly to feature Edward Irish again. As one of three announcements of old boys killed at the front, Balmforth, Ryan and Irish himself it recorded: ‘2nd Lieut. E. Irish of the 5th West Yorks, was killed on Sunday June 20th. He entered the school in 1902 and left as captain and county major scholar in 1910’.
Edward Irish was by all accounts a gifted student and sportsman. He was very well liked by all at the school and is frequently mentioned in the pages of the fledgling school magazine after 1908. From Batley Grammar School Edward went on to Leeds University, where his time there is summarised in the OTC Roll of Honour obituary. It notes:
Second-Lieutenant E. Irish came from Batley Grammar School to the University in 1910. In 1913 he obtained a graduate scholarship in Chemistry and stayed for a post-graduate course in leather industries. He was just looking forward to starting his industrial career when the call to arms came, and being a Sergeant in the O.T.C., he was soon gazetted to the 5th West Yorks. By temperament and from the special character of his abilities Irish was one of the best soldiers the University has produced.
The tribute goes on to say that Edward Irish was young and high spirited, but he was ‘reliable and serious’. Whilst at Leeds University he combined success in studies with sport and was captain of the university lacrosse team, as well as carrying out union work and other social activities. Edward obtained a degree in Chemistry and an honours degree in Applied Science. When the First World War broke out he was trying to decide whether to stay at the university and carry out research, or to accept posts that had been offered to him in the leather making industry. However, the declaration of war soon gave him a role in the army and he was given a commission in the 5th Battalion of the Prince of Wales’ Own West Yorkshire Regiment.
When the First World War began, ‘Ned’ ( which appears to have been his nickname) was at camp with his university squadron, where he held the rank of sergeant, the highest rank a cadet could achieve.
As well as being well regarded in sports and the OTC at Leeds University, Edward Irish was certainly very highly thought of by those at Batley Grammar School. Even five years after he had left for university studies the school paid him a warm tribute in the pages of the April 1915 edition of the school magazine. The page was written by an unknown signing himself ‘NLF’, probably a teacher who taught him in his days at Batley. The piece starts by asking the question, ‘If any of us had been asked three months ago to name the most representative of our recent old boys, the name of ‘Ned’ Irish would have leapt to his lips’.
The page goes on to note that Irish was at the heart of everything within the school, be it magazine articles he penned or sports, or school photographs. It went on to praise him for exhibiting the same traits when he went up to Leeds University.
The magazine noted that prior to embarking for France he visited the school:
Just before he went to France, he came to see us, and now it is a positive comfort to recall the affection with which he spoke of the men in his platoon. Ned Irish made it his business to know his job, and when he spoke well of his men we knew that his men were keen fellows and we knew too that keen officers make keen men.
The page adds that the school heard from him several times during his time in the trenches, in ‘breezy letters, full of laughter and fun’. Unfortunately those letters were not archived for future historians to enjoy.
Edward Irish’s medal card record shows that he entered the French ‘theatre of war’ on 15 April 1915. His Battalion, the 1/5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own), was a territorial battalion based in York in August 1914. On 10 August 1914 they moved to Selby, and by the end of the month were training at Strensall camp in York, coincidentally a camp that the school ‘Combined Cadet Force’ were to visit for camps some fifty years later. In March 1915 the 5th Battalion moved to Gainsborough before proceeding to France, sailing from Folkestone on 15 April, landing at Boulogne with the 146th Brigade, 49th (West Riding) Division. Irish specialised in signalling with the Battalion.
2nd Lieutenant Irish only just survived for approximately nine weeks, to be killed by a bullet to the head whilst in front of his own trenches supervising a wiring party with his men. He was twenty four years old.
The school magazine records his death and also gives an account of how he died, which is known from a letter written by the Colonel of the Regiment to Edward Irish’s father:
He fell on Sunday June 20th. His Colonel in a letter to Mr Irish describes how it happened: He was shot in the head just before noon whilst superintending the mending of the wire in front of his post and was not conscious from the moment he was hit until he passed away. In him we have lost an exceedingly good and hard working officer, who knew his work and did it thoroughly. We shall miss him and I hope you will accept the sincere sympathy of my brother officers and myself in your sad loss. He is buried beside some of his comrades, who have gone before him, in the little cemetery behind the trenches, where General Lowny Coles and many other brave men are laid to rest.
Although the sentiments in the letter could be said to have been written to ease the pain of his parents, it is clear that the theme of Irish being a well liked and competent officer is continued. From school to university, to serving in the armed forces Edward Irish was well thought of by all who came into contact with him. His two brothers Frank and Harry, both old boys of the school themselves, became subalterns in the West Yorkshire Regiment like their older brother. They both survived the war, though Harry was seriously wounded and left blind by his injuries. Their father Thomas was involved in many local fund-raising committees during the war, and after the war was a prominent member of the War Memorial Committee and Pension Tribunals.
Edward Irish is buried in the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery known as ‘ Le Trou Aid Post Cemetery’ at Fleurbaix, France. The cemetery began its life in October 1914, when fallen soldiers were buried beside the regimental aid post which bears its name. Le Trou Aid Post cemetery was used until July of 1915 and when the war ended contained just 123 burials, all of which are now in Row F. After the Armistice, the cemetery was enlarged when the remains of Commonwealth soldiers were taken there from other burial grounds and battlefields throughout the region.
The cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, the British architect who also designed the Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle. Today more than three hundred and fifty Commonwealth soldiers of the First World War are buried at Le Trou Aid Post. Edward Irish is one of those men. His headstone is marked by the sentiment, ‘Until the Day Dawns’
Apart from being listed on the school roll of honour his name is commemorated at Liversedge Parish Church War Memorial and on the roll of honour of Leeds University. The obituary written for the University of Leeds Roll of honour states that Irish was ‘… one of the best soldiers the university has produced…’ In a final note the obituary pays tribute to the fund of good candidates that were sent from the ‘Spen Valley’ to Leeds University to study.
‘His career and his noble death will for long be an inspiration to the young men of his type which the Spen Valley sends us in large numbers’.