In 1914, Home Rule for Ireland was about to become law.
In Ulster, the Ulster Volunteers were threatening to rebel against this ruling, and the British Government contemplated using military action against them.
Early on the morning of 20th March, the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, Sir Arthur Paget issued a strongly worded deployment order headed “Duty As Ordered – Active Operations In Ulster” it contained a cleverly worded ultimatum to the British Forces who received it.
At the Curragh, Paget's order reached 2nd Suffolk on the afternoon of the 20th. Lieutenant-Colonel Brett horrified at its contents, suddenly summoned his officers together. The situation was tense and he asked all of them that in-line with the Paget’s deployment order whether they would be either prepared to proceed against a Loyal Ulster, or resign their commissions and leave the Army. To do this however, they would have to forfeit their pensions. Paget's intention was clear; be prepared to fight Ulster, or resign. It was a shocking predicament.
The officers were naturally alarmed at having to make such a large decision on the spot and they asked to be allowed until the morning to decide. However, that evening they all met again and unanimously agreed to resign their commissions rather than take any action against the forces in Ulster that were loyal to the Crown.
Brett duly reported their decision back to his superiors and the following morning, March 21st, the entire Battalion were ordered to parade in the Garrison Gymnasium.
Here, the officers were told to fall out and assemble in the Fencing Room where they were addressed by the G.O.C. (General Officer Commanding) 5th Infantry Division; General Sir Charles Fergusson. In view of their unanimous decision, he appealed to them to keep their heads and take no extreme steps. He reasoned with them to uphold duty and discipline within the Battalion adding that they should avoid “any appearance of political leaning.”
An officer of the Battalion stood up and pointed out that as a choice was being offered to them, and a decision had been unanimously agreed, there could be no question of mutiny; the word “mutiny” having already been printed in the London papers that morning with reference to what was being describing as an "Incident in Ireland."
After much discussion in Westminster, including the mention in the House of Commons of a letter written by Colonel Brett to His Majesty the King, the proposal of armed aggression against Ulster met with such consternation, that the matter was shelved and no further action took place.
For Paget, his career in the Army was promptly curtailed. For The Suffolk Regiment, they were pleased that this "unfortunate and disrespectful episode" in their history had finally come to an end.
Welcome to our online 'blog' charting the history of the many Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment and the part they played in the Great War.
Starting back in March 2014, we have recorded the events of 100 years ago on the centenary of their happening.
Keep checking back to see how the Great War is progressing for the men of the Suffolk Regiment.