On 2nd November 1919, Albert Street Presbyterian Church was formally re-opened after an extensive scheme of renovation. The re-opening service was also the occasion when a brass war memorial plaque, made by David Mairs of Great Victoria Street, was dedicated. A total of 208 men from the congregation enlisted for service in the Great War, of whom 34 died. The names of the fatalities were engraved on the plaque. In 1919, plans were already underway to install a new organ as part of the congregation’s war memorial. The war memorial organ was dedicated on 3rd April 1921. The Rev. Dr. Henry Montgomery of the Shankill Road Mission, and formerly Minister of the Albert Street Church, conducted the service and dedicated the memorial.
The local newspapers reported that “Rev. Montgomery said many of the men whose names were on the memorial plaque had been baptised by him. All of them had gallantly responded to the call of duty, and that was one of the noblest testimonies that could be offered to their patriotism as well as their Christianity. In that respect they were unlike the young men of England. Scotland, and Wales, who in the middle stages of the war were obliged to serve in His Majesty’s forces whether they liked to do so or not. The young men of that congregation, and of Ulster generally, answered the call from within when they knew the motherland was in peril, and indeed not they alone, but Ulstermen all over the world—in Canada, the United States of America, and Australia. The same blood flowed in all their hearts, and there was the same desire on the part of all to stand for their country and their Empire.” (Northern Whig, 3rd November 1919).
The Presbyterian congregation was first launched in Conway Street National School in 1852 to meet the spiritual need of people living on the lower portion of the Falls Road and the district between the Falls and Shankill roads. The original building was opened in 1854 but the rapid growth of the congregation necessitated the erection of larger premises thirty years later, on the same site on the corner with Raglan Street. The congregation later established the Shankill Road Mission.
In 1970, due to demographic changes (partially due to the “troubles”) resulting in a fall in the size of the congregation, and the redevelopment plans for the Lower Falls area, the decision was taken to merge with the nearby congregation at Argyll Place Presbyterian Church on the Shankill Road. The final services in the Albert Street church were held on Sunday 31st January 1971 and led by the Reverend Brian Moore. On 7th February 1971, the first services were held in the Shankill Road premises of the newly named West Kirk Presbyterian Church. When the congregation moved, the war memorial plaque was not transferred to West Kirk.
History Hub Ulster’s researcher, Nigel Henderson, takes up the story. “I have been researching Belfast Presbyterians in the Great War and had been advised that this memorial had been lost in a fire at the old premises in the 1970s”, he said, “however, on 28th July, a militaria collector called Mark Ramsey asked to meet me as he had “unearthed something”. I was intrigued but when he opened the boot of his car and showed me the brass memorial plaque, I was astounded.” Nigel continued, “Many memorials and rolls of honour for the Great War were lost during the German air raids of 1941. Others were lost in fires. However, there are numerous memorial plaques and parchment rolls of honour whose current locations are not known to me. Many of these were in church buildings whose congregations have folded or merged with other congregations. Some that spring to mind are the memorials for College Square Presbyterian Church, Balmoral Methodist Church and Donegall Square Methodist Church. There are also memorials that are “missing” for commercial concerns, for example Dunville the whiskey manufacturers and Gallaher’s of York Street. I would love to have the opportunity to photograph these memorials.”
Five sons of William Nugent and Sarah Nugent (nee McFerran) of Percy Street enlisted for military service in the Great War. Three were to survive but two lost their lives and are commemorated on this memorial plaque.
James Nugent was born on 19th May 1897 at Westmoreland Street and enlisted with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He was posted to the 2nd Battalion, which had been deployed to France in August 1914, and joined the battalion in the field on 19th December 1914. He was killed in action on 16th May 1915 during the Battle of Festubert in the Artois region in France. He died just three days before his 18th birthday and has no known grave. Private James Nugent is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial in France.
Robert McFerran Nugent was born on 4th October 1892 at Westmoreland Street and enlisted with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1909 and served in China. In 1911, he was stationed at Mandora Barracks in Aldershot in 1911. He was a shipyard worker at Queen’s Island when he was recalled from the army reserve. He was posted to the 1st Battalion, which had been stationed in India in August 1914, and participated in the landings at Y Beach on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25th April 1915. His battalion was transferred to the Western Front with the 29th Division and was positioned on the Ulster Division’s left flank in the attack on 1st July 1916. Robert Nugent was wounded at the Somme in 1916 and was seriously wounded at Carnoy on 29th January 1917. Private Robert Nugent died of his wounds at No 9 General Hospital Rouen on 15th February 1917. He was 24 years old and is buried in the St. Sever Cemetery in Rouen and is commemorated on the Harland and Wolff memorial for the Queen’s Island shipyard. In his army will, Robert Nugent designated his mother as his next-of-kin.
Sarah Nugent received a dependant’s pension of ten shillings per week for the loss of two of her sons. In current terms that would equate to £25 per week. Sarah also received war gratuities totalling fifteen pounds and ten shillings in late 1919, the equivalent of approximately £1,000 in current terms. By a quirk of fate, a son-in-law of William and Sarah Nugent died at Percy Street during the German air raids of 1941. Samuel Stewart McComb Elliott (21) married Sarah Nugent (23) on 23rd October 1929 at St Johns Church of Ireland, Laganbank. He was 32 years old when he died and was buried in a marked coffin in the Reserved Ground at Belfast City Cemetery on 21st April 1941.
In 2015, Michael James Nugent, a great nephew of James and Robert Nugent and an Associate Member of History Hub Ulster, published a book about the Battle of Festubert entitled, “It was an awful Sunday”. In expressing his thoughts about the discovery of the memorial plaque, Michael said, “This means a lot to me. I hope the plaque regains a prominent position so that the sacrifice of my Great Uncles is always remembered.” Nigel Henderson stated that he hopes that the memorial plaque for the Albert Street Presbyterian congregation can find a new home in West Kirk Presbyterian Church.
Gavin Bamford, Chair of History Hub Ulster, commented, “The Ulster War Memorials book that History Hub Ulster published in 2018 included a chapter on lost or missing war memorials. As a research-based group, we are interested in locating these memorials and photographing them for posterity. Some of them might be in museum storage areas and some, like the Albert Street Presbyterian Church plaque, might be lying in a loft or tucked away in a cupboard on church premises.”
A list of memorials and rolls of honour that we know existed but whose whereabouts are not known can be found here. This is not an exhaustive list and will be amended as further information comes to light. If anyone knows of a war memorial plaque or a parchment Roll of Honour that is not in the public domain, we would be interested in knowing the details. Please contact us via email or on facebook.