Ben Miller

The Bayonet Exercise of the Irish Volunteers

In Edwardian Era, Martial Arts, Military, Weapons and Armor on October 23, 2017 at 1:03 pm

Drill Display, 1st prize winners: Irish Volunteers, A Company, 4th Battalion, Dublin Brigade, at a tournament held at St. Enda’s College’s Aeridheacht on Sept. 5, 1915. From the Irish Volunteer. Oct 9, 1915.

“Make him quick and precise in his movements…”

The following short treatise, written by F. P. Mullin, appeared in the Nationalist Revolutionary journal, the Irish Volunteer (also known by its Irish name, An tÓglách) on July 18, 1914. The method of attack and defense with the bayonet presented therein is similar to other fencing-based methods of the period, utilizing the lunge, numbered parries, beat-attacks, the “throw point,” and other techniques. This exercise gives insight into the martial methods used and propagated by Irish Republican rebels in the years leading to the 1916 Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence.

* * *

THE BAYONET EXERCISE.

For bayonet exercise the squad is formed into two ranks, with arms at the “order.”

At the command: “For Bayonet Practice—Prepare.” The men of the rear rank will step back two paces. The odd numbers of the front rank will advance four paces, and the even numbers of the rear rank will retire four paces.

At the “Engage.” Keep the head and eyes directed to the front, and turn on the heels to the right, and the left toe to the front. At the same time raise the rifle, seizing it with the left hand at the lower hand and with the right hand at the small behind the guard.

This plate, from the bayonet treatise of David Fallon (a native of County Mayo), published in 1916, shows a guard position similar to that described in the 1914 exercise. Fallon spent time in both the British and Australian armies. Thanks to Jono Roe for finding this image. Credit: National Library of Australia.

Lower the rifle with the left hand until the point of the bayonet is in line with the left ear, the butt being raised above the right hip, right forearm horizontal, kept well forward and close to the body, and the left elbow slightly bent and clear of the body. At the same time draw back the right foot about eighteen inches, the body held upright and balanced equally on both feet, the knees well bent and forced apart.

In bayonet fighting the soldier has two things to consider simultaneously: attack and defence. Therefore, bayonet exercise is a repetition of points and parries which when thoroughly understood should be practiced with the utmost quickness, but at the same time with coolness and precision.

From the “Engage,” deliver the first point as high as the breast by forcing the rifle out to the ful extent of the left arm, the butt in line with the shoulder. At the same time incline the body well forward and straighten the right leg, both feet to be kept flat on the ground.

Return to the “Engage.”

“Second—Point.” Deliver the second point as high as the breast by throwing out the rifle to the full extent of the right arm, at the same time quit the rifle with the left hand, which should be cut away quickly to the side. In this movement the body and right shoulder should be forced well forward, the right leg straightened, and the foot flat on the ground.

Recover the rifle, and come to the “Engage.”

“First—Parry.” Keep the right forearm close to the side, and without any movement of the body, jerk the rifle to the right front by a swift straightening of the left arm, at the same time turning the sling towards the right. This parry wards off a thrust directed towards any part of the right side and head.

Return to the “Engage.”

“Second—Parry.” Keep the right forearm as mentioned in the first parry, and give the rifle a quick turn to the left by straightening the left arm. This parry protects the left side.

Recover smartly to the “Engage.”

“Third—Parry.” (Seldom used). With a slight circular sweep of the rifle to the left depress the muzzle sharply by turning the left arm until the point of the bayonet is opposite the right knee, at the same time allow the butt to come under the arm-pit.

Parries and Points in succession: From the first parry quickly deliver the first point, and return to the “Engage.” From the second parry deliver the first point, and return to the “Engage.” From the third parry deliver the first point, and return to the “Engage.”

From the first parry, deliver the second point, and return to the “Engage.”

Form second parry deliver second point and come to the “Engage.”

Form third parry and proceed as above.

The point should be delivered quickly after the parry; but a distinct pause should be made between the points and the “Engage.”

The above exercises are sometimes performed with the Lounge and when retiring that is: Lounging with the point and forming parries while retiring.

The Lunge: The left foot is moved forward about twelve inches, at the same time straightening the right leg. The left knee should be perpendicular over the in-step, the right foot flat on the ground, and the weight of the body thrown well forward.

Another plate from David Fallon’s treatise, illustrating the “Point with Lunge.”  Thanks to Jono Roe for finding this image. Credit: National Library of Australia.

In lounging with the second point, rise on the toe of the right foot.

Another plate from Fallon’s book, showing an attack (on the left) similar to the 1914 treatise’s “lounging with the second point.”  Thanks to Jono Roe for finding this image. Credit: National Library of Australia.

To “Advance.”: Move the left foot about eighteen inches forward, and bring the right foot up to the position of the “Engage.”

These exercises are performed to accustom the young soldier to handle his rifle with bayonet fixed, and to make him quick and precise in his movements.

For attack and defence between two ranks facing each other, spring bayonets are used. The men must wear masks, body pads, and gloves, and the point of the bayonet must be well protected. The squad formation is the same as in Physical Drill with Arms. “Full interval from the left. Right Close—March.”

The rear rank retires one pace, and the front rank turns about. Both ranks come to the “Engage.”

To “Prove Distance,” the men of the front rank will give the first point slowly and the men of the rear rank will advance or retire, as necessary, until the bayonet points of the front rank are over their left hands.

The front rank will then return to the “Engage.”

The first point is delivered by the front rank. Without drawing back the rifle, lower the point of the bayonet, passing it under the opposing weapon, and, without pause, deliver the point. The rear rank will form first parry, and return with first point.

The front rank will disengage, and deliver the first point.

The rear rank will form second parry, and return with first point.

The front rank will deliver first point at the waist.

The rear rank will form third parry, and return with first point.

The front rank will deliver second point.

The rear rank will form first parry and return with second point.

The front rank will disengage, and deliver second point.

The rear rank will form second parry, and return with second point.

The front rank will deliver second point at the waist.

The rear rank will form third parry, and return with second point.

To beat and point: With a quick, sharp blow strike the opponent’s weapon to one side, and as soon as the opening is formed deliver the point.

The front rank will beat and deliver second point.

The rear rank will form first parry and return with second point.

The front rank will beat, disengage, and deliver second point.

The rear rank will form second parry and return with second point.

To vary the exercises the rear rank will be made take the offensive and front to parry.

When recruits are efficient in the performance of above practices they are taught to execute them by attacking rank lounging, the rank acting on the defence retiring as far as necessary.

Apart from its utility in the actualities of war, bayonet fighting is a splendid training for the young solider. It generates in time a fighting spirit, a martial ardour, and is a wonderful incentive to individual effort.

Above: From the nationalist Eire newspaper, Dec. 4, 1914.

FURTHER READING:

The martial wisdom of Ireland’s swordsmen survives in Irish Swordsmanship: Fencing and Dueling in Eighteenth Century Ireland. The product of more than ten years of research, the first part of this book tells the story of eighteenth century Ireland’s most renowned duelists, gladiators, and fencing masters. The second part of this book contains the text of A Few Mathematical and Critical Remarks on the Sword—an almost completely overlooked fencing treatise, now published again for the first time in more than 230 years, that is currently the only known original treatment of swordsmanship by an Irish author published in Ireland during the eighteenth century. The Irish pike exercise has also been included among the book’s many appendices. “Irish Swordsmanship” contains extensive footnotes, more than sixty drawings, paintings, and engravings from the period, a comprehensive glossary of terms, and seven appendices.

Irish Swordsmanship is available in both paperback and hardcover editions from Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon EuropeBarnes & Noble, and other national and international retailers.

You can also read extracts, view images, and read articles pertaining to the book and its subject by visiting the book’s Facebook page.

  1. […] Bayonet drill was a common feature of Irish Volunteer exercise. Various essays and articles in An tÓglách advocate its use in both the conventional sense, as well as in the manner of a club or (detached) dagger. An official and fully detailed method of bayonet combat, by F.P. Mullin, was published in the journal, intended for all recruits. This method can be read in full by clicking on this link. […]

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