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The Royal Hibernian Military School (1765-1924)
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1919 Lives of the Hibernians

Editorial note: According to Arrian, chronicler of the campaigns of Alexander, the Great commander is reputed to have once asked an Indian sage under threat of death who were the more numerous, the quick or the dead. His answer, which saved his life, was 'The quick, my lord, for the dead are not.' This erudite rejoinder would seem to exemplify the attitude of the lords of war and military authorities apropos the casualties of war. They need the quick to fight the next battle; the dead are no longer a factor except perhaps as a statistical quotient; such are the exigencies of war.

 It is now well-known that fire during the London Blitz of World War II destroyed a large part of the records of the Royal Hibernian Military School. The destruction was not complete, however, because some registers remained in possession of the Duke of York's School, when the two institutions amalgamated in 1924. From those few records and registers that have survived and in the custody of the National Archives, from letters, photographs and memorabilia still in private hands, something of the fascinating history of this important Irish institution slowly emerges. Visitors to this site with connections to the RHMS are making an important contribution to the school's history by contributing photographs, newspaper cuttings and documents that are part of their family histories. Also, the Genealogical Society of Ireland has published the known historical record to 2001 in its Irish Genealogical Sources No. 25 publication. This latest addition to the website of the RHMS is an attempt to resurrect the history of the school through the lives of those who were part of the Royal Hibernian experience from 1765 to 1924.

GeorGE WILLIAM and Frederick JOHN Gilligan

George William Gilligan (1908-1999) and Frederick John Gilligan (1911-1945) were two of a family of four children of the Gilligan family of Dublin. Tommy Gilligan (1909-1975) was thought to have lost his eyesight at the age of five according Christopher Gilligan, son of George William Gilligan. The fourth member of this quartet of Gilligan siblings was Annie (1914-2001). Their father was killed at Gallipoli in August 1915 leaving his widowed wife at age 30 to care for the young family.

In January 1918, at 9½ years of age, the eldest son, George William entered the RHMS and was there befriended by two brothers, George and Percy Tomkins. That was as well because, ten months after his joining the school, in November 1918, George William's mother died. She was 33 and is thought to have been an early victim of the great influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 which caused the death of between 20 and 40 million people. The death toll exceeded all those who died from all causes during the First World War. In fact, more people died in the one twelve-month period than in the four years of the Black Death of 1347 to 1451. So far as is known, the children of the RHMS were relatively well protected from the effects of the pandemic because no unusual increase in recorded deaths from all causes is registered.  

George and Percy Tomkins who befriended George William Gilligan when he entered the RHMS.

George William Gilligan with his young sister Annie sometime in 1919.

  The photograph (left) of George William Gilligan with a protective arm about his sister Annie's shoulder was taken after their mother died (she died in November 1918) because George William is wearing a one-year good conduct stripe. This dates the photograph at some time after January 1919.

George's brother Fred probably joined the RHMS in 1919 or 1920 at the latest. Given their ages, it meant that both boys were in the exodus from the Phoenix Park, Dublin, premises when Ireland assumed Dominion status in 1920 (Ireland declared itself a republic in 1948). George William Gilligan, however, left the RHMS in 1923 when it was in temporary quarters in Shorncliffe, Kent. Fred Gilligan is listed in the last roll call parade at Shorncliffe in July 1924. He was in A Company.


George William Gilligan's final school report has survived. His scholastic achievements are recorded in French, mathematics, history, geography, science, drawing and woodwork. Surprisingly, English and literature are not recorded subjects. In all subjects noted, his record is excellent, his conduct exemplary and his overall performance 'very satisfactory'. Comparison of his level of education with contemporary standards is difficult. One might, however, equate George William Gilligan's school report for July 1923 with O levels or, even more recently, GCSEs (or general certificate of standard education).


George William Gilligan's last report from the RHMS dated 1 June 1923, the year he enlisted.

George enlisted at Canterbury in 1923 and, following a short spell at Buller Barracks, Aldershot, became Boy 40 in the No. 1 Group of the newly-opened Army Technical School at Chepstow. This experimental apprentice training programme was an entirely new scheme introduced by the Army that became the forerunner of a countrywide apprentice training programme. Other centres were opened at Arborfield, Caterick, Harrogate. On the completion of his apprenticeship as a fitter, George William joined the Tank Corps in 1926 and from there to the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment in Lydd, Kent. In 1929, he was posted to No. 10 Armoured Car Compay, India where he remained until 1935 when he returned to Cheptstow as a Sergeant Instructor.

From the original group to form the Army Technical School, Chepstow, George William Gilligan transferred to the Tank Corps in 1926.   The Army First Class Certificate of Education earned by Gilligan while at Chepstow. At that time, the Army 1st Class certificate was the highest level of Army education possible
From 1938 on and throughout the war years, he was variously with the 5th and 8th RTR, an instructor with the Inns of Court OTC, the Inns of Court Regt. as part of 11 Armoured Division, shipping to Normandy two weeks after D-Day and, from there, fighting with his unit in France and Germany, ending the war with his unit by the Kiel Canal. George William was demobbed in 1949 and became a civilian technical officer with the War Office serving in various stations in the U. K. and Germany. He took his retirement in 1976 and died 1 March 1999.
George William's sister Annie, who in the family went by the name of Nancy, died in Farnham in 2001. His younger brother Fred, who was among those Royal Hibernian boys who amalgamated with the Duke of York's in 1924, also enlisted in the Army. He joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, which was part of the 8th Army in North Africa. The 8th Army fought in Sicily and Italy where Sgt. Fred Gilligan was awarded the MM for his leadership of his platoon in heavy house to house fighting and attacking a heavily defended outpost of three machine guns and a self-propelled gun. According to the citation, published in the Swindon Evening Advertiser, the award was richly deserved. Fred died of an accident gunshot wound in Salzburg, Austria, on 1 October 1945 and was buried in a Commission of War Graves cemetery in Austria.

Hibernian brothers Sgt. Frederick John (standing) and George William Gilligan (seated) in pre-1939 tropical uniform

Interestingly enough, despite the much-touted Freedom of Information Act, his nephew, Christopher Gilligan, has so far failed in three years of trying to obtain a copy of the Board of Enquiry report into his uncle's accidental death.

(With thanks to Christopher Gilligan of Rhoose, South Wales for supplying this information.)

Table of Contents - Royal Hibernian Military School
1769 Petition
1806 Pay and Allowances
1806 Weekly Governor's Report
1806 Time Table
1819 Charter
1819 Diet
1819 Staff Duties
1819 General Regulations
1844 Return of Religions
1849 S.S. Pemberton Orphans
1856 School Inspector Gleig
1857 China
1873 Religion
1900 Review at Phoenix Park
1918 Lost Boys
1919 Roll of Honour
1919 Recollections
1919 Lives of the Hibernians
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
1922 Last cricket match
1924 A soldier's orphan's story
1924 Last roll call
1924 Laying up the colours
1924 The final era
1937 A military misfit NEW
1969 The bicentenary reunion
1994 Capt. Harry Bloomer MBE
2001 IGS No.25 History
2004 Newsletter
2005 The last known Hibernian
2007 Sources of Hibernian documents

Delta Tech Systems Inc
  Duke of York's Royal Military School
Royal Hibernian Military School
Reminiscences of a Queen's Army  Schoolmistress
World War I letters and Reports
Books and Militaria
Wellington on Waterloo
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© A. W. Cockerill 2005

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