WW1 Centenary: The Catholic Young Citizens: Roman Catholic Ulstermen in the 36th (Ulster) Division

Rifleman James Dooley

Rifleman James Dooley

The enlistment registers of the 14th (Young Citizen Volunteer) Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, shows that despite the loyalist narrative that has sprung up around the 36th Ulster Division, there were a number of men who described themselves as Roman Catholic enlisting in the battalion.

There were at least 88 Roman Catholics with addresses all over Ireland who enlisted in the Young Citizen Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, of which 42 were from Ulster.

These men included:

  • Foundry worker William Kerr from Whiterock who was killed in action aged 22, Alfred Wynne who died aged only 18 from the New Lodge and Robert Dennison of Lisburn who died just 4 weeks before the end of the war.
  • Two Roman Catholic RIC Sergeants lost their sons in the war, Crumlin Road Gaelic speaker Charles Blake died aged 24, while East Belfast’s Martin William Jennings died aged 21.
  • Roman Catholic brothers who served include the Rooney brothers. Kilkeel born and Short Strand reared, only one would return home; Peter Rooney was killed on the first day of the Somme aged only 20.  Widowed mother, Ernestine of Bangor was lucky to have both of her boys Raymond and Ernest Warnock home safe after the war despite one son being wounded.
  • James Davey Maxwell’s father was a Scots Presbyterian from Glasgow and his mother an English Catholic from Liverpool. Their Catholic son James was killed in action at The Battle of Langemarck, aged only 20.
  • Newly married Gaelic speaker, 18 year old John McKee from Armagh was killed in action in April 1918, his wife Cecelia placing on his gravestone ‘On His Soul Sweet Jesus Have Mercy’.
  • Marksman William McGarrell of Dromore died of his wounds aged 21 in the Dressing Station, his body buried in Duhallow Advanced Dressing Station Cemetery.
  • Ormeau lad James Magee served till the end of the war, being promoted to Lance Corporal. He was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal, both of which were marked as returned.
  • Another Ormeau boy to survive the war was 2nd Lieutenant James Redmond from Kimberly Street who served with both the YCV and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
Rifleman Jack Flynn

Rifleman Jack Flynn

The 36th Ulster Division was made up of 107th, 108th, 109th Brigades, Divisional troops, mounted troops and artillery as well as Royal Engineers, Royal Army Medical Corps and other divisional troops.  These Brigades included Royal Irish Rifles, Royal Irish Fusiliers and Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

The 14th (YCV) Royal Irish Rifles was formed in Belfast in September 1914 from the Belfast Volunteers and came under orders of 109th Brigade in 36th (Ulster) Division. The battalion moved to Bundoran in December 1914 moving on to Randalstown in January 1915.  In July 1915 they were moved to Seaford and in October 1915 they landed at Boulogne. On 18 February 1918 the battalion was disbanded in France and personnel re-allocated to other battalions of Royal Irish Rifles.

The review of the 36th Ulster Division before they embarked for France occurred in May 1915. The Belfast Newsletter of 6th May noted under the headline Young Citizens Arrive in Belfast:

Rifleman W Kerr

Rifleman William Kerr

“The 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (Young Citizen Volunteers) left camp Randalstown yesterday morning, and marched via Crumlin to Belfast for the purpose of taking part in the review of the Ulster Division on Saturday. The men carried their rifles, packs, and entrenching tools, and notwithstanding the long distance they had covered – 22 miles – they appeared to be in excellent condition as they passed through the centre of the city at six o’clock in the evening on their way to the yard of Messrs. Davidson & Co. Ltd., Mountpottinger Road, where they piled arms and were dismissed.

Lieutenant-Colonel R. P. D. Spencer Chichester, the commanding officer, rode at the head of his men, and the battalion band played appropriate airs. A large number of spectators witnessed the progress of the men through the city. The battalion was accompanied by its cyclist, signalling, and ambulance detachments, as well as by its transport.

This evening the rank and file will be the guests of the officers at the Royal Hippodrome, and at six o’clock tomorrow evening they will attend a meeting in the Ulster Hall. On Sunday they will attend a Divine service in the Ulster Hall at 2:30 p.m., and at noon on Monday they will leave the city on the return march to Randalstown.”

As the Unionist Centenary Committee marks the centenary of the Review of the 36th Ulster Division with a Parade past the City Hall on Saturday 9th May, it must be remembered that the 36th Ulster Division was not only made up of Protestants. People across Ireland enlisted in the war effort for various reasons, and there were at least 88 Roman Catholics with addresses all over Ireland who enlisted in the Young Citizen Volunteers, of which 42 were from Ulster. At least 8 Roman Catholic Ulstermen in the YCV gave their lives with the Ulster Division.

Karen O’Rawe from History Hub Ulster said: “It is important that our commemorative activities acknowledge the true history of the men who served in the 36th (Ulster) Division.  The divergence between the real history of the 36th and the single minded commemoration which exists in our communities today needs to be recognised. A wholly unionist Protestant Division marching off to war is an imagined past and History Hub Ulster would like to use the opportunity of the Centenary to extend an invitation for others to tell their stories whether Catholic, Jewish or Quaker, or indeed those from other regions of Ireland and the UK who were drafted into the Ulster Division.”

Upon reading the research by History Hub Ulster, Jeffrey Donaldson, Chairman of the NI WW1 Centenary Committee commented: “The fact that a number of recruits to the YCV Battalion were Roman Catholic, albeit a small proportion, nevertheless challenges the perception of some unionists that this unit was exclusively Protestant and the perception of some nationalists that no Catholics would associate with the organisation.”

The 42 men are listed below:

Rifleman William Kerr of Forth River Gardens, Springfield Road, Belfast KIA

Rifleman James Dooley of Church View, Holywood KIA

Rifleman Charles J Blake of Crumlin Road, Belfast KIA

Corporal James Davy Maxwell of 136 Dunluce Avenue, Lisburn Road, Belfast KIA

Rifleman Robert Dennison of 71 Bridge Street, Lisburn KIA

Rifleman Patrick Hughes of Altcar Street, Belfast KIA

Lance Corporal William McGarrell of Lurgan Bane, Dromore KIA

Rifleman Martin William Jennings of 33 London Street, Belfast KIA

Rifleman John Campbell of Knockbarragh, Rostrevor

Rifleman James Magee of 45 Spruce Street, Belfast

Rifleman Alfred Wynne of 84 Lepper Street, Belfast

Rifleman John Flynn of 143 Dunluce Avenue, Belfast

Lance Corporal John McKee of Annacramp, Armagh

Rifleman Francis McNally of 20 Havana Street, Belfast

Lance Corporal John O’Brien of Bailieborough, Cavan

2nd Lieutenant James Redmond of 80 Kimberly Street, Belfast

Rifleman Peter Rooney of 43 Kilmood Street, Belfast

Rifleman Thomas Rooney of 43 Kilmood Street, Belfast

Rifleman Raymond D Warnock of 54 Ballyholme Road, Bangor

Corporal Ernest J Warnock of 54 Ballyholme Road, Bangor

Rifleman H Bryan of 24 Kingston Street, Belfast

Rifleman P Brownlee of 25 Belgrave Street, Belfast

Rifleman F Girvan of 3 Mary Place, Whitehouse, Belfast

Rifleman Thomas Hall of Ballylueas, Downpatrick

Rifleman E Russell of Tullymore, Newcastle

Rifleman W. J. Smith of 105 Albert Street, Belfast

Rifleman T Tumelty of 13 Sheriff Street, Belfast

Rifleman P Vallelly of Stanhope Street, Belfast

Rifleman F Kunan of 148 Ravenhill Road, Belfast

Rifleman William Loughran of 16 Marys Street, Belfast

Rifleman E Robinson of Magheralin, Lurgan

Rifleman P Rodgers of 5 Sunwick Street, Belfast

Rifleman Hugh Magee of Carrycowan, Martinstown

Rifleman J Macklin of 22 Valentine Street, Belfast

Rifleman T Murphy of 17 Parkview Street, Belfast

Rifleman A McVeigh of 28 Croft Road, Carnlough

Rifleman H McNamara of Ballynahinch Street, Hillsborough

Rifleman J McMullen of 23 Sherwood Street, Belfast

Rifleman J McLaughlin of 71 Derwent Street, Belfast

Rifleman E McGreevy of Ballyalton, Downpatrick

Rifleman M Quinn of Levanmore, Newry

Lance Corporal T Dogherty of Sappagh Muff, Donegal

 

Research: Karen O’Rawe, Chair, History Hub Ulster

Pictures: Nigel Henderson, Member, History Hub Ulster

With thanks to John McCormick

History Hub Ulster is a research group based in Belfast, but working on projects across Ulster

 

 

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