Final Days to Armistice 16th Btn. Royal Irish Rifles - Pioneers.
In Mouscron the Battalion was billeted in the town and work continued on the Railway.
No.1 Company - Lifting damaged track
No.2 Company - Filling craters
No.3 Company - Demolishing a bridge.
These tasks continued from 1st to 9th November 1918 with a break for bathing and disinfesting blankets on the 5th November. On the 10th November 16th Battalion moved off at 0530 to Outryve for work under the Chief Engineer, X Corps building pontoon bridges across the Scheldt/Escaut.
Armistice Day came and went without a single remark in the war diaries. This was strange to say the least as the Commanding Officer Lt. Col William Allen had started out in 1914 as Adjutant and had experienced all the Battalions worst trials and best accomplishments. This seems to follow a general feeling of disbelief that it was all over.
Working on Pontoons in the Scheldt crossing, Rifleman Thomas Shaw (reflecting in a post war interview in 1992), stated that “ they saw a lot of Verey lights in the sky up at the front and assumed it was an SOS call for artillery support. Later some returning troops shouted to them ‘The wars over boys!!’ to which the disbelieving pioneers replied ‘Aye, we know, it’s over there!’”
The work in the Scheldt approaches continued until the 17th November involving filling craters, repairing roads and installing ramps. It must have been a great relief to carry out this work without fear of enemy attack and provided transport kept rolling no longer the need for much haste in their work.
As the work here neared its end more time was devoted to inspections and drills with a view to re-establishing discipline in the Battalion.
On Sunday 19th November 1918 the Battalion moved back to its Billets at Mouscron thus ending the last Operational Task of the 16th (Service) Battalion the Royal Irish Rifles (Pioneers).
Closing Days and Demobilisation.
On its return to Mouscron cleaning became the order of the day with bathing and fumigation of blankets and service dress followed by a kit inspection in the afternoon. A return to peacetime soldiering standards was necessary but needed to be handled with patience and tolerance by the Officers and senior NCOs as the men simply wanted release and return home as soon as possible after some 4 years of stress and strain. However a peace treaty had not yet been signed (eventually signed in June 1919) merely an Armistice which would have to be observed or enforced.
Control of the Armistice also required extensive restoration of large areas of France and Belgium together with adequate garrison provision.
A lot of men would also be returning to civilian life soon therefor it was important to help them prepare for the sudden changes in their lives. A conference was called on the 20th November and a committee set up to organise education, sport and other suggestions for the men’s welfare.
1st November Officers 35 ORs 959
30th November Officers 35 ORs 947
Daily Activity 9th Btn. (North Irish Horse) the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Lauwe. Reference Sheet 29 Belgium 1/40,000.
Spell of fine weather continues. Usual parades and inspections carried out in morning. Battalion bathed by Companies at M.21 central. In the evening the civilian population entertained the Battalion, at the School, to a dance. A very pleasant evening was spent.
At 2000 the Battalion gave a dinner at which Major R.J Tamplin DSO presided. Among the guests were the Officer Commanding, 12th Royal Irish Rifles, Brigade Major and Staff Captain, 108th Infantry Brigade, and representatives from 1st Battalion, 108th Trench Mortar Battery, etc, etc. A very jolly night was spent notwithstanding the fact that a very strenuous day has preceded it, including a Rugby match between 12th Rifles and 9th Battalion team in which 12th Rifles won by two goals to nil