Constabulary Medal (Ireland), 2nd type, ‘Reward of Merit Royal Irish Constabulary’ lacking top silver riband bar. 71631 Constable Ernest Dray. Royal Irish Constabulary. VF/GVF

£6,500.00

The poignant Constabulary Medal (Ireland) for gallantry awarded to Constable E. Dray, Royal Irish Constabulary, who was mortally wounded when his patrol came under sudden, close-range attack in the Main Street of Midleton, co. Cork on 29 December 1920, an attack which led to the first officially sanctioned reprisals being carried out, and opened a new chapter in the history of the Anglo-Irish War

 

Ernest Dray was born in Gillingham, Kent, on 30 September 1899, the sixth child of William Dray, a blacksmith, and his wife, Sarah Ann Dray. Although underage, he enlisted at the Buffs depot in Canterbury on 7 June 1915, joining the Royal East Kent Yeomanry, which, despite its name, was a dismounted infantry unit. From early 1916 Dray served with the Yeomanry in Egypt, where they formed part of the Western Frontier Force, and then the Suez Canal Defence Force. In early 1917, the Royal East Kent Yeomanry were reorganised and renumbered as the 10th East Kent Mounted Rifles, for dismounted service during the Palestine campaign, taking part in the capture of Beersheba and Jerusalem. They were transferred to France in May 1918, where Dray served in 3rd Platoon, ‘A’ Company, 10th Kent Yeomanry Battalion, The Buffs. He was released from the army in the summer of 1919 and, since he provided no civilian occupation in his R.I.C. application, was apparently mostly unemployed for the better part of a year.

Dray joined the Royal Irish Constabulary on 11 June 1920, describing himself as an ex-soldier. His service record states that he was recommended by the R.I.C.’s chief recruiting officer in Great Britain, R.I.C. District Inspector and Irish Guards Major Cyril Fleming, who worked in the army recruiting office at Great Scotland Yard in London. Dray met the R.I.C.’s three requirements: the expected height of at least five feet eight inches; unmarried; and an army rating of ‘Good’ or higher. For reasons of expediency and economy, mainland recruits were initially issued with black-green R.I.C. uniform items along with war-surplus military khaki tunics, trousers and coats. They wore these in varying combinations, the most popular being R.I.C. cap, tunic and belt with khaki trousers. This mix ’n’ match look caused them to be dubbed ‘Black and Tans.’

Dray was assigned to the Limerick Police from 24 July 1920. There is no explanation on his record as to why he was at the R.I.C. barracks at Midleton, co. Cork in December 1920. Dray and his fellow Tans were permanent members of the R.I.C. (though they are often confused with the ‘Temporary Constables’ or ‘Temporary Cadets’ who formed a separate branch of the security forces). They lived and worked alongside their Irish colleagues, although their accents, religion and multi-coloured uniforms set them apart. Their lack of police training meant that they tended to be assigned a greater share of para-military tasks such as raids, searches or patrol duties. Being unmarried, Tans were easier than members of the old R.I.C. to redeploy as the evolving security situation required, and Dray is certainly not the only Tan who worked outside of the county entered in his record.

Dray barely completed six months service in Ireland before he was killed in action, aged 21. The I.R.A. attack in Midleton in south-east county Cork is particularly well documented. An excellent graphic map and timeline is available in Heritage Centenary Sites of Rebel County Cork p 159 published by the Heritage Unit of Cork County Council. The following I.R.A. direct eye-witness personal account is probably the best single source (Witness Statement 1,449 Patrick J. Whelan, slightly shortened, inconsistent punctuation corrected refers):-
‘Word was brought to Diarmuid Hurley that a patrol of R.I.C. and Black and Tans patrolled Midleton each night, and he decided to go in with the [local] column and attack this patrol, but, first of all, Jack Aherne and I were to go into the town, to note and report the strength and disposition of the patrol. The whole column moved into Midleton under cover of darkness, and assembled at a saw-mill in Charles Street. The date was about 27th [in fact 29] December 1920, and the time, approximately 8 p.m. Jack and I continued on to the Main Street. We arranged that I would take up position at the corner of Charles Street which is situated about midway in the Main Street, and at right-angles to it. Jack posted himself further down the Main Street, in the vicinity of the Midleton Arms Hotel. We were armed with .45 Webley revolvers and wore trench coats and caps.
I was only about five minutes at my post when I saw a patrol of Black and Tans, marching slowly towards me. They moved in pairs, about six paces apart, and on both sides of the street, four pairs on my side and two pairs on the opposite side, together with an old R.I.C. man named Mullins. All were armed with rifles and revolvers, with the rifles slung on their shoulders. In the last pair on my side was a Constable Gordon with whom I was well acquainted before I joined the column. When passing, he noticed me and shouted, “Hello, Paddy!” I said, “Hello, Gordie!”, which was my usual way of addressing him. For a moment I thought he would leave the ranks and come over to me, but fortunately he carried on with the patrol. I am sure my heart missed a beat or two. Gordon knew me well. He had not seen me for the previous few months, and now he was looking at me wearing a trench coat and cap, items of apparel which I had never previously worn in his presence. I remember wondering if he suspected something was afoot. If he did, he kept his suspicions to himself, as the patrol continued sedately down the street.
We had a perfect picture of the whole patrol, and lost no time in describing their disposition to Hurley. He immediately issued his orders. There were sixteen of us, all intimate with the lay-out, knowing every house and doorway in the Main Street. Ten of us took up positions in doorways between Charles Street and along about forty yards of the Main Street up to the Midland Arms Hotel. The remainder did likewise on the opposite side of the Street. I was at the corner of Charles Street and Main Street, and Diarmuid Hurley was at the Midland Arms Hotel end of Main Street, on the same side as I was. It was decided that, when the patrol was between our two positions on the return Journey, Hurley would open fire, and this was to be the signal for all of us to go into action. Each one of our party was armed with a revolver. We were only about five minutes in position when the patrol returned, still in the same order as I had seen it earlier. Hurley judged his shot to perfection, and at once all of us opened fire. The patrol was taken completely by surprise and, in a comparatively short time, the attack was over. Some of the Tans did fire back at us, and there were a few narrow escapes on our side. Jim McCarthy of Midleton, although not a member of the column, took part in the attack, and was wounded in the wrist. Otherwise, we escaped unscathed.
But what of the patrol? Constable Mullins was shot dead, and about six other Tans wounded, some of whom died later from their wounds. Some of the patrol threw their rifles on the street and ran away. ‘Gordie’ escaped uninjured, and somehow I was glad of this, as I still think he was not of an evil nature. Two of the Black and Tans were lying on the footpath near me, bleeding profusely. Sergeant Moloney of the Midleton R.I.C. had been sent earlier to the house of a British ex-officer, to collect the latter’s uniform. The sergeant was returning to barracks with the uniform, and as his return coincided with the attack, he came under our fire, was shot in the foot, and dropped the uniform convenient to where I was, and only a few yards from one of the wounded Black and Tans. I knelt down beside the Tan and spoke to him. He told me his name, which I have now forgotten. He then offered me his wallet. I took it from his hand and put it back in the breast pocket of his tunic, and told him I was doing so. I then got the uniform which Sergeant Maloney had dropped, folded it and placed it under the Tan’s head. The poor fellow lost a lot of blood, and I expect he was one of those who eventually died of wounds.
I cannot say with any certainty now what number of rifles and revolvers we captured that night. This attack took place only a few hundred yards from the R.I.C. barracks and about five hundred yards from the military post. The whole affair lasted about twenty minutes. All the boys were in great form, but I recall having mixed feelings, due to my so-intimate contact with the wounded Black and Tan. Official reprisals followed in Midleton within a day or so, houses of some prominent citizens, including those of Edward Carey and John O’Shea, being wrecked by military and Black and Tans.’

Dray died of his wounds on 31 December 1920. The close-quarter slaughter in the centre of Midleton led to the first officially sanctioned reprisals carried out by the British during the Anglo-Irish War. Brigadier-General Higginson, the military commander of the area, had leaflets distributed (one of which survives in the National Museum of Ireland) informing residents that, because they had not reported this attack to the authorities, seven buildings would be destroyed. Those targeted included the houses of John O’Shea, Paul McCarthy and Edmond Carey, all on Main Street, Midleton. An extraordinary film clip of British Pathe News survives (Reprisals by Order 1921 refers). It was taken immediately after the reprisals. It shows Main Street, the shopfronts and doorways where the I.R.A. gunmen hid, four armed R.I.C. Constables, an apparently unarmed old R.I.C. Sergeant, and the property damage inflicted. Unofficial reprisals had occurred elsewhere in 1920, with the authorities either disavowing them, disputing who was responsible or turning a blind eye. From this point on, official reprisals became a regular element of British political and military policy in Ireland.

On 16 May 1921, Dray’s mother wrote to the military authorities asking to be sent ‘the medals which are due to my son, Ernest Dray, who was killed in Ireland last December.’

DIX

 

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The poignant Constabulary Medal (Ireland) for gallantry awarded to Constable E. Dray, Royal Irish Constabulary, who was mortally wounded when his patrol came under sudden, close-range attack in the Main Street of Midleton, Co. Cork on 29 December 1920, an attack which led to the first officially sanctioned reprisals being carried out, and opened a new chapter in the history of the Anglo-Irish War

Ernest Dray was born in Gillingham, Kent, on 30 September 1899, the sixth child of William Dray, a blacksmith, and his wife, Sarah Ann Dray. Although underage, he enlisted at the Buffs depot in Canterbury on 7 June 1915, joining the Royal East Kent Yeomanry, which, despite its name, was a dismounted infantry unit. From early 1916 Dray served with the Yeomanry in Egypt, where they formed part of the Western Frontier Force, and then the Suez Canal Defence Force. In early 1917, the Royal East Kent Yeomanry were reorganised and renumbered as the 10th East Kent Mounted Rifles, for dismounted service during the Palestine campaign, taking part in the capture of Beersheba and Jerusalem. They were transferred to France in May 1918, where Dray served in 3rd Platoon, ‘A’ Company, 10th Kent Yeomanry Battalion, The Buffs. He was released from the army in the summer of 1919 and, since he provided no civilian occupation in his R.I.C. application, was apparently mostly unemployed for the better part of a year.

Dray joined the Royal Irish Constabulary on 11 June 1920, describing himself as an ex-soldier. His service record states that he was recommended by the R.I.C.’s chief recruiting officer in Great Britain, R.I.C. District Inspector and Irish Guards Major Cyril Fleming, who worked in the army recruiting office at Great Scotland Yard in London. Dray met the R.I.C.’s three requirements: the expected height of at least five feet eight inches; unmarried; and an army rating of ‘Good’ or higher. For reasons of expediency and economy, mainland recruits were initially issued with black-green R.I.C. uniform items along with war-surplus military khaki tunics, trousers and coats. They wore these in varying combinations, the most popular being R.I.C. cap, tunic and belt with khaki trousers. This mix ’n’ match look caused them to be dubbed ‘Black and Tans.’

Dray was assigned to the Limerick Police from 24 July 1920. There is no explanation on his record as to why he was at the R.I.C. barracks at Midleton, co. Cork in December 1920. Dray and his fellow Tans were permanent members of the R.I.C. (though they are often confused with the ‘Temporary Constables’ or ‘Temporary Cadets’ who formed a separate branch of the security forces). They lived and worked alongside their Irish colleagues, although their accents, religion and multi-coloured uniforms set them apart. Their lack of police training meant that they tended to be assigned a greater share of para-military tasks such as raids, searches or patrol duties. Being unmarried, Tans were easier than members of the old R.I.C. to redeploy as the evolving security situation required, and Dray is certainly not the only Tan who worked outside of the county entered in his record.

Dray barely completed six months service in Ireland before he was killed in action, aged 21. The I.R.A. attack in Midleton in south-east county Cork is particularly well documented. An excellent graphic map and timeline is available in Heritage Centenary Sites of Rebel County Cork p 159 published by the Heritage Unit of Cork County Council. The following I.R.A. direct eye-witness personal account is probably the best single source (Witness Statement 1,449 Patrick J. Whelan, slightly shortened, inconsistent punctuation corrected refers):-

‘Word was brought to Diarmuid Hurley that a patrol of R.I.C. and Black and Tans patrolled Midleton each night, and he decided to go in with the [local] column and attack this patrol, but, first of all, Jack Aherne and I were to go into the town, to note and report the strength and disposition of the patrol. The whole column moved into Midleton under cover of darkness, and assembled at a saw-mill in Charles Street. The date was about 27th [in fact 29] December 1920, and the time, approximately 8 p.m. Jack and I continued on to the Main Street. We arranged that I would take up position at the corner of Charles Street which is situated about midway in the Main Street, and at right-angles to it. Jack posted himself further down the Main Street, in the vicinity of the Midleton Arms Hotel. We were armed with .45 Webley revolvers and wore trench coats and caps.I was only about five minutes at my post when I saw a patrol of Black and Tans, marching slowly towards me. They moved in pairs, about six paces apart, and on both sides of the street, four pairs on my side and two pairs on the opposite side, together with an old R.I.C. man named Mullins. All were armed with rifles and revolvers, with the rifles slung on their shoulders. In the last pair on my side was a Constable Gordon with whom I was well acquainted before I joined the column. When passing, he noticed me and shouted, “Hello, Paddy!” I said, “Hello, Gordie!”, which was my usual way of addressing him. For a moment I thought he would leave the ranks and come over to me, but fortunately he carried on with the patrol. I am sure my heart missed a beat or two. Gordon knew me well. He had not seen me for the previous few months, and now he was looking at me wearing a trench coat and cap, items of apparel which I had never previously worn in his presence. I remember wondering if he suspected something was afoot. If he did, he kept his suspicions to himself, as the patrol continued sedately down the street.We had a perfect picture of the whole patrol, and lost no time in describing their disposition to Hurley. He immediately issued his orders. There were sixteen of us, all intimate with the lay-out, knowing every house and doorway in the Main Street. Ten of us took up positions in doorways between Charles Street and along about forty yards of the Main Street up to the Midland Arms Hotel. The remainder did likewise on the opposite side of the Street. I was at the corner of Charles Street and Main Street, and Diarmuid Hurley was at the Midland Arms Hotel end of Main Street, on the same side as I was. It was decided that, when the patrol was between our two positions on the return Journey, Hurley would open fire, and this was to be the signal for all of us to go into action. Each one of our party was armed with a revolver. We were only about five minutes in position when the patrol returned, still in the same order as I had seen it earlier. Hurley judged his shot to perfection, and at once all of us opened fire. The patrol was taken completely by surprise and, in a comparatively short time, the attack was over. Some of the Tans did fire back at us, and there were a few narrow escapes on our side. Jim McCarthy of Midleton, although not a member of the column, took part in the attack, and was wounded in the wrist. Otherwise, we escaped unscathed.But what of the patrol? Constable Mullins was shot dead, and about six other Tans wounded, some of whom died later from their wounds. Some of the patrol threw their rifles on the street and ran away. ‘Gordie’ escaped uninjured, and somehow I was glad of this, as I still think he was not of an evil nature. Two of the Black and Tans were lying on the footpath near me, bleeding profusely. Sergeant Moloney of the Midleton R.I.C. had been sent earlier to the house of a British ex-officer, to collect the latter’s uniform. The sergeant was returning to barracks with the uniform, and as his return coincided with the attack, he came under our fire, was shot in the foot, and dropped the uniform convenient to where I was, and only a few yards from one of the wounded Black and Tans. I knelt down beside the Tan and spoke to him. He told me his name, which I have now forgotten. He then offered me his wallet. I took it from his hand and put it back in the breast pocket of his tunic, and told him I was doing so. I then got the uniform which Sergeant Maloney had dropped, folded it and placed it under the Tan’s head. The poor fellow lost a lot of blood, and I expect he was one of those who eventually died of wounds.I cannot say with any certainty now what number of rifles and revolvers we captured that night. This attack took place only a few hundred yards from the R.I.C. barracks and about five hundred yards from the military post. The whole affair lasted about twenty minutes. All the boys were in great form, but I recall having mixed feelings, due to my so-intimate contact with the wounded Black and Tan. Official reprisals followed in Midleton within a day or so, houses of some prominent citizens, including those of Edward Carey and John O’Shea, being wrecked by military and Black and Tans.’

Dray died of his wounds on 31 December 1920. The close-quarter slaughter in the centre of Midleton led to the first officially sanctioned reprisals carried out by the British during the Anglo-Irish War. Brigadier-General Higginson, the military commander of the area, had leaflets distributed (one of which survives in the National Museum of Ireland) informing residents that, because they had not reported this attack to the authorities, seven buildings would be destroyed. Those targeted included the houses of John O’Shea, Paul McCarthy and Edmond Carey, all on Main Street, Midleton. An extraordinary film clip of British Pathe News survives (Reprisals by Order 1921 refers). It was taken immediately after the reprisals. It shows Main Street, the shopfronts and doorways where the I.R.A. gunmen hid, four armed R.I.C. Constables, an apparently unarmed old R.I.C. Sergeant, and the property damage inflicted. Unofficial reprisals had occurred elsewhere in 1920, with the authorities either disavowing them, disputing who was responsible or turning a blind eye. From this point on, official reprisals became a regular element of British political and military policy in Ireland.

On 16 May 1921, Dray’s mother wrote to the military authorities asking to be sent ‘the medals which are due to my son, Ernest Dray, who was killed in Ireland last December.