Private Michael Byrne's Silver War Badge
The Silver War Badge, often incorrectly called the Silver Wound Badge, is a fascinating award. First issued in 1916 the badge was issued to soldiers who were found no longer fit for service, whether through sickness or wounds. The idea of the badge was to recognise the soldier’s service and stop women harassing them with white feathers. In some instances, it’s not unusually to come across correspondence from a soldier asking when they would receive their badge so they would not be called cowards.
The obverse of the circular silver badge bears the text “FOR KING AND EMPIRE; SERVICES RENDERED” and the royal cypher “GVI”. The reverse has a pin for wearing (generally worn on civilian clothes) and the badge number. Each badge number is unique and hence makes it possible to research the recipient.
Today we look at the badge issued to Private Michael Byrne, 8th (Service) Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Michael was born in Cashel, County Tipperary around 1863. However, his story doesn’t start with the Great War.
Michael enlisted at Cashel for service in the Royal Irish Regiment on 15 May 1882. Recorded as a labourer he was described as having brown eyes, black hair and being of the Roman Catholic faith. He was posted to his regiment at Clonmel on 20 May having passed his medical examination.
Private Byrne’s service consisted of serving at home, Indian and Sudan. He was engaged with his regiment during the Nile Expedition (1884-85) in Sudan, where a British force was tasked with the relief of General Gordon who was besieged in Khartoum. Ultimately the force was too late and Gordon was killed. For his service he received the Egypt medal with the clasp ‘The Nile’, the Khedives bronze star.
Private Byrne married Lucey Steer in Devonport on 19 September 1886. Their children were Michael, Francis, Mary, Alfred John and Ada.
Transferred to the Essex Regiment on 31 May 1895, Private Byrne spent 2 years with his new regiment in India. He received the Long Service & Good Conduct medal in October 1900. Discharged from the army on 15 May 1903 having completed 21 years with the colours.
With the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, Michael Byrne re-joined the colours, enlisting in the 8th (Service) Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Tipperary on 16 December 1914. The 8th Inniskillings were part of Kitcheners ‘New Armies’, and ex-soldiers were encouraged to join. Upon Michael’s enlistment he gave his age as 47, however his actual age was probably closer to 50. His profession was recorded as assistant butcher, he was also noted as a widower.
The 8th Inniskilling’s arrived in France with their sister battalion, the 7th Inniskillings in February 1916. They experienced some horrific fighting and were gassed at Hulluch in April 1916, the same time as the Easter Rising was taking place in Dublin. Private Byrne served in France with the battalion until September 1916, when the battalion took part in fighting in the September phase of the Battle of the Somme. After September he was posted on home service. He was discharged from the army on 22 October 1918 having been found no longer physically fit for service. His Great War service entitled him to the British War Medal, Victory Medal and the Silver War Badge.
After the war Michael lived on Henry Street, Tipperary on a modest army pension. I am still trying to trace when he died.