Guinness employees in the Great War

At the outbreak of the war, the Guinness Brewery at St. James’s Gate was the world’s largest brewery.  The company actively encouraged its workers to enlist for war service and an article on the Herald.ie website in February 2015 estimated that a fifth of the Guinness workforce served.  Like many other industrial and commercial concerns, the company guaranteed that the jobs of men enlisting for war service would be there for them on their return.  However, Guinness went further, and paid half of the men’s ordinary wages to their families during every week in which they were engaged in the conflict.

Guinness employees in the Great War

After the war, those men who returned expressed their gratitude to the company for its philanthropic attitude by presenting the Directors with an illuminated address on 16th February 1920.

Guinness employees in the Great War

A duplicate address was prepared to enable a number of employees, who had not had the opportunity to subscribe to the address in the first instance, to similarly express their thanks.  The two addresses were installed in the Board Room at St. James’ Gate in Dublin.

The company subsequently produced a parchment Roll of Honour and a Roll of Honour book in which the names of 645 employees who served in the Great War are listed by Department.  104 Guinness employees (16% of those who enlisted) died, with 96 being killed in action or dying of wounds.  One of the Roll of Honour books is on display at the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast.

Guinness employees in the Great War

Two of the company’s directors served in the Great War.  Captain Edward Guinness, Viscount Elveden, served with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was an Aide de Camp to His Majesty King George V from 1916 to 1918.  Lieutenant-Colonel, the Honourable Walter Edward Guinness served with the Duke of York’s Own Loyal Suffolk Hussars and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (with Bar) and was Mentioned in Despatches on three occasions.

Guinness employees in the Great War

The company had its own steamers for making deliveries to Great Britain and one ship was lost to enemy action.  The SS “W M Barkley” was built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company of Troon in 1898 for William M Barkley & Sons (coal merchants, steamship owners and agents) of Wellington Place in Belfast but was later sold to John Kelly & Company before being purchased by Guinness in 1913.   On 12th October 1917, the SS “W M Barkley” was transporting a cargo of stout from Dublin to Liverpool when she was torpedoed by German submarine UC-75 and sank seven miles east of the Kish lightvessel.  Five men from the crew of 14 were lost and their names are commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London. Whilst the Guinness Genealogy Archive lists all five men as employees of the company, only Able Seaman Ernest Arthur Kendall (40) of Meany Place in Dalkey is listed in the Guinness Roll of Honour.  The other fatalities were Ship’s Master, Edward Gregory (46) of Meadows Lane in Arklow, First Engineer Alexander Corry (48) of Victoria Villas in Dublin (who is commemorated on family memorials in Belfast City Cemetery and Movilla Cemetery in Newtownards), Second Engineer Owen Francis Murphy (27) of South Main Street in Wexford and Fireman Thomas Murphy (29) of Lower Sheriff Street in Dublin.

Guinness employees in the Great War

First Engineer Alexander Corry

Another anomaly on the Guinness Roll of Honour is William Geoghegan, who had joined the company in 1889 at the age of 24 and worked as a labourer in the Brewhouse Department.  He is listed as a Sergeant with 8th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and he had given his age as 52 when enlisting in October 1914.  He was discharged as “unlikely to make an efficient soldier” on 21st November 1914 and died of pulmonary tuberculosis at his home address in Dublin on 22nd February 1916. The Register of Deaths records his age as 51 and his occupation as “Sergeant R.D.F.”.  However, he is not listed as a war fatality by Commonwealth War Graves Commission as he was not a serving soldier and his death was not attributable to war service.        

The first Guinness employee to die was Private Thomas McDonagh, 1st Battalion Irish Guards, who died of wounds at Coulommiers on 8th September 1914 at the age of 25 and is commemorated on La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial in France.   The Guinness Genealogy Archive records that Thomas McDonagh was born on 30th May 1889 and had joined the company as a cleaner in the Engineer’s Department on 13th November 1911.  He left the company on 5th August 1914, being recalled from the Army Reserve, and was deployed to France on 13th August 1914.   He was a son of Thomas McDonagh and the husband of Elsie McDonagh, later of 24 Pancras Square in London.

The last Guinness war fatality was Private James Kennedy, 1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who died of influenza at a Military Hospital in Shropshire on 9th April 1919, aged 31, and is buried in the Dean’s Grange Cemetery in Dublin.  The Guinness Genealogy Archive records that James Kennedy was born on 19th March 1888, joined the company as a labourer at the Cooke’s Lane Maltings on 18th July 1911 and left on 27th March 1915.  He was stationed at Victoria Barracks in Cork when he married Ellen Doyle of Montpellier Parade in Blackrock on 4th September 1915. He was deployed to the Western Front after 31st December 1915.

The Guinness Roll of Honour records that 47 employees received gallantry awards during the war, with several men receiving multiple awards:

  • Distinguished Service Order awarded to three men (four awards in total)
  • Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded to eight men
  • Military Cross awarded to nine men
  • Military Medal awarded to 16 men
  • 18 men were “Mentioned in Despatches” (25 awards in total)
  • Three men were awarded the Croix-de-Guerre.

Two employees serving with the Irish Guards are recorded as having received the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM).  However, the United Kingdom only issued DSMs to naval personnel in the Great War.  It is possible that Henry Corrin (a fitter in the Engineer’s Department) and George Woods (a Gate Porter in the Brewhouse Department) were awarded DSMs by the United States of America.

Four men were awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and Captain Trevor Crotty, Royal Army Service Corps, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire.  Major Edward Gordon Peake, Royal Engineers, and Major Frank Douglas Stevens, Royal Air Force, were made Officers of the Order of the British Empire and Major John Lumsden, Royal Army Medical Corps, was made a Knight of the Order of the British Empire.

One of the Guinness men to be awarded the Military Cross was James Plowman.  He was born at Skerton in Lancashire on 15th September 1890 to Louis Plowman and Eliza Thomas, being the second of their seven children.  Their third child was born in Dublin in 1892 at which time Louis Plowman was employed as a Coach Painter for the Great South Western Railway.  James Plowman joined Guinness as a Fitter in the Engineer’s Department on 9th June 1913.  The family was living at St. Patrick’s Terrace in the New Kilmainham district when James married Isabella Small of Rosemount Terrace in the Arbour’s Hill district on 29th July 1914 in St Paul’s Church of Ireland.  The Guinness Genealogy Archive records that James left the company on 6th August 1914.  He was deployed to France with the South Irish Horse on 17th August, receiving a commission with the Leinster Regiment on 28th August 1915.  James Plowman was awarded the Military Cross for an act of gallantry in June 1917, the citation being published in the London Gazette on 9th January 1918.  Captain James Plowman MC was serving with 2nd Battalion Leinster Regiment when he died of wounds on 29th April 1918, aged 27, and he is buried in the Cinq Rues British Cemetery at Hazebrouck in France.

Guinness employees in the Great War

History Hub Ulster acknowledges the assistance of Dr Jonathan Mattison in providing access to the Roll of Honour book to photograph and transcribe the contents.  A copy of our transcription and the photographs of the pages have been provided to the Museum so that visitors can access the information whilst preserving the integrity of the artefact.

Additional information was obtained from the Guinness Storehouse.

Written by Nigel Henderson, Member, History Hub Ulster

Unique event creating a Sea of Lights to remember those from North Belfast who died in the First World War.

On Saturday 19th March, participants of North Belfast Remembers set sail glass bottles with LED lights and details of individual men and women from North Belfast who served in the First World War.

Sea of Lights in front of HMS Caroline EditedAdults and children across North Belfast took part in workshops to tell the stories of First World War servicemen from their areas.  The adults have researched a serviceman and written a letter to a local child about his life.  Each child received a letter and designed their glass bottle to represent his story.

This memorial event was the culmination of the project when the participants released their letters in painted glass bottles into the water at the Titanic Pump House near HMS Caroline.

Members of the public were invited to bring their ancestor’s story and write a message for a bottle which was provided on site and was thrown into Alexandra Dock.

The sea of lights was a poignant reminder of those who died in the First World War.Bottles waiting to go

Adult groups taking part were: The Hubb Community Resource Centre on the Shore Road, Survivors of Trauma Centre from Cliftonville, Alexandra Presbyterian Church on the York Road, Dalariada Community Organisation, ACT North Belfast and Brantwood History Group from Skegoneill Avenue.

Children’s groups taking part were the Hammer Youth Centre and Clonard Youth, the Church of God Boys Brigade on the Shankill, The Hubb Community Resource Centre on the Shore Road and Ardoyne Youth Club.

 

This project has been funded by Belfast City Council and Community Relations Council.