Memorial Program from the Funeral of British Intelligence Officers Assassinated on Bloody Sunday, 21 November 1920

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The funeral program seen here is for the memorial service held at Westminster Abbey for nine of the fourteen British intelligence officers assassinated by the IRA in Dublin on 21 November, 1920. The program details the events of the memorial for the men. Their bodies were conveyed to the memorial service on separate gun carriages, and escorted by a large number of soldiers. The program also states that members of the House and Parliament would be attending the service.

The 21 November 1920 became known as Bloody Sunday in Ireland. On that morning the IRA sought to destroy the heart of British intelligence in Dublin. The intelligence war in the city was one of the key conflicts of the Revolution. Frank Thornton and Charlie Dalton led the IRA intelligence officers in Dublin on a campaign to collect information on anyone suspected of being a spy or British intelligence agent. They provided a list of 60 men that they recommended for assassination. The assassinations had to be approved by the Daíl, and many men were removed from the list due to insufficient evidence of their role as British agents.[1]

The IRA carried out the assassinations simultaneously across the city early in the morning on 21 November 1920. There has been much debate among historians in recent years as to whether or not the men the IRA assassinated that morning were actually involved in intelligence work. Jane Leonard has argued that less than half of the men assassinated that morning were active intelligence agents, with most being “court-martial officers, recent police recruits, uniformed staff officers, and Irish civilians.” According to Leonard, of the men listed on the memorial program, Capt. G.T. Baggalay and Capt. W. F. Newberry were junior courts martial officers, and Cadet Morris and Cadet Garniss were members of the Royal Irish Constabulary Auxillary Division. Major C.M.G. Dowling, Capt. Price, Lieut. Bennett, Lieut. Ames, and Mr. Mahon were all actively involved in intelligence work.[2]

Mr. Mahon has the most curious story of all the men listed on the document. He was the only person assassinated on Bloody Sunday that was using an alias. Mahon was actually Henry James Angliss, an undercover intelligence officer working in Dublin.[3] It’s interesting that even on the memorial mass card his identity is still being concealed from the public. This allowed the British government to continue to refute the claim that they were carrying out intelligence operations in Dublin, as well as protecting Angliss’ family from any IRA threats. Two other officers that were working under cover with Angliss provided evidence at a court martial for men being tried for killing Angliss. Both of these men are referred to on court records under cover names of Mr. P and Mr. C. This is further proof that the British were employing intelligence operatives in Dublin during the War of Independence.

The IRA would still consider all of these men legitimate targets. Members of the courts and Royal Irish Constabulary were frequently targeted if they were active in pursuing and suppressing members of the IRA. Anne Dolan has brought a valuable argument to the table by stating that the IRA men who carried out the assassinations on Bloody Sunday had to believe in their minds that the men were guilty to justify the killings. If British officers were in fact innocent, then the IRA was simply nothing more than the murder gang that the British press made them out to be.[4] Frank Thornton and others involved in the assassinations that day always stuck to their story that the men the killed were British intelligence officers.

The memorial service for these officers was also utilized by the British government for propaganda purposes to push British public towards criticizing the IRA. This memorial card states that the service is for officers who were “brutally murdered in Ireland.” By portraying the IRA as murderers, the British government delegitimized their cause and sought to weaken any support that they may have had in Britain.

 

Notes:

[1] Michael Foy, Michael Collins’s Intelligence War: The Struggle Between the British and the IRA, 1919-1921 (Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2006), 145-149.

[2] Jane Leonard , “’English Dogs’ or ‘Poor Devils’? The Dead of Bloody Sunday Morning,” in Terror in Ireland, 1916-1923, ed. David Fitzpatrick (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2012), 103.

[3] Jane Leonard , “’English Dogs’ or ‘Poor Devils’? The Dead of Bloody Sunday Morning,” in Terror in Ireland, 1916-1923, ed. David Fitzpatrick (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2012), 110-112.

[4] Anne Dolan, “Killing and Bloody Sunday, November 1920,” The Historial Journal 49 no. 3 (September 2006): 795-796.

 

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