December 22 – The TA officer and MP mostly responsible for Caubeens

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Jack Macnamara, who was killed on this day in 1944, was largely responsible for the wearing of the caubeen by the London Irish Rifles in 1937. It was later adopted by the Skins and Faughs, and the rest. Portrait is of Bala Bredin.

MP and TA officer

In the 1935 General Election, John Robert Jermain Macnamara was elected Member of Parliament for Chelmsford.

Macnamara was educated at Haileybury where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps. On 11 January 1924, he joined the Territorial Army and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers).

During WW2 he commanded the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles, another Territorial battalion, which was affiliated to the Royal Ulster Rifles. He was subsequently promoted to the rank of colonel.

The battalion was initially assigned to 168th (London) Infantry Brigade, part of the 56th (London) Infantry Division, nicknamed “The Black Cats” and fought in the Italian theatre of war.

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Col JRJ Macnamara, MP for Chelmsford, 1 London Irish Rifles former CO, was killed when visiting them. He was caught in a mortar bombardment while he was with C Coy. Lt Prosser MC was also killed and Maj Boswell was wounded.

In December 1944, Col. Macnamara was visiting Italy and was with 1st London Irish who were moving into the Senio line to relieve a Gurkha battalion. He was watching men of the battalion move up to the line in company with Major M. V. S. Boswell when a sudden German mortar bombardment fell on the area. Macnamara and Lieutenant J. Prosser MC were killed and Boswell was wounded. Jack Macnamara was laid to rest in Forli War Cemetery

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Caption – Buglers sound the Last Post at the funeral of Colonel JRJ Macnamara, who was killed while visiting his old regiment, the London Rifles. The service was conducted by the Rev. R Wallace.

 

A Caubeen history

Up to 1937, it would appear that only bandsmen of various Irish regiments wore a caubeen. Along with saffron kilts, it distinguished the Irish from Scottish regiments. The Irish Guards established a pipe band in 1916. The pipers’ uniform was a mix of standard service dress and bandsman dress, and also included a khaki bonnet, saffron-coloured kilts, and green hose. The khaki bonnet was named “caubeen” by the Guards pipers, and was similar to an oversized beret.

In 1937, the London Irish Rifles extended the caubeen’s wear to the entire regiment.

In World War II, they were the only soldiers to wear the caubeen until 1944, when the 2nd Battalion of the London Irish were serving with the Irish Brigade in Italy. The 2nd Battalion of the Inniskilling Regiment started wearing caubeens made from Italian soldiers’ greatcoats in January 1944, and the 6th Battalion of their regiment soon copied them.

The Royal Irish web site account states “When the 2nd Battalion The London Irish Rifles, during the Second World War, fought alongside their fellow Irish battalions in 38(Irish) Brigade, the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers and the 6th Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, through North Africa, Sicily and Italy, there was every reason to expect an envious eye being cast in order to establish an Irish identity. What could be more appropriate than headdress that was distinctive at distances greater than the easy identification of a cap badge? Commanding Officers and others were cross-posted within the Irish Brigade as the grim reaper of war took its toll on those caught in the heaviest engagements. Bala Bredin, as a beret-wearing Royal Ulster Rifleman, appears quite at ease wearing his caubeen when he was CO of 2 LIR (left). It was in Italy, when the then Brigadier Pat Scott was commanding the Irish Brigade, that its popularity spread. “

In 1947, the wearing of the caubeen was later extended to all of the infantry regiments in the post-war North Irish Brigade, with the Royal Ulster Rifles receiving a black hackle.

The Irish Regiment of the Canadian army and the South African Irish Regiment also were caubeens. Both are reserve units.

The dictionary describes a caubeen as ‘an Irish beret, typically dark green in colour’ with the origins of the word going back to the 19th century Irish for ‘old hat’.

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