British Military Hostage and I R A Prisoners by Mícheál Kenefick
In February 1921 an ambush by the I R A in Mourne Abbey which is near Mallow went badly wrong.
It is believed that the position of a group from the Mallow battalion was revealed to the British by an informer as they lay in wait to ambush British officers returning from a conference in Cork. Three volunteers were shot dead and another died later and several were taken prisoner. Two of the prisoners, Patrick Ronayne and Thomas Mulcahy who was only 18, were court-martialled and sentenced to death. The executions were to take place on April 28th 1921.
A few days after Mourne Abbey there was a flying column of the I R A hiding out in a farmhouse in Clonmult a few miles from Midleton. It is also believed that this position was revealed to the British by an informer. In a bold attempt to fight their way out 12 volunteers were shot dead and the rest taken prisoner. Two of these prisoners Maurice Moore and Patrick O’Sullivan, from Cobh, having been court-marshalled were also to be executed on April 28th 1921.
In an attempt to prevent these executions the I R A felt their best bargaining tool would be the capture of a senior British Officer to be used as a hostage. Major Geoffrey Lee Compton Smith D.S.O., who was sent to Ireland in 1919 was stationed in Ballyvonaire Camp near Buttevant in April 1921. He was captured by Frank Busteed as he alighted from a train in Blarney Railway Station on April 16th 1921 and was held and hidden in the Donoughmore area for some weeks. Despite a massive search by the British he was not located.
He was, though, treated well and given permission to write to his wife on several occasions but this was the only one that was posted:
"While away sketching yesterday, I had the misfortune to get held up by the I R A. I am now a prisoner, but being very well treated and going strong."
Major General Sir Peter Strickland who was based in Victoria Barracks (Collins Barracks today) was contacted and informed that the Major would be released unharmed if the 4 prisoners were released. This request was refused and the executions took place on April 28th and as a result the Major was also executed and buried in a wooded area near Donoughmore.
Subsequently several other letters, which he was allowed to write during captivity, were found after a raid on one of Michael Collins’ offices in Mary Street in Dublin and these included what has become known as The Shot in an Hour’s Time letter.
My own darling little wife
I am to be shot in an hour’s time. Dearest your hubby will die with your name on his lips, your face before his eyes, and he will die like an Englishman and a Soldier. I cannot tell you sweetheart how much it is to me to leave you alone – nor how little to me personally to die – I have no fear, only the utmost, greatest and tenderest love to you, and my sweet little Anne. I leave my cigarette case to the Regiment, my miniature medals to my father – whom I have implored to befriend you in everything – and my watch to the officer who is executing me because I believe him to be a gentleman and to mark the fact that I bear him no malice for carrying out what he sincerely believes to be his duty. Goodbye, my darling, my own. Choose from among my things some object which you would particularly keep in memory of me, and I believe that my spirit will be in it to love and comfort you.
Tender, tender farewells and kisses--- your own
In 1922 several attempts were made by Michael Collins to locate the body for the family and there is considerable correspondence to verify this but it was to no avail. In this correspondence to Gladys (wife of Major) Collins had high hopes that the remains could be located and here is one written by him on May 2nd 1921
I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 21st April.
You will understand that in the present circumstances here in Ireland, it is extremely difficult to attend to matters of this kind. Even though it is not possible to secure all the information I should like to secure for you , you may rely on me to keep the matter in my mind with a view to giving all remaining details, and securing, if necessary, the transfer of the remains, as soon as conditions become restored here.
Sadly Michael Collins himself was shot before this may have been achieved.
Finally, as was reported in The Cork Examiner of Friday March 5th 1926 ‘the remains were located in Barracharing wood and brought in a lead covered coffin to Collins Barracks---they will remain there pending the receipt of instructions as to their removal to England.’
The remains never did get to England and sometime in late March or early April 1926 Major Geoffrey Lee Compton Smith was laid to rest in Fort Carlisle (Fort Davis today) Military Cemetery with the following inscription.
To the Memory of
Geoffrey Lee Compton Smith D.S.O.
Major 2nd Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers
Born 1889-Died 1921
He served in France throughout the Great War
during which he was twice wounded.
On account of his services
he was six times mentioned in Dispatches
He attained the temporary rank of Lt.Col.
and was awarded the DSO
and Legion of Honour
Tenax et Fidelis
Underneath the granite stone is a bronze wreath of laurel
with this short inscription
Major G L Compton Smith D.S.O.
With Love from
Sources: National Archives Dublin
Military Archives Dublin