Christopher McGuirk was born in 1891 in Dublin, the son of Matthew and Catherine McGuirk. He joined 10th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers formally Redmond’s Irish Volunteers 13/1/1916. The 10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers went to the Western Front on 18/8/1916 where they were attached to 190th Brigade 63rd Division of the British Army. On 23/6/1917 they were transferred to the 48th Brigade, 16th Division. Christopher was known as Christie to his fellow soldiers and held the rank of private, receiving the British War and Victory Medals for his service in the Great War.
Leading up to his fatal wounding on the Oppy-Gavrelle front line on 23/5/1917 he was involved with the RDF in the famous Battle of Arras and in particular the taking of the village of Gavrelle from the German 66th Wurtenburger Fusiliers and the defence of this village from the German elite Prussian Guard. This battle was a significant strategic event aimed at taking the German armed forces away from the Aisne where the French were to make an assault on Verdun. Whilst the French attack led by Nivelle was a complete failure the British attack at Arras was successful demonstrating lessons learnt at the Somme.Prior to the initial attack the 10th Battalion RDF were based in MAGNICOURT. On the 14/4/1917 they began their march towards the Hindenburg Line along the Arras to St Catherine road reaching the Bailleul – Gavrelle sector on the 15/4/1917. The initial attack started later that day but was unsuccessful as they went in without artillery support. They met stiff resistance from German Heavy Gun fire and Machine Gun Fire and had to retreat behind the Blue Line suffering casualties of 5 Officers and 80 other ranks. They continued to suffer heavy shelling whilst staying in the trenches over the next few days with further casualties on 21/4/1917 (1 Lieutenant & 5 other ranks) and on 22/4/1917 (12 killed or wounded).
On the 23/4/1917 as part of the 190th Brigade and with the 4th Bedfords the RDF joined the attack of Gavrelle, but this time with artillery support. The attack started at night with the troops moving up into German trenches around Bailleul. The artillery barrage opened at 04.45am the morning of 24/4/1917and whilst the RDF suffered casualties in the attack the Bedfords managed to get a foothold in the South of Gavrelle village. The attack was supported by A Company led by a Lieutenant Hawes who secured a footing in the front line supported by B Company led by a Lieutenant Pollard. By the end of the first day almost all the village was captured and as the Brigade dug in the German 2nd Battalion of the Prussian Guard led a significant counter attack. However this was defeated with Artillery, Lewis Gun and Machine Gun fire and the Brigade retained the village which became a significant position for the British forces. The German forces suffered 3000 casualties of their 100,000 men in this counter attack and those that did manage to get through the barrage promptly surrendered.
On the 28/4/1917 whilst still at the front line the RDF were involved in the attack on the Oppy Gavrelle Line which was a series of German trenches north of the village. The attack was led by C Company under Lieutenant Haines and D Company led by Lieutenant O’Brien. It was a frontal attack along the trenches towards the railway line which ran between Bailleul and Vitry and where the Germans had a significant strong point, a concrete bunker known as the Railway Post housing machine guns and over 100 troops. Lte Haines attempted 3 separate attacks on this position, each one failing suffering heavy losses. However Lte O’Brien had attacked successfully along the German trench and was able to bring gun fire on to this position from the rear. Lte Haine attacked for the fourth time with Stokes Mortars and was successful in capturing the Railway Post for which he got a Victoria Cross. However the Germans counter attacked from a position in Oppy Wood, North East of the Railway post, and was successful in driving C Company back behind the railway line. Whilst the German forces tried to gain ground along the trench they were resisted by Lewis Gun Fire and Machine Guns.
On the 29/4/1917 Lte Haines attacked the Railway Post again this time successfully on the first attempt and wary of the expected counter attack B Company led by Lte Pollard positioned itself in German trenches north of the Railway Post and between the German Hindenburg Line and C Company. The German counter attack was led by bombing along the trenches aimed at forcing the British troops back or into the open. However Lte Pollard was very accurate with his Mill Bombs and was able to not only defend their position but advanced along the trench as the Germans backed out of his range. By the end of the attack he had gained a further 300 yards of German trench and was also awarded the Victoria Cross. This allowed both A and B Company to move along the width of the German trenches at this point and after just 2 days of fighting this company had gained some 2000 yards of trenches when they were relieved.
Over the next few days whilst based in camp away from the front at ECURIE the RDF received along with a number of other Divisions congratulations for their efforts from the Company Commander Sir William Congreve.
On 1/5/1917 the RDF received the following message from Headquarters. “I wish to express to officers, NCOs and men of the Brigade my high appreciation of the work they have carried out during the last tour of duty in the trenches. In spite of the very heavy casualties they have sustained, objectives have not only been gained but held, thus enabling the Brigade to retain the high reputation which it already holds. I trust CO’s will acquaint all ranks of the above and that the past fourteen days may serve as a fresh message to the bravery of the men of the Brigade (Signed) HWE Finch Brigadier General Commander of the 190th Brigade”. On the 2/5/1917 the RDF were presented to Brigadier Finch and received further message of congratulations from the First Army:-
“Army Commanders have much pleasure in forwarding the following message received from the Commander in Chief. My warmest congratulations on the important success achieved by you on the operations of 28th and 29th April 1917. Convey to the troops and formations which took part in this my appreciation of the great gallantry and spirit shown by them.”
Between 3/5/1917 and 20/5/1917 the RDF remained in camp carrying out training and sending working parties to the front line carrying supplies. These working parties also suffered occasional casualties from snipers but the life in the camp was somewhat quieter with even time for the odd game of football.
On the 20/5/1917 the RDF marched again towards the front line along the Bailleul – Arras road reaching a position in the Oppy Gavrelle trench to relieve the 13th Yorkshire & Lancashire Regiment 31st Division at about 9.30 pm. The actual location of the RDF was around sector 18 and is shown as Blandford Trench on the Trench Map of the area. The actual action of relieving troops was most dangerous as the extra movement in the tight trenches gave the other side opportunities to cause casualties by simply shelling or placing machine gun fire along the trench at the first sign of any movement. By 3.30am on the 21/5/1917 the relief was completed with only a Lte Boyd killed.
During the day of 22/5/1917 these trenches received heavy shelling from the German artillery but no casualties were reported.
On the 23/5/1917 the RDF remained in the trenches and again were subjected to heavy shelling and bombardment with rifle grenades and machine gun fire from the machine gun post shown on the Trench Map by the canteen on the sunken road. During this assault a Lte Burrowes was wounded and Christie sustained fatal wounds. The RDF were relieved on the 25/5/1917 but not before they sustained more casualties from the exchange of shelling that was a constant ingredient of trench warfare.
Christie was buried in nearby Albuera Cemetery in Bailleul-Sire-Berthoult.
The War Diaries of the 10th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers for May 1917.
War Diaries 10th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers May 1917
Officer in command – F Seymour
ECURIE – 1.5.1917
Today was spent in camp
The following message has been received from Headquarters. I wish to express to officers, NCOs and men of the Brigade my high appreciation of the work they have carried out during the last tour of duty in the trenches. In spite of the very heavy casualties they have sustained, objectives have not only been gained but held, thus enabling the Brigade to retain the high reputation which it already holds. I trust CO’s will acquaint all ranks of the above and that the past fourteen days may serve as a fresh message to the bravery of the men of the Brigade (Signed) HWE Finch Brigadier General Commander of the 190th Brigade.
2.5.1917 – The Battalion was this day inspected by Brigadier General HWE Finch Commanding the 190th Infantry Brigade, with that watches were presented to B26710 Private Ratican T , B26975 Private Short EJ and D26346 Private Ennis W. These watches were sent by Major O Neges of the 2/8 West Yorkshire Regiment who was severely wounded at MIRAUMONT on the 26th February 1917 and was brought to the Regiment Aid Post, under heavy shell fire by the above mentioned stretcher bearers. The following has been received from First Army:-
Army Commanders have much pleasure in forwarding the following message received from the Commander in Chief. My warmest congratulations on the important success achieved by you on the operations of 28th and 29th April 1917. Convey to the troops and formations which took part in this my appreciation of the great gallantry and spirit shown by them.
3.5.1917 – Working party was provided from the junction of ROCLINCOURT ROAD to ARRAS. The signallers and runners took part in a Brigade Commemoration Scheme.
4.5.1917 – Same working party as previous day. The following officers reported today 4/5/1917 and were taken on the strength of the 13th.
2/Lieutenant H Galbraith
2/Lieutenant AF Burrowes
ECURIE 5.5.1917 – Same working party as previous day. The Field Marshal Commander in Chief has under authority granted by his majesty the King awarded decoration as stated to the under named (Authority MS/1?5386 dated 20/4/1917) The military cross T/Captain Omalley R.D Fusiliers. The Divisional Commander and commanding Officers congratulate the recipient.
6.5.1917 – Working parties as on previous day
7.5.1917 – Working parties as on previous day
8.5.1917 – Working parties as on previous day
The following having reported their arrival today are taken on the strength of the 13th
2/Lt G A Griffin
2/Lt W.R. Pringle
2/Lt D.J. Davies
2/Lt C.G. Craddock
ECOVRIES 9.5.1917 – The battalion moved out of dug-outs at ECURIE at 3.15 this afternoon, arriving at “X” HUTMENTS ECOIVRES at 5.15pm to commence training
Working parties provided same as previous day up to 1 pm
10.5.1917 – Battalion training commenced in accordance with programme of work
11.5.1917 – Battalion training commenced in accordance with programme of work
The battalion beat the 190th TN3 at football this morning 2 goals to nil
12.5.1917 – Battalion training commenced up to 12.30pm
13.5.1917 – Battalion training continued
14.5.1917 – Battalion training continued
15.5.1917 – Battalion training continued
16.5.1917 – Battalion training continued
ECOIVRES 17.5.1917 – The Battalion continues training
18.5.1917 – The Battalion continues training Lt V.M. McMahon M.C reported for duty
19.5.1917 – The Battalion continues training and was inspected by Lieutenant General CONGREVE VC DCO GOC 13th Corps
20.5.1917 – The Battalion left X Hutment ECOIVRES at 10.30 am and proceeded to H.I.C South of BAILLEUL – ARRAS Road, where they halted until 9.30pm when they proceeded to the front line and relieved the 13th Yorks & Lancs Regiment 31st division who were holding the line from about B18 a 2.1 to about B24 b 2.1 Ref Map 51 B N.W.(shown in green)
Relief carried out without casualties and completed at 3.30 am 21.5.1917. 2nd Lieutenant F.E.Boyd killed.
OPPY-GAVRELLE SECTOR 21.5.1917 C Company in support was heavily shelled shortly after relief . situation otherwise quiet.
22.5.1917 – Front support and reserve heavily shelled during day. Otherwise normal
23.5.1917 – Heavy machine guns were active during the night 22/23/51917 Front line bombarded with rifle grenades.
Prisoners of Wartenburg Regiment captured by D.Company and night sector of both front. Having done by B and D Companies on front line, party from C Company in support assisted in this work
24.5.1917 – Front line and reserves heavily shelled. Special reports of shelling of front line that by O.C D company .Reports forwarded to Brigade HQ. Much damage done to trench held by D company
OPPY-GAVRELLE SECTOR 24.5.1917 – Patrol from D Company were out at midnight to within 80 yards of German wire and remained until 1.45 am was fed up in front line by B and D companies 8 trenches repaired where blown in during day. These two companies were assisted in work by parties from A and C Company.
25.5.1917 – Information having been received that the enemy were carrying out a relief on the night of 24/25/5/1917 our artillery bombarded at 11.30pm supported by Stokes Mortars and rifle grenades. At 12.45 pm our machine guns opened fire. Immediately after this patrols were sent out along our whole front who reported that enemy continued to hold OPPY TRENCH, WOOD TRENCH, SUNKEN ROAD, East of Wood TRENCH, and WOOD ALLEY. At 2.30am the enemy put down a barrage on our left front held by B Company, lasting about 25 minutes. We applied for retaliation which was obtained from a battery of guns in 3 minutes.
Extract from Supplement to London Gazette dated May 16th
R D Fusiliers 2nd Lieutenant A W JULIAN to be Lieutenant (April 4th)
Extract from Supplement London Gazette dated May 15th
R D Fusiliers Temporary Captain E J Hamilton is dismissed the service by sentence of a General Court Martial (April 24th)
2nd Lt A H BURROWES wounded in action 23/5/17
2nd Lt A H Weir wounded in action 22/5/17
2nd Lt T B POOLTER wounded in action 22/5/17
OPPY GAVRELLE SECTOR 26.5.1917 – Situation quiet. Battalion was relieved on night of 25/26 by the 7th Battalion Royal Fusiliers
Relief was completed at 2.30 am without casualties and the battalion then proceeded to take up position in Reserve at BLUELINE B25d REF MAP 51 B NW
27.5.1917 – Working party of 3 officers and about 300 other ranks provided for front line, digging C T
28.5.1917 – Same working party as previous day. Two carrying parties each of 1 officer and about 30 other ranks also provided
2nd Lt J P Quinn wounded in action 25/5/1917
Major G Mac R Robertson assumes temporary command of 7th Battalion Royal Fusiliers
Vice Lt COLONEL R J HESKETH sick /BR04 of 26th May 1917
2nd Lte G E Richardson reported for duty on 27th May 1917. Taken on strength and posted to A Company.
29.5.1917 – Same working party provided as on previous day. Same carrying parties also provided.
2nd Lte RVL Fitzgerald having reported for duty is taken on strength of the Battalion and posted to A Company
Arrival – Lte RL RICE from 16th
OPPY GAVRELLE SECTOR – 30.5.1917 Heavy artillery much less active, there being practically no shelling today.
Captain F J WILSON granted leave to UK from 31/5/1917 to 10/6/1917
Same working and carrying parties provided
Lte WMM McMahon MC reported wounded by enemy sniper while in command of working party
Arrival – 2nd Lte G J Fitzgibbon from Lewis Gun course 27/5/1917
31.5.1917 – Heavy artillery very quiet but there was much arial activity
As it appeared from information available that the enemy has retired from his post and defences to others fusiliers in sea, the battalion was ordered at 9pm to stand by to move forward if required
Working party of 3 officers and 200 other ranks cancelled, but 2 carrying parties each of 1 officer and 45 other ranks sent out to carry material to the front line
The details on Christie McGuirk are the result of research in the War Diaries of the 10th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers May and June 1917, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, The Trench Map for 1917 of the Arras area, other books and personal visit to the Bailleul Gavrelle sector.
These are found at the National Archives at Kew London and were hand written. Attached in appendix 1 is a typed version for the 10th Battalion RDF for May 1917.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission do an exceedingly good job in maintaining records and the memory of those who died in the WW1. They were helpful in both locating the actual final resting place for Christie McGuirk and have maintained the cemetery in excellent condition.
The Trench Map covering the area of Arras for 1917 clearly shows the railway line near Gavrelle where the main battle was fought and the Blandford Trench where Christie was fatally wounded. The German Wood Trench was only yards away and the fatal machine gun post is clearly shown facing Blandford Trench marked as a ♂ and is on the left of the sunken road and the German Canteen post. The actual area now shows no signs of the trenches and the railway line has gone, however Oppy Wood remains and the sunken road is intact.
We would like to thank Barry Gore for letting us post this article he has written with information from various sources he has gathered through his research.