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  • Writer's pictureStephen Callaghan

'I saw a temporary field hospital shelled' - L/Corp Cummins, Royal Irish Regiment

James Cummins was born in Clonmel, County Tipperary on 7 May 1881. He was the son of James Cummins and Mary Cummins (née O'Donnell). James was a carpenter and they lived on Dispensary Lane.

James enlisted on 30 November 1899, likely serving in the militia and going overseas to South Africa during the Boer War (1899-1902).

James married Mary McLean in the Roman Catholic Church of St Peter and Paul in Clonmel on 7 August 1909. James is recorded as living on Kirkham Street, Clonmel. Mary was a factory hand and is recorded as living on Old Bridge Street.

The 1911 census records James and Mary living in 13, Old Bridge Street, with their infant daughter Mary Joseph and Mary’s mother and brother.

Having being recalled for service, Private Cummins left Devonport in August 1914 with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment. They landed Boulogne, France on 14 August. The battalion was part of the 8th Division of the British Expeditionary Force.

During the Battle of Mons (23 August 1914), Private Cummins was wounded and taken prisoner of war. The following is his own account of the experience.

Name, Rank, No., and Regiment. James Cummins, Lance-Corporal, No. 6759,

2nd Royal Irish Regiment.

Home Address . 13, Old Bridge, Clonmel, Tipperary, Ireland.

Age and Profession. 38 years old. Labourer.

Place and Date of Capture. I was captured at Mons on the 23rd August


Nature of Wound, if any. I was wounded by rifle bullet, right hand, left

foot right side of body.

I saw a temporary field hospital shelled, burned

By the enemy, outside Mons. I do not

remember the name of the village or the unit

which it was committed.

I received no attention at the field dressing

station. I had no dressings. I was kicked on the

body by the soldiers in charge. I was without

food for two days.

Mons Hospital. Aug. 25- I was put in a hospital at Mons, where I

Sept. 4, 1914 remained for a fortnight. I was not allowed to

write whilst in the hospital.

Journey, Sept 4-7, 1914 The journey to Germany lasted three days and

three nights.

I was badly treated by the military guards

continually kicked and striking me, and by

insulting remarks.

The civilians at the various stopping places

came to the carriage windows, jeered and spat

at me. The conveyance was a hospital train. I

saw no Red Cross Society.

Recklinghausen Hospital, I went to Recklinghausen Hospital about the

Sept. 7-28, 1914 7th September 1914, and remained there three

weeks. There were about 60 prisoners in

hospital, of whom 22 were English.

My wounds were dressed every fourth day. I

received no medicine, and the supply of

bandages was scarce.

Medical orderlies nursed me.

The lodging was good, being a real hospital.

The food was fairly good, not too plentiful,

consisting of coffee and one small piece of

bread at 8 a.m. Soup and potatoes at midday.

Coffee and bread at 7 p.m.

The sanitary arrangements were good.

I noticed that French and Belgian prisoners

were better treated than the English.

I do not remember the names of the doctors

that treated me.

They were cruel to prisoners when being

dressed, and used insulting remarks.

I had no operation. A bullet was extracted from

my left foot. I had no anesthetic. I do not

know why anesthetic was not given to me.

I had no clothing supplied by the Germans. I

did not ask for any.

Good beds, sheets and blankets; changed


Zerbst. Sept. 28, 1914 - I do not know the names of the Commandant

Nov. 13, 1916 and Second in Command.

They were cruel in their treatment to the

English prisoners.

I was quartered in a hut with about 200 other


There was no heating arrangements.

The washing arrangements were bad; one

small wash house, washed in trough, cold


The sanitary arrangements were bad. The

latrines consisted of a trench. The refuse was

buried in the camp.

The prisoners were sent out to work on farms,

and did the dirty work in camp.

I do not know the amount paid.

I was never asked to make munitions, or know

of any prisoners that were asked.

The food supplied by the Germans consisted

of:- A small portion of bread and coffee at 7

a.m. At midday an issue of soup that carrots or

cabbage had been boiled in. At 5 p.m., soup

made from some kind of meal.

There was no food obtainable in the canteen.

No tobacco or cigarettes. Hot water, if required,

had to be paid for.

The food from England arrived in good

condition, except during the summer, when the

bread was often bad.

I was never supplied with clothing by the

Germans. I never asked for any.

The only outdoor exercise was an hour’s walk

around the camp in the morning.

There was no indoor recreation.

Smoking was stopped for a month, the reason

being when the French stopped the German

prisoners smoking.

There were two cases of typhoid.

Camp Hospital. I was in camp hospital for a fortnight.

I received no medical treatment.

There was no medicine.

French prisoners looked after me.

The hospital was a hut.

The sanitary arrangements bad.

The French and Belgian prisoners always

better treated than the English

I do not know the names of the doctors. I

received no treatment from the doctors. They

merely looked at me

I had no operations.

I had no clothing supplied by Germans. I did

not ask for any.

The bedding consisted of straw mattress and

one blanket; never changed.

There was no Church of England services. The

Roman Catholics had services at irregular


I received parcels and letters regularly.

They were opened by the Germans under-

officer. Not in the presence of the addressee.

Tobacco and cigarettes were taken from the


Tobacco and cigarettes were prohibited.

I was allowed to write a card per week, one

letter every three weeks.

The general treatment was bad.

I once saw dogs set after prisoners who

hesitated to work.

There was a difference in treatment of the

French and Belgian prisoners. The English

were made to do all the dirty work in camp.

The regulations were posted up.

Smoking in the hit was considered an offence.

Not saluting an officer.

If reused to work, as many prisoners did

(through general weakness).

Three days’ imprisonment for not saluting an


Tied to a post for two hours for smoking


The American representative visited my camp


We could not speak privately.

The urinals were made cleaner after his visit.

The food remained about the same.

Treatment improved after of the British

Government caused this.

If a parcel arrived from home all the tins were

immediately opened; I think that the tins might

be opened when wanted.

Comparative scale of rations. First six months: 1lb. of bread.

Soups of anything.

Black coffee for breakfast

Skilley for supper.

Second six months: About ½ lb. of bread.

Ditto, as above.

Third six months: Same as the second.

Fourth six months: Same allowance of bread.

Soups inferior.

In fact, I fed on my parcels.

At first the guard consisted of young men. The

latter part of my imprisonment the guard was

composed of old men and badly wounded


I used to see men aged 60 and upwards

coming up for training, also boys of 16.

Opinion of Examiner. This soldier has a third-class certificate of education and appears to be reliable as a witness.

H.MASTER, Captain

The Queen’s Regiment

After being repatriated Lance Corporal Cummins was discharged from the army on 20 November 1917 as he was no longer fit for military service. For his military service he

received the 1914 Star, British War medal, Victory medal and Silver War Badge. He returned to Clonmel and lived in 13 Old Bridge Street, where he received his war pension. He died on 29 June 1954.

Lance Corporal James Cummins' 1914 Star.

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