Belfast Blitz 80 – Wartime in the Foreign Department

As part of our #BelfastBlitz80 series, we publish an article by the late Ned Dyas, retired manager of the Northern Bank, Foreign Department, Victoria Street, Belfast. ‘Wartime in the Foreign Department’ was first published in the Northern Bank Staff Magazine ‘The Link’ in June 1993. Ned Dyas died on 14th October 2019.

Setting the scene

Northern Bank, Head Office, Victoria Street, Belfast

If you transfer your gaze momentarily to the left of the main door of the old Northern Bank, Head Office in Victoria Street you will see nearest the corner a tall window. This, double glazed and pretty sturdy, was the window to the world of the wartime Foreign Department of the Bank. A second window looked out, as it still does, onto Ulster Street and the building of G. Heyn & Sons Ltd. In the third wall stood a fireplace where a bright, richly burning fire greeted you each morning and the remaining wall was in fact an oak partition separating the room from the Bank’s main waiting room. Apart from the Manager’s large and imposing desk and those for the typists, a high solid desk stretched round two of the windowed walls. The staff either sat on high stools at this desk or more often than not stood and leaned! The high desk was essential to carry and spread the huge ledgers recording the transactions. The old-style telephones with separate earpieces were still in use. I well remember too that one of the cupboards held bundles and bundles of Reichsmark Notes dating from the collapse of the mark in the twenties. This was 1943 – fifty years ago.

Extract from a wartime fire prevention document completed
for Northern Bank, 110 Victoria Street branch.

Fire-watching at Head Office

Belfast had been the subject of its main air attack in 1941 and while our Head Office, like the Belfast, Ulster and National Banks, was very much in the target area being so near the shipyard it escaped any major damage. The other banks were similarly fortunate. A solitary incendiary bomb had left a hole in the floor of the Stationery Store and I remember having to step over this hole to get at our supplies. Fire-watching was at once a chore and a source of much needed extra remuneration as far as ‘juniors’ were concerned, so those of us in digs did as many nights as possible. Pay was at the rate of 3/= (three shillings) per night, in modern terms 15p but in real value more like £5 to-day [1993]. If you were lucky enough to be asked to do an extra night for a Director or Chief Cashier or other senior member of staff you could earn as much as 7/6d for the night. This as you may well imagine was regarded as a plum! When I tell you that our annual starting salary was £100 per annum plus a 16% War Bonus out of which in my case £78 went on digs you will see that the fire-watching shillings were valuable indeed. Many’s a nice-looking girl would not have been asked out without them. You cycled from your digs to the office, arrived for fire-watching about 10 pm, slept the night in the main waiting room or Foreign Department where the beds were assembled and cycled back for breakfast making sure that you would be back in good time for your day’s work. If you were going to arrive late for fire-watching you made a prior arrangement with a fellow watcher to let you in at the side door. Quite often the pulley bell on the great front door would clang out in the darkness to announce a late comer and I can remember on occasions seeing the face of the Albert showing midnight as I made my way down to the side door. We had an almost permanent firewatcher in Mick the porter. You would find him doing his football pools when you arrived in for duty. Almost completely deaf, he was nevertheless bright of eye, beaming smile and a loyal servant of the Bank. His favourite comment when you handed him a letter or parcel for delivery was “Thank you kind Sir, your kindness exceeds your personal beauty by far; your face I may forget but your kindness never.”

Dealing with the U.S. Forces

Northern Bank was first to operate a Foreign Department and was appointed by the Government as its Agent to deal with the U.S. Forces and authorised to deal with all foreign currency notes and coin on behalf of the Bank of England. This resulted not only in all the other Banks clearing their purchases of U.S. Dollar Bills, etc. to us on a weekly basis but also meant that we were in the front line for dealing with the U.S. Forces Finance Officers. Such sights as our Head Office Cash Office packed with U.S. Navy Personnel when a U.S. Cruiser or Destroyer docked in Belfast and the boys needed cash for the weekend were not infrequent. At such times we all became cashiers for an hour or so! On Pay Days when U.S. Finance Officers were drawing sterling cash for their Forces pay the steps on either side to the Main Door at Head Office would be lined by troops with rifles at the ready, all the way indeed from their bullion van in the street below to the very counter inside. There was an unofficial arrangement that the Bank would try to oblige Officers and Men of the Forces who were here for a longer spell and wanted cheques cashed.

Sailors queuing at the Belfast Banking Company, Bangor branch

It was, and probably still is, a very serious offence for U.S. service personnel to issue a dud cheque so the risk was not perhaps regarded as a major one. Nevertheless, we and the other Banks did have occasional trouble with unpaid cheques. I can recall cheques written out on ordinary sheets of paper shaped like a cheque being returned by our Agents not with “Refer to Drawer” or “Insufficient Funds” but with the ultimate answer “No such Bank”.


Glimpses of the Daily Routine

To outline the daily routine in the Foreign Department would be a bore but a couple of features I recall may be of interest. We received dozens of cables each day from the States asking us to make payments to individual U.S. Army personnel at Camps all over Northern Ireland and these were domiciled at our local Branches or with another Bank if we hadn’t a Branch in the nearest town. As many as 150-200 “Advices to Beneficiary” were despatched daily to these personnel. How’s that for a postage book! [Editor: every outgoing letter had to be detailed in a hand written ledger]. Not only that but happily the Linen Industry kept its flag flying right through the war. Linen was still in great demand in the U.S.A., Mexico, the Latin American countries, Cuba and the Caribbean Islands and in all the countries of South America. We might have had a dozen Registered Airmail letters a day containing Shipping Documents for Havana, Rio de Janeiro, etc. Despite the risks of war, I cannot recall us losing an original set of Shipping Documents, though duplicate documents were always sent on by surface mail (even more hazardous).

The Bank as a Family

Nostalgia has a habit of painting one’s memories in a rosy glow but I’m sure I’m not mistaken in saying that Banks of those days, not alone ours, were very much large families. And as in all families there were the lighter moments! I could tell you of duets in the Letter Department in the morning interrupted by our Bank Secretary, Hugh Murphy, a man of imposing stature but gentle in manner, asking with a broad smile when the Opera was beginning. Incidentally it was Mr. Murphy’s dictum that if you walked round the Office with a bundle of papers under your arm no one would ever ask you to do anything. To conclude, our small staff of eight or nine in the Foreign Department was kept at full stretch during this time but there was very much a family feel about all we did and to someone like myself (and, if I may include him, John Tunstead) coming from Dublin to Belfast and not knowing a soul it was good to find oneself among so many friends and so soon.

Research to identify descendants of John Mitchell, Northern Bank, Kilrea

During the clear out of the Northern Bank (Danske Bank) branch in Kilrea, Co. Londonderry prior to its closure in December 2020, an ‘Illuminated Address’ book was found in storage. This hardback book, in ‘used’ condition consists of 8 thick card pages bound in a red cover with gold leaf patterns embossed on each cover. It is dated the 27th October 1923 and was given to ‘John Mitchell, Manager of the Northern Bank by his friends in Kilrea and District upon the occasion of his transfer to the Managership of the Londonderry Branch’. The book was designed and printed by ‘Carey and Thomson’ of Royal Avenue, Belfast. In addition to the 3 pages of the address and the list of subscribers, there are water colour pictures of ‘The Bann Bridge, Kilrea’, ‘The Northern Bank Kilrea’, ‘Kilrea From Railway Station’ and ‘The Golf Links Kilrea’.

Gavin Bamford was asked by Andrew Hunter, Northern Bank t/a Danske Bank to trace a living descendant of John Mitchell as the bank would like to return the book to his family. Gavin undertook his research as Chair of local history group, ‘History Hub Ulster’.

See the Book – Watch video 

Read the full story – Download the pdf

Lieutenant Edward Workman MC

On this day in 1916 Lieutenant Edward Workman died in the Duchess of Westminster hospital, Le Touquet, France where he was being treated for wounds received exactly one week before in a raid on German trenches; it initially was thought that his wounds were not serious.

Edward (Ted) Workman was born at 32 College Gardens, Belfast on 4th August 1886 into a family of substantial means – the only son of Frank Workman, one of the founders of Workman Clark, Shipbuilders, Belfast and Sara (nee McCausland). He had a younger sister – Florence “Sis” and was educated initially at private school in Walmer, Kent and then went on to Charterhouse and Trinity College, Cambridge. By his early twenties, Ted was a Director of Workman Clark, managing the South Yard of the family’s shipbuilding business and as such was clearly destined for greater things. At the time of the “Home Rule” crisis he was a well-regarded Company Commander in the 6th Battalion, East Belfast Regiment of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) which he had joined from the outset.

At the very outbreak of the Great War Ted volunteered to fight for his country and was gazetted Second Lieutenant, 5th Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles (Royal South Downs) on 15th August 1914 initially serving at Victoria Barracks, Belfast before posting to the British Expeditionary Force, attached initially, to The York and Lancaster Regiment. He arrived in Rouen, France on 7th May 1915 and was promoted to Lieutenant on 22nd May 1915, attached to the 2nd Battalion RIR. Ted’s first real action was in Belgium at Hooge which is just outside Ypres and close to the perhaps better known Paeschaendael. The action in this theatre was brutal in the extreme and resulted in very high casualties on both sides, many of these inflicted in terrible hand-to-hand fighting in mud and water-filled trenches where men even struggled to pass each other. As an illustration of how terrible the fighting was, Ted was only one of three officers who came out of one of the earlier large raids unscathed (one of these was later killed); for his actions he was Mentioned in Dispatches by Sir John French. At this time, Ted was five feet seven and three quarters inches tall, weighed only 9 stones 13 pounds and the life expectancy of a young front-line officer was known to be measured in days.

In mid-January 1916 an order was issued to conduct a substantial raid on the enemy trenches to capture prisoners and gather information on the enemy’s strength and positions. On 19th January 1916 whilst commanding B Company of the 2nd RIR, he was tasked with leading part of the raid on the enemy trenches at the River Lys near Armentiers. Under heavy rifle, machine gun and artillery fire Ted and his men made it into the German trench and captured a number of prisoners. Whilst holding these prisoners at pistol point and still in the german trenches, he was struck on the head by a rifle butt and was knocked to the ground but recovered sufficiently well to be able to lead his men and prisoners back to their own trenches. Following treatment at the First Aid Station he was evacuated to the Duchess of Westminster’s Hospital at Le Touquet, Sadly, and despite the best efforts of the surgeons, he developed a severe infection which was to lead to his death from meningitis exactly one week after receiving his injury. Perhaps uniquely, his Father, Mother, Sister and her husband had travelled to France in time to see the seriously ill Ted. He was laid to rest in a simple military ceremony in the Camiers Road Military Cemetery at Etaples in France and in recognition of his significant part in the action and for his courage under fire he was awarded (posthumously) the Military Cross.

Frank and Sara paid tribute to their beloved son by erecting a memorial commemorating Ted and 135 Workman Clark employees who died in that war. They commissioned Sophia Rosamund Praeger to carve three relief panels and a silhouette of Ted, the latter forming the centrepiece of the memorial. The remaining portions of the original memorial – the carved silhouette of Edward Workman, the panel detailing Ted’s civil and military accomplishments, and the panels listing the names of the shipyard fatalities are embedded in the outer wall of the Pumphouse building at the Thompson Dock in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.

As her own tribute to her beloved son, Sara compiled a substantial archive which contains a mixture of family photographs and articles chronicling Ted’s short life. Included in this are many of his letters from the Front including a barely legible scribbled note from him written from the hospital only a few days before he died. This important archive is a treasured family possession.

Newtownards Camp – A Forgotten Camp of the Great War

In late 1914, Campbell and Sons of Ravenhill Road were awarded the contract to construct the camp and advertised for “galvanised iron fitters for Newtownards Camp”. The erection of the buildings was carried out under the direction of James Sinclair Jackson, representing Swiney, Ferguson and Croasdaile of Royal Avenue. He was wounded in 1916 whilst serving with the Royal Engineers.

In February 1915, Major-General Friend, Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in Ireland, inspected the men of the 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and the first death of a soldier from the camp occurred. Rifleman William James Bacon (35) died of influenza and pneumonia at Newtownards Workhouse Infirmary on 6th February. His body was returned to his home in Portrush for burial in Ballywillan Cemetery with full military honours.

An outbreak of scarlet fever was to claim the life of Lance-Corporal John Bowden (19) of Harryville at Newtownards Fever Hospital on 1st April 1915. He was buried with full military honours in Ballymena New Cemetery on 3rd April. 

In the same month, John Cooper, a regimental librarian, lost the sight in one eye after being struck by a stone chip from road-building work at the camp. He was discharged from the army and had to support a wife and six children on an allowance of twelve shillings and sixpence per week.  A year later his claim for damages against the camp contractors had still not been resolved.


In September 1915, the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons’ Service Squadron, the Ulster Division’s cavalry unit, moved to Newtownards Camp in preparation for being deployed to France. The Catch-my-Pal Society erected a recreation hut at the camp around the same time. It was a place where the soldiers could gather to read, play games and to write letters home.

ParkerIn 1916, the camp became a training base for the Ulster Division’s reserve battalions. On 17th December 1917, men from the 19th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles were carrying out bomb throwing practice when a fatal accident occurred. Corporal Leonard Parker, who had recently been invalided from the Western Front, was leading the practice when a bomb that he was preparing to throw exploded prematurely. He was killed instantaneously and two officers, Major Hall and Lieutenant Currie, were seriously injured. Major William Charles Hall (52) died of shrapnel wounds later the same day. Corporal Leonard Edward John Parker (20), a son of Edward and Lilian Parker of Dartmouth Road, Forest Hill, London, was interred in Movilla Cemetery in Newtownards.


By 1918, the camp was the home base of the Irish Command Labour Corps, which remained at the camp until the end of 1919. In September 1919, a memorial to the men of the ICLC who had served in the Great War was erected near the camp’s recreation ground. The location is marked on the OSNI Historical Fourth Edition map. It is not known what happened to the memorial.

In the early 1920s, the camp became the training depot for the RUC and Ulster Special Constabulary. In January 1921, the evangelist Captain Gipsy Pat Smith, who had served in the Great War, addressed over 400 men at the YMCA Hut in the camp. Throughout the 1920s, the camp was used for annual shooting competitions by the police and for sporting events.

In August 1921, a fatal incident occurred when three Specials were returning to camp from Ballygowan in a private car. On approaching the North Gate, the car slowed but one of the camp guards fired a shot which struck Special Constable Thomas Reid (27) in the chest. Although he was treated by medical staff at the camp, Thomas died on 31st July at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

In May 1922, Sergeant William Lamont lost his life in another accident at Newtownards Camp. His wife, Martha (33) died at their home in Fourth Street on 5th May 1922. The news was relayed to the guardhouse the following morning. When Sergeant Blythe called at Sergeant Lamont’s cubicle in Hut 15 to deliver the news, he noticed a strong smell of gas and discovered William lying prone. Sergeant Blythe, CSM Cherry and Sergeant Barnes (RAMC) attempted artificial respiration to no avail. Dr Jamison, the camp’s Medical Officer, gave evidence at the Coroner’s Enquiry that William had died of asphyxia caused by gas poisoning. William and Martha Lamont are buried in Belfast City Cemetery Glenalina Extension.

Whilst the camp continued to be used for shooting competitions and for training purposes by the British Army (e.g., 300 men of the London Irish Rifles were quartered at the camp in July 1931 before moving to Victoria Barracks, Belfast), the numbers of men stationed in the camp declined. In March 1926, the Minister of Home Affairs made a statement about the camp in response to a written question from Major David Graham Shillington, MP for Armagh. The Minister reported that the camp was held on a yearly lease from the War Department at a cost of £1,080 p.a. and that 145 men, including twenty Special Constables, were quartered at the camp. The lease could be cancelled by either side at six months’ notice.

Following the creation of the airfield at Newtownards in the mid-1930s and the outbreak of the Second World War, the camp returned to military duty … but that is another story.




Promoted to Glory – The Salvation Army’s Supreme Sacrifice in the Great War

Salvationist Great WarThe Salvation Army, like the YMCA and other societies, provided support functions for troops in theatres of war. The first mechanised ambulances to be used on the Western Front were provided by the Salvation Army and members served as ambulance drivers. The Salvation Army also provided rest and recreation huts where soldiers could meet and get news from home. Salvation Army bands provided concerts to entertain the troops. However, members of the Salvation Army also enlisted with the armed forces and three members were awarded the Victoria Cross. So far, I am only aware of only one war memorial tablet for a unit of the Salvation Army in Ulster – for No. 1 Corps (Ballymacarrett and Mountpottinger) whose premises were located at the corner of Mountpottinger Road and Calton Street.

Salvationist Great WarThe memorial tablet records the names twenty-four members of this corps who served with the armed forces and five of the men died on active service overseas. The memorial tablet, now located at the Belfast Temple on the Cregagh Road, was made by David Mairs of Great Victoria Street and unveiled by Captain Herbert Dixon. The latter was the fourth son of Sir Daniel Dixon and represented the Belfast Pottinger constituency (later Belfast East) at Westminster. He was made 1st Baron Glentoran in 1939 and became the Third Baronet of Ballymenock in 1950, a few months before his death. In addition to the memorial tablet, there is also a pictorial parchment memorial dedicated to the Comrades of Ballymacarrett No 1 Band. The portraits of the fatalities in this article are drawn from the parchment commemoration.

Salvationist Great WarGeorge Brankin was born on 3rd March 1888 at North Street in Newtownards to James Brankin and Agnes Anna Savage and his father died of tuberculosis at Thistle Street in Belfast on 6th July 1896 at the age of 40. In 1901, Agnes Brankin, now a draper, was living at Marymount Street in Ormeau Ward with five children ranging in age from 10 to 19 and a seven-year-old grandson. George Brankin was living at Carnan Street in Shankill Ward when he married Mary Jane Rowney on 31st March 1905 at Trinity Church of Ireland in Belfast. George and Minnie had five children between December 1906 and January 1916, with one child dying 24 days after being born. George Brankin was working at the Sirocco Works and living at Seventh Street when he enlisted with the Royal Irish Rifles and held the rank of Corporal when he was deployed to France with 14th Battalion in October 1915. George Brankin was wounded during the Battle of Albert in July 1916 and this photograph, in which he is wearing hospital blues, was taken whilst he was convalescing. He was subsequently stationed with a reserve battalion at Ballykinlar Camp before returning to his battalion on the Western Front in early May 1917. Sergeant George Brankin died of wounds at No 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital on 8th June 1917, aged 29. He is buried in Hazebrouck Communal Cemetery in France and commemorated on the Rowney family memorial in Belfast City Cemetery. He is also commemorated on the Newtownards and District War Memorial, and on the memorial tablets for Davidson & Company and St Mark’s Church of Ireland in Newtownards. Mary Brankin, who had four children under the age of eleven, was awarded a pension of thirty-one shillings and three pence from December 1917. She also received a War Gratuity of fifteen pounds and ten shillings in November 1919.

Robert Burton was born around 1893 at Pollockshaws in Renfrewshire to Andrew Burton and Agnes Cameron and the family was living in Govan in 1901. The family was living at Hornby Street in 1906 when Andrew Burton, a coal trimmer, died in the Royal Victoria Hospital. He had fractured his skull after falling into the hold of Steamship Empress on 17th April 1906 and died three days later. In 1911, Agnes Cameron Burton was a linen weaver and living at St Leonard’s Street in Victoria Ward with six children, ranging in age from four to nineteen. Her two eldest children, Agnes and Robert, were both employed at Belfast Rope Works – Agnes as a netter and Robert as a machine boy. Robert enlisted with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was posted to the 5th Battalion, part of the 10th (Irish). The division departed Liverpool on 7th July 1915, bound for the Eastern Mediterranean and Robert Burton signed his army will on 22nd July on the Island of Lemnos. Lance-Corporal Robert Burton landed with 5th Battalion at Suvla Bay on 7th August 1915 and was killed in action eight days later at the age of 22. He is commemorated on the Helles Memorial on the Gallipoli Peninsula. His mother was awarded a pension of ten shillings per week from March 1917 and received a War Gratuity of three pounds in December 1919. On the 50th anniversary of his death, the Burton family donated a Bass drum and side drum to the Ballymacarrett and Mountpottinger Salvation Army Band in memory of Robert. A simple plaque adorns each drum.

Henry Dowds was born on 30th March 1886 at Banoge near Waringstown to James Dowds, a weaver, and Rachel Mercier. Henry Dowds was a weaver when he married Minnie Bertha Lawton, a Salvation Army Officer, on 11th May 1906 in Scarva Street Presbyterian Church in Banbridge. In 1911, Henry was a docks labourer and living at Jonesborough Street with his wife and their first son, Horace Henry (3). Their second child, Norman Harold, was born at Jonesborough Street in May 1913. Henry Dowds enlisted with the Royal Irish Rifles and was posted to the 17th (Reserve) Battalion before being deployed to the 15th Battalion on the Western Front after December 1915. Henry Dowds was killed in action on 1st July 1916, aged 30, and is buried in Connaught Cemetery at Thiepval. Minnie Bertha Dowds was awarded a pension of twenty-one shillings per week from February 1917 and received a War Gratuity of £3 in October 1919.

Albert Parker was born on 25th August 1898 at Jocelyn Avenue to George James Parker, an engine fitter, and Jane Thomson who lived at Frank Street in 1911 and at Castlereagh Street in 1918. Before the war Albert Parker was employed at McCaw, Stevenson and Orr Limited (printers, publishers, and chromo lithographers, Loop Bridge Works, Castlereagh Road). Albert Parker enlisted with the Royal Irish Rifles and was deployed to France with 14th Battalion in October 1915. He was Killed in Action on 16th November 1916, aged 18, and is buried in Pond Farm Cemetery in Belgium and commemorated on a family memorial in Carnmoney Church of Ireland Graveyard. Jane Parker was awarded a pension of five shillings per week and George James Parker received a War Gratuity of eight pounds and ten shillings in October 1919. His brother, John Parker, served with the same battalion and was transferred to the Class Z Army Reserve on 9th April 1919. He was subsequently awarded a 20% Disablement Pension in respect of gunshot wounds to the left hip at the rate of eight shillings per week. John Parker is also commemorated on the memorial tablet.

Arthur Paton (or Patton) was born on 28th March 1898 at Spruce Street in Cromac Ward to Arthur Patton, a baker, and Jeannie Galbraith and the family lived on the Woodstock Road before moving to Reid Street by 1911. Arthur Patton enlisted with the Royal Irish Rifles and was posted to the 14th Battalion on the Western Front after December 1915. Sergeant Arthur Patton was Killed in Action on 27th June 1917, aged 19, and is buried in Messines Ridge British Cemetery in Belgium. Locally, he is commemorated on a family memorial in Dundonald Cemetery and on the memorial Roll of Honour for Ravenhill Road Presbyterian Church. His mother was awarded a pension of five shillings per week from December 1918 and received a War Gratuity of thirteen pounds and ten shillings in October 1919.

Nigel Henderson, member History Hub Ulster

The Art Bible – A guest article by John McCabe and Lyn Forde

The Art Bible story originated as a Facebook post in early October 2020 by Lyn Forde on a popular group. Within hours, the post was acknowledged by 809 members with 206 comments being made. Lyn made contact with BBC Radio Ulster presenter Kerry McLean and the story was presented the following week in a 15-minute segment on her radio show. The segment ended with Kerry reading out an offer from History Hub Ulster to “Lyn and John to write an article”.

When Lyn Forde from Portadown one day spied a novel in a charity shop window which she cared to purchase, little did she know this notion set the wheels in motion leading to a voyage of discovery being aired on Radio Ulster and terminating at a cemetery in Warrenpoint on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Download here

Missing Albert Street War Memorial Returns to West Kirk Presbyterian Church

Albert Street Presbyterian Church closed on 31st January 1971 with the congregation joining with the Argyle Place congregation to form West Kirk Presbyterian Church, Shankill Road, Belfast. Recently, war researcher, Mark Ramsey met up with History Hub Ulster researcher Nigel Henderson and passed over the brass war memorial plaque to him. The plaque, having been ‘missing’ for 49 years was today (Monday, 26th October 2020) handed over by Mark Ramsey (right) and Nigel Henderson (left) to the Reverend David Clawson (centre with plaque), West Kirk. A re-dedication service will be held at West Kirk on Remembrance Sunday.  
History Hub Ulster chair, Gavin Bamford writes: “It is pleasing that another ‘lost or missing’ war memorial has been found and returned to the church and area where many of the men who died in the Great War worshipped.”

Do you know where any of these Missing Memorials are?

Capt. Leslie Porter – The man who died twice

Capt. Leslie Porter – The man who died twice

Leslie Porter Garage By Merlin Porter Arts

Leslie Porter Garage By Merlin Porter Arts

History Hub Ulster Chair, Gavin Bamford recently came across a late 1920s/early 1930s photograph of a motor garage posted on a local history Facebook group. The garage was at 20-24 Great Victoria Street, Belfast. The photograph was posted by Merlin Porter who is the great-grandson of Leslie Porter. Many readers of the Facebook page started commenting on the photo adding to the history and stories around the business.

There are a number of articles and biographies around the internet about Leslie Porter, his motor racing days and his life and death later in the Great War. Captain Leslie Porter was a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and was reported by the Belfast News Letter on 27th October 1916 as missing. It was to be a further three months before his family found out the truth about his death. The Belfast News Letter reported on 22nd January 1917 that Captain Porter, Royal Flying Corps, the well-known Belfast airman and motorist, who has been missing since 22nd October, is now known to have died in the hands of the Germans two days later on 24th October 1916.

What was the story of Leslie Porter and his motoring businesses? This article is mostly researched from the British Newspaper Archives and includes many contemporaneous newspaper reports written in the style of journalism from that period.

Download pdf

Victoria Cross Recipients in the Indian Mutiny

Victoria Cross Recipients in the Indian Mutiny

Many people will be familiar with the Ulstermen who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the world wars of the twentieth century. Men like William Frederick McFadzean and Robert Quigg in the Great War and James Joseph Magennis in the Second World War. However, Ulstermen who received the ultimate accolade for gallantry in the nineteenth century are often overlooked, if not, forgotten. This is the story of three men who were awarded the Victoria Cross in the Indian Mutiny. Two are commemorated in physical forms and one is not.

In 1881, the Childers Army Reform resulted in the “Regiments of Foot” being re-fashioned as two-battalion regional regiments – for example the 27th and 108th Regiments of Foot became the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the 83rd and 86th became the Royal Irish Rifles, and the 87th and 89th became the Royal Irish Fusiliers. A footnote gives the later names of the regiments referred to in this article.

Victoria Cross- Patrick CarlinPatrick Carlin was born in Shankill Parish in 1832 to Patrick Carlin and was a labourer when he enlisted with the Queen’s Royal (Antrim Rifles) Regiment of Militia on 5th December 1854. He was released from this engagement in order to enlist with the 13th (1st Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot in Belfast on 8th May 1855 at the age of 23. He served in Malta (7 months), Crimea (3 months), Gibraltar (4 years and four months), Cape Colony (1 year and one month) and India (6 years and 6 months).

A General Order issued on 29th June 1858, General Colin Campbell, Commander-in-Chief of India, recorded: “The Commander-in-Chief in India directs that the undermentioned Soldier, of the 13th Foot, be presented, in the name of Her Most Gracious Majesty, with a Medal of the Victoria Cross, for valour and daring in the field, viz.: Private Patrick Carlin, No. 3611, of the 13th Foot, for rescuing, on the 6th of April, 1858, a wounded Naick of the 4th Madras Rifles, in the field of battle, after killing, with the Naick’s sword, a mutineer sepoy, who fired at him whilst bearing off his wounded comrade on his shoulders.” The Victoria Cross was awarded to two men from the 13th Regiment of Foot for their actions in the same engagements and these were the first Victoria Cross awards for the regiment.

He was also awarded the Indian Mutiny Medal and, following a severe fracture of the right femur, was invalided out of the army in September 1871, having served for over 16 years.

Patrick Carlin was living at Alexander Street West when he married Catherine Hagans of English Street on 6th September 1872 at the Roman Catholic Chapel of St Peter’s in the Lower Falls area. They were living at 57 Irwin Street, which ran between Cullingtree Road and Milford Street, when Patrick was admitted to the Workhouse Infirmary, where he died on 11th May 1895 following a series of seizures over a 24-hour period. The entry in the Register of Deaths records that he was 51 years old but the details in the military records indicate that he was 63. Online sources record that he is buried in an unmarked grave in Friar’s Bush Graveyard. David Gourley and Mervyn Craig from the Ulster Covenant Historical Society have been campaigning for several years for a memorial to be erected in the grounds of the graveyard.

Patrick Carlin’s Victoria Cross is displayed at the Somersetshire Light Infantry Museum at Taunton Castle.

Valentine Munbee McMaster was born on 16th May 1834 at Trichinopoly in British India to Major General Bryce McMaster and Mary Letitia McMaster (nee Munbee). His father died on 8th July 1845 at Karnataka, Bangalore, India. Valentine McMaster graduated from the University of Edinburgh Medical School with a Doctorate in Medicine. Valentine McMaster served as an assistant surgeon with the 78th (Highlanders) Regiment of Foot. He was 23 years old when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at the Siege of Lucknow.  The citation, published in the London Gazette on 18th June 1858, read, “For the intrepidity with which he exposed himself to the fire of the enemy, in bringing in, and attending to, the wounded, on the 25th of September, at Lucknow.” Valentine McMaster was the second man from the 78th Regiment of Foot to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Valentine McMaster, who was also awarded the Indian Mutiny Medal, married Eleanor Ann Burmester on 10th May 1871 at Halifax in Nova Scotia. Valentine McMaster held the rank of Surgeon when he died of valvular heart disease in the hospital at Victoria Barracks in Belfast on 22nd January 1872, aged 37. He was buried in Belfast City Cemetery three days later and a simple cross was erected at the grave by his widow. The Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and Privates of his regiment erected an elaborate memorial tablet in St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry.

Victoria Cross McMaster Grave at St ColumbsHis widow later married Campbell Mellis Douglas, who had been awarded the Victoria Cross in 1867.

Valentine Munbee McMaster’s Victoria Cross is displayed at the National War Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle.

Bernard McQuirt

Bernard McQuirt was born around 1829 in Donaghcloney in County Armagh and he enlisted with the 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment of Foot on 5th October 1854 at the age of 25. He served in Malta (1 month), Crimea (1 year and 2 months, being awarded the Crimea campaign medal with the Sevastopol Clasp) and India (1 year and 1 month).

Bernard McQuirt was 29 when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the capture of the town of Rowa. He was the first man from the regiment to be awarded the Victoria Cross, with the citation being published in the London Gazette on 11th November 1859: 

For gallant conduct on the 6th of January 1858, at the capture of the entrenched town of Rowa, when he was severely and dangerously wounded in a hand to hand fight with three men, of whom he killed one and wounded another. He received five sabre cuts and a musket shot in this service.

Due to the severity of the wounds sustained in the engagement, he was medically discharged on 5th July 1859, having served for four years and 231 days. He was invested with the Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on 4th January 1860, almost 2 years after his action. Bernard McQuirt (aka McCourt) died of chronic bronchits at his home in Urney Street on 5th October 1888. He was buried in one of the Public (or Poor Ground) Sections in Belfast City Cemetery on 7th October, his surname being recorded as McCourt in the cemetery records. As there could be several bodies buried in the same plot, his final resting place is not marked by a gravestone. However, a memorial gravestone was erected in the graveyard in Donaghcloney in recent years and he is commemorated on a recumbent plaque at Donaghcloney War Memorial.

Bernard’s age is recorded as 50 in the Register of Deaths and in the cemetery records, but the military sources indicate that he was 59 when he died.

The location of his Victoria Cross is not known.

Childers Army Reforms (1881)

The 13th (1st Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot became the Somerset Light Infantry.

The 78th (Highlanders) Regiment of Foot amalgamated with the 72nd Regiment of Foot to form the Seaforth Highlanders.

The 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment of Foot amalgamated with the 45th (Nottinghamshire) Regiment of Foot to become the Sherwood Foresters (The Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment)


Belfast Banking Company, 1 Queen Street, Warrenpoint, Co. Down

BBCo Warrenpoint - Google Earth Street ViewThe Belfast Banking Company opened their branch in Warrenpoint in 1914. In 1970 the branch was rebranded as Northern Bank (Belfast Bank Branch). Danske Bank trading as Northern Bank closed the branch in 2013. Following a few years of redevelopment, the building is soon to go on the market as retail space and 2 apartments upstairs. This article presents the history of the building through historical maps, newspaper clippings, ledgers and photographs.

Download Pdf here