“Who or what was the South African Irish Horse?” – Arras North – Page 30

That was a question that came up during the editing of ‘Arras North’. It was also one that had been nagging me for some time. The entry in the CWGC register for Private James Chalmers EDMOND, 2nd South African Regiment, refers to his previous service with the ‘South African Irish Horse’ during the German South-West Africa Campaign in 1914 and the Boer Rebellion.

There was a South African Irish Regiment, which was formed in 1914. It consisted of six companies and it did take part in the campaign in German South-West Africa. Some of the regiment almost certainly served in a mounted capacity; in fact, a photograph of one of its companies shows some individuals dressed in what appears to be the type of uniform worn by mounted infantry.

After doing quite a bit of research on the subject, I’m satisfied that the ‘South African Irish Horse’ never existed, at least not in any official capacity. I’m also satisfied that the entry in the CWGC register is not a reference to either the North Irish Horse or the South African Light Horse, both of which did, of course, exist. Given that the reference to the ‘South African Irish Horse’ appears in the ‘additional information’ part of the CWGC register, I believe the most likely explanation is that it was a term used by the family of Private Edmond. It is entirely plausible that he did serve as a mounted infantryman with the South African Irish Regiment. Edmond’s parents, John and Margaret, are shown residing in Belfast, which would explain the Irish connection and his grave can be found in Brown’s Copse Cemetery.

Sometimes, we need to treat the biographical detail in the ‘additional information’ part of the CWGC registers as ‘unconfirmed’, though in most cases I’m quite sure it’s accurate and reliable, or at least true to the best of the family’s knowledge and understanding. Thinking back to my own career in the Metropolitan Police, I’m sure that my own family never had any precise idea of the units with which I served or what their role was. It wouldn’t have been any different, I suppose, for the families of the majority of soldiers who served in the Great War.