Ulster War Memorials from History Hub Ulster

As 2018 is the centenary of the Armistice on the Western Front, signed on 11th November 1918, History Hub Ulster felt it would be appropriate to produce a book, Ulster War Memorials to commemorate this important centenary.

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Whilst HHU Researcher Nigel Henderson had already photographed many memorials in Ulster, the main driving force behind the book, Ulster War Memorials is HHU Chair Gavin Bamford, who has had a long-standing interest in war memorials.

Belfast Cenotaph (Belfast News Letter, 20-08-1919)In the Preface to the book, Gavin says,

I first began to take an interest in war memorials whilst researching the employees of the Belfast Banking Company and the Northern Banking Company who gave their lives in the Great War. In addition to brass tablets listing those who served and the fatalities, both banks produced a series of studio portraits of the men. Currently, the brass tablets and portraits are located in the Head Office building of Northern Bank t/a Danske Bank. They are displayed in the basement and only accessible to the general public on request.”

Gavin recalls that a specific interest in war memorials that have been hidden, lost, or destroyed over time occurred whilst enjoying a cup of coffee in Flame restaurant on Howard Street in Belfast.

Garvagh War Memorial - Headlines (Northern Whig, 28-03-1924)

I noticed a plaque and, being curious, I went over to have a look. It transpired to be a commemoration of the laying of the foundation stone for the Presbyterian War Memorial Hostel in 1923. The stone had been covered over at some stage in the past, probably when the Skandia restaurant occupied the space, and had been uncovered during renovations by the current owners. They decided to retain the stone as part of the fabric and history of the building. More recently, I identified that the war memorial tablet from Elmwood Presbyterian Church in Belfast, which closed in the early 1970s, was held in a store room in Elmwood Presbyterian Church in Lisburn. Whilst, I knew about the war memorial tablets in Central Station in Belfast and Connolly Station in Dublin, I only recently discovered that a tablet had also been erected in the Londonderry terminus. It is in storage and I have initiated steps to get it renovated and re-erected. It is my hope that the memorials for the men from the three local railway companies will be brought together in one location in Weaver’s Cross, the new Belfast Transport Hub.”

Nigel Henderson had the task of compiling material relating to war memorials in Ulster, covering all nine counties of Ulster and identifying unique and interesting examples to feature in a forty-page book. No easy task, given the wide range of types of memorials and the research presented distractions – for example, German Trophy Guns and War Memorial Orange Halls.

Irish Nurses (QAIMNS) War Memorial (Irish Times, 07-11-1921)

Though the initial concept was for a coffee table book the final product goes a lot further, whilst remaining true to the original idea of focusing on public memorials which have an aspect that is unusual or unique. There is at least one war memorial from each of the nine counties of Ulster in the book – some of the memorials are monuments (cenotaphs, obelisks, statues, etc), some had a practical or community aspect, some were introduced as competition trophies by sporting associations.

It identifies the largest war memorial constructed in Ulster in the inter-war years as well as the tallest memorial and the only war memorial that is alive. For the memorials featured, research was conducted using newspapers and other online resources to identify material about the memorials – details on who designed, sculpted or constructed the memorial, details on when memorials were dedicated and by whom.

Public or town war memorials take many different forms:
• Cenotaph (for example, Belfast, Cookstown, Larne, Newry and the County Tyrone Memorial in Omagh)
• Obelisk (for example, Ballynahinch, Kilrea, Ballymena, Tandragee, Kingscourt)
• Temple (Lurgan)
• “Victory” figure (for example, Lisburn, Portrush, Londonderry)
• Soldiers (for example, County Fermanagh Memorial in Enniskillen, Downpatrick, Dromore and Holywood)
• Celtic Cross (for example, Cregagh, Hillsborough)
• Practical/Functional (for example, Ballinderry, Castledawson)
• Clock Tower (for example, Garvagh, Waringstown)
• Tablet/Plaque (for example, Castlewellan, Moneymore, Pettigo)
• Lychgate (Crumlin)

Snowman Memorial, Newtownards, March 1924

Snowman Memorial, Newtownards, March 1924

In the book’s forward, local historian and author, Philip Orr says,

As a result, both during and after the Great War, a remarkable and diverse array of memorials was created in Ireland, as indeed happened across these islands. These local memorials often located grief and commemoration in tangible, meaningful ways within particular civic, sacred or familial spaces. Nigel Henderson’s work plays an important role in drawing our attention to the subject, a century later. Despite problems caused by Northern Ireland’s political fractures and by the lack of funds in an inter-war era of poverty and economic downturn, the work went ahead – and Nigel’s thorough and revealing account gives the reader an insight into the motivations and practice of those involved in Ulster’s own memorialisation process. Most of these projects still survive to this day, though some are long gone.”

Whilst the book does cover some church memorials and contains a chapter (Playing The Game) on memorials produced by sporting organisations, the focus is on public memorials erected to commemorate those from a defined locality. There is a chapter that relates to women who died as a result of the war, with a focus on the Irish Nurses Memorial in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. There is also a chapter on memorials with which the Holywood-born sculptor Sophia Rosamund Praeger was associated – these include the memorials in Campbell College and Belfast Royal Academy, several churches within the Non-Subscribing (or Unitarian) Presbyterian denomination, the Workman Clark shipyard and the County Tyrone War Memorial in Omagh.

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WW1 Centenary: Ulstermen killed at the Battle of La Bassee

WW1 Centenary: Ulster men killed at the Battle of La Bassée.

By 22nd October 1914, the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles had been at the front in France for 70 days. In that time, they had suffered 94 fatalities. In the following five days they were to lose nearly exactly double that figure – 186, in the vicinity of a northern French village which was to become the scene of a vicious set piece battle in the spring of 1915 – Neuve Chapelle.

Amongst the rank and file who fell in this period of savage fighting were three men from West Belfast.

Private Patrick Bannon

Private Patrick Bannon

First to die on 25 October 1914 was 24-year-old Private Patrick Bannon. Patrick was the eldest son of Peter and Mary Bannon, who were originally from Cork, Patrick himself was born in Monaghan. Both parents worked in the flax mills and the family lived at Milton Street in the lower Falls area. Patrick had been with the battalion in France since their arrival on 14 August and had seen much action in that time. In common with the two other West Belfast men highlighted, Patrick has no known grave and is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial to the Missing.

Private Robert James Foley

Private Robert James Foley

 

The following day, on 26 October 1914, 29-year-old Private Robert James Foley was killed. He was the son of Patrick and Mary Ellen Foley who at the time of his death resided at 59 Servia Street with Patrick’s sister Maggie who worked in a linen mill. In 1911, the family resided a short distance away in Plevna Street. Patrick had been at the front for just over two months before his death.

On 27 October 1914, 36- year-old Private Joseph Lavery was killed. A veteran of the South African

Private Joseph Lavery

Private Joseph Lavery

War, he received the South Africa medal with clasps for service at Cape Colony, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Returning to civilian life, he worked as a dock labourer before re-enlisting on the outbreak of war. In 1911 his home was recorded at Johnston’s Court off Durham street, where he resided with his wife, Catherine and his daughters Catherine and Mary – both under six years old when their father was killed. The family had also lived at Bank Street and Berry Street, close to the city centre. Private Lavery had been at the front for only six weeks before his death.

Of the five officers who died, two had connections to North Down, and Campbell College.

Lieutenant Vivian Trevor Tighe Rea

Lieutenant Vivian Trevor Tighe Rea

Lieutenant Vivian Trevor Tighe Rea, was born in Mendoza, Argentina in August of 1891. An only son, his father was a steamship broker and the Vice Consul in Belfast for the Netherlands and Argentina. He was educated at Campbell College Belfast from 1905-1908, where he held a scholarship before going to Queens University, and then Trinity College Dublin where he studied for the Church. In a change of career he enlisted in the Royal Irish Rifles attaining the rank of Lieutenant in 1913. On 25 October 1914, Lt Rea was severely wounded in the front line. He was removed to a Chateau behind the lines where the Battalion medical facilities were, but succumbed to his wounds. He was buried in the grounds of the chateau, but that same night the Germans heavily shelled the area setting the chateau on fire and destroying it. His remains were exhumed and identified in 1921, and re-buried in the Guards Cemetery (Windy Corner) Cuinchy a short distance from Neuve Chapelle. His father arranged for his headstone to bear the inscription, ‘I have fought the good fight.’ In a very busy life cut short, Lt Rea was also a leading light in the nascent Boy Scouts movement, being scoutmaster of the Bangor Troop and Honorary Secretary of the Ulster Scout Council. In a mark of appreciation a stained glass memorial window was erected in his memory at St Comgall’s Church of Ireland, Bangor.

Captain Henry Ousely Davis

Captain Henry Ousely Davis

Another Old Campbellian to fall two days after Lieutenant Rea on 27th October 1914 was Captain Henry Ousely Davis. Born at Church Road, Holywood in September 1884, he was the eldest son of Henry and Mary Davis. He initially attended Portora Royal School Enniskillen before moving to Campbell College in 1901. He remained there until 1903 and played rugby for the school First XV. He entered Sandhurst in 1903 and was commissioned into the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1905. He resigned his commission in 1910 and appears to have become heavily involved with the UVF, becoming a member of its Headquarters Staff. In that capacity early in 1914 he approached Campbell College asking if its facilities could be used as a hospital in the event of civil war. At the outbreak of the First World War he re-enlisted in the Royal Irish Rifles. Captain Davis was killed by shrapnel on 27 October 1914, and in the confusion of battle his body was never recovered. In 1921, his family received correspondence from the Imperial War Graves Commission asking for a description of Henry as they intended to open a grave to try and obtain and identification. Sir Edward Carson became involved in the matter, but no positive identification was ever made. Captain Henry Ousely Davis is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial to the Missing, on a plaque in Holywood Parish Church, St Philip and St James.

Both men are commemorated on both the Campbell College Roll of Honour and the North of Ireland Football Club Roll of Honour.

Battalion Background

The 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles came into being following the reorganisation of the British Army in 1881. The amalgamation of two historic regiments – the 83rd (County of Dublin) and the 86th (Royal County Down) Regiments of Foot, formed one of many two battalion Regiments in the army – the 1st and 2nd Battalions Royal Irish Rifles. The regimental depot was located in Belfast at Victoria barracks which stood where the New Lodge is now. The main barracks entrance was at Henry Place which still joins with Clifton Street.  At the outbreak of the First World War, neither battalion had spent any meaningful time in Belfast since their formation, globetrotting being the norm with the 1st Battalion posted to South Africa, India, Burma and Aden, and the 2nd Battalion spending time in Bermuda, Canada, Gibraltar, Egypt, Malta and India as well as South Africa for the war at the turn of the century. When war was declared however, they were in the less glamorous surroundings of Tidworth in Wiltshire.  Well below their active service strength of 1,000, the 2nd Battalion received 224 reservists from the depot in Belfast before embarking for France as part of 7 Brigade, 3rd Division of the British Expeditionary Force, arriving at Rouen around teatime on 14 August 1914.

Outline of the Battle of La Bassée

The Battalion was involved in the first battle of the war at Mons on 23 August and then at Le Cateau on 26 August. Then began the long strategic retreat which confused many of the Rifles, as they had given such a good account of themselves against the best the German army could throw at them. The Battle of the Aisne in mid-September again saw the battalion on the offensive, and following this they spent a short period in rest billets before marching and being transported to Neuve Chapelle, arriving on the morning of 22nd October. At this time, both the allies and the Germans were ‘jockeying for position’, as what had been relatively open warfare slowly but surely ground to a halt. In the north Flanders plain, the Germans had control of the small town of La Bassee and the strategically important but geographically insignificant Aubers Ridge, (it rose to only 20 metres at its highest). The British forces were clustered round the lower lying marshy ground around Neuve Chapelle. On arrival, the Rifles set about trying to strengthen their position but were not granted that luxury by the Germans, and what followed was warfare in its most raw state with vicious attack and counterattack involving hand to hand fighting, and extensive use of the bayonet, all done under constant shelling by the Germans and what has become known as ‘friendly fire’ incidents involving British Artillery. Initially things went well for the Rifles. A German attack on 23 October was ruthlessly repulsed as an account by Corporal Lucy, a native of Cork, who went on to become a Lieutenant Colonel indicates:

“We let them have it. We blasted and blew them to death. They fell in scores, in hundreds, the marching column wilting under our rapid fire.”

Severe German shelling from heavy artillery took place throughout 24 October, and the German Infantry attack renewed in the evening which led to hand to hand fighting and close quarter bayonet work. This attack was also repulsed with heavy casualties on both sides. Such was the ferocity of the fighting that the Corps Commander, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien issued the following order on 25 October:

“During an attack by the enemy on the 7th Infantry Brigade last night, the enemy came to close quarters with the Royal Irish Rifles, who repulsed them with great gallantry with the bayonet and made several prisoners. The Corps Commander wishes to compliment the regiment on its splendid feat, and directs that all battalions of the corps shall be informed of the circumstances and of his high appreciation of the gallantry displayed.”

The morning of 25 October saw another attack by the Germans which breached the Rifles defences for a time until reinforcements from the battalion were able to force them out, again sustaining many casualties. More galling for the Rifles was the fact that they came under heavy shelling by British artillery which took some time to stop as it was impossible to communicate with the gunners due to the telephone wires being cut. On 26 October, the Germans broke through the Rifles line in a massed attack and two Companies, B and D simply disappeared, either killed or captured. The remaining exhausted Rifles, dwindling in number managed to rally and once more force the Germans back, but on 27 October were forced due to overwhelming enemy numbers and firepower to withdraw to the village of Neuve Chapelle itself.

Research by History Hub Ulster Associate Member Michael Nugent.

Michael Nugent has recently launched a new research website for families hoping to find out more about their World War One ancestors at http://ww1researchireland.com/

Pictures courtesy of Nigel Henderson at http://www.greatwarbelfastclippings.com

La Bassee men