Fife and Forfar Yeomanry in Northern Ireland

21st November 2018

In June 1940, with the threat of German invasion of Ireland seeming possible, 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry arrived in Ulster to train and patrol the border.

The Fife and Forfar Yeomanry was an Armoured Yeomanry Regiment of the British Army formed in 1793. The regiment saw action in the Second Boer War, World War One, and World War Two.

2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry arrived in Northern Ireland on 23rd June 1940. Almost all those who arrived in Ulster were from Fife or Dundee in Scotland. After the fall of Norway and France, the War Office believed Ireland may be next. By 1940, the island was within reach of the Luftwaffe and the had begun to plan attacks.

In June 1940, the British Government believed Germany may stage an invasion through neutral Ireland. The worst case scenario was the possibility that they could join with Irish forces and the Irish Republican Army. They would then cross the border into an almost undefended Northern Ireland.

We are to be a Scottish Regiment from England serving in Ireland with a Welsh Division.

Second Lieutenant Allen – Fife and Forfar Yeomanry War Diarist

The regiment travelled to Northern Ireland from Scotland by train and in convoys of military vehicles. They had some Vickers Light Tanks and a large number of motorcycles. Despite having lots of men trained in riding motorbikes, there was no one in charge of their organisation. Corporal Tommy Wilmott stepped into the role and devised a system for transporting troops and escorting convoys.

Soldiers at Derrymore House, Bessbrook

Imperial War Museum Photo: H 8460 (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection). Local women serve tea to the crew of a Light Tank Mk VI of C Squadron, 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, Royal Armoured Corps outside Derrymore House, Bessbrook, Co. Armagh on 25th March 1941. Photo taken by Lieutenant JR Bainbridge - Official War Office Photographer.

Dungannon, Co. Tyrone was the first staging post for 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry on their arrival. They became the only Divisional Cavalry Regiment in the country. Fife and Forfar Yeomanry operated Vickers Mark VI B light tanks, having recently upgraded from Rolls Royce armoured cars. A three man crew operated each tank. Their arms were .5 and .303 machine guns. These men would be the eyes and ears of the infantry, carrying out reconnaissance work.

They became part of 53rd Division, attached to 159 Brigade. Their main role was to patrol the border and they prepared to take the fight to Dublin if required. Some men fitted extra fuel tanks to the rear of the Vickers tanks to enable them to travel the extra distance across the border although it was never needed.

Fife and Forfar Yeomanry in Bessbrook, Co. Armagh

Imperial War Museum Photo: H 8463 (Part of the War Office Second World War Official Collection). Boys cover a Light Tank Mk VI of 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, Royal Armoured Corps, in the village of Bessbrook, Co. Armagh on 25th March 1941. Photo taken by Lieutenant JR Bainbridge - Official War Office Photographer.

In Dungannon, the men stayed in houses and church halls while they undertook heavy training. They learned map reading, radio communications, and some even travelled to camps like Ballykinler with infantry regiments to learn the use of hand grenades.

Tommy Wilmott, in particular, enjoyed his time in Northern Ireland and his love of motorcycles. He recalled taking scenic circuits from Belfast to Bessbrook through the Mourne Mountains. He also took part in competitive Reliability Trials, going through mud, water, and tackling obstacles in hilly regions alongside fellow motorcyclists Noakes and McKenzie.

Tommy Wilmott

Imperial War Museum interview with Tommy Wilmott who served with 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry in Dungannon, Co. Tyrone and Bessbrook, Co. Armagh. Click below to listen to audio from the IWM Archives.

2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry kept out of local religious divides and got along well with the people of Northern Ireland wherever their bases were. Their popularity was such that in Christmas 1941 when they departed Dungannon for Bessbrook, Co. Armagh, locals sent a telegram requesting they come back to Dungannon to celebrate Christmas. In the end, buses departed from Dungannon to bring those who were off-duty up to Co. Tyrone for a Christmas Day dinner and celebration.

After training in Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom, the 2nd Fife and Forfar Yeomanry took part in the Normandy landings.

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