Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers baptism of fire at Le Cateau

Exactly 100 years ago, the 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers had a ferocious baptism of fire near the small town of Le Cateau in Northern France. Thirty six men were killed, twenty four of them from Ulster, two of them teenagers from East Belfast. 19 year olds Private John McKean Simms and Private Samuel Hoy lived only a few streets away from each other and died together in battle.

Three weeks earlier, the Inniskillings had been performing guard duty at Dover Castle but now, made up to active service strength with drafts of reservists, they found themselves in the front line only two days after arriving in France.  Their position was on the very left of the British line, facing overwhelming odds from a buoyant German army.  Trenches as we think of them now did not exist then, and the soldiers had to make do with what cover existed or could be hastily created.

The German Army pressed the retreating British and French armies following the battle of Mons on 23rd August.  However, General Horace Smith-Dorrien, the Corps Commander ordered his troops to stand and fight at Le Cateau, as he believed a continued retreat would have led to a rout.

The attack began before dawn with a move by the German Jagers, to encircle the Inniskillings but they were driven back by accurate rifle fire. This set a pattern for the rest of the day, until an organised withdrawal was arranged.

Private John McKean SimmsBy the end of the day, the Inniskillings had lost thirty-six men killed, and many more wounded.

Nine of those killed were from the greater Belfast area, including two Belfast teenagers.

Private John McKean Simms, 19 years old, was born in Carrickfergus. He came from a large family of ten brothers and sisters.  His father Robert was a cattle dealer and at the outbreak of war, the family was living at 58 Portallo Street, Belfast.  A message boy before enlisting, John was posted as missing after the battle, but his body was subsequently recovered and he was buried near where he fell in Esnes Communal Cemetery alongside seven of his comrades.  John is commemorated on both the Cregagh Presbyterian Church and Strand-Sydenham Presbyterian Church Roll of Honour. Two of his brothers also served in the Great War. Thomas Simms had enlisted with Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers but was discharged as being under-age. He later served with Machine Gun Corps, achieving the rank of Sergeant and being awarded the Military Medal in 1918 whilst serving with MGC as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. Robert James Simms served as a Shipwright with the Royal Navy.Private Samuel Hoy

A few streets away in Belfast at 82 Newcastle Street off the Newtownards Road was home to 19 year old Private Samuel Hoy. The eldest son of Samuel and Margaret Hoy, prior to the war he had followed his father’s trade as a carpenter.  Samuel’s body, like the majority of those of his comrades killed that day, was never recovered and he is commemorated on the La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial to the Missing.  He is also commemorated on the Westbourne Presbyterian Church Roll Of Honour.  Eight years after his death in 1922, Samuel’s mother received his medals.

An official communique published in the Belfast News Letter on 31 August stated:

“The battle on this day 26th August was of the most severe and desperate character. The troops offered a superb and most stubborn resistance to the tremendous odds with which they were confronted, and at length extricated themselves in good order, though with serious losses and under the heaviest artillery fire.”

A number of John and Samuel’s brothers-in-arms who died that day were not much older at only 20 and 21 years old. The 36 men killed that day were the first soldiers from the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers to be killed on active service in the Great War.

The 24 men from Ulster killed on 26 August were:

Private William Robert Elliott, Holywood, Co. Down

Private James Smyth, Louisa St, Belfast

L/Corporal Robert McCorkell, Clonleigh, Co. Donegal

Private Thomas Murray, Antrim

Private Charles O’Donnell, Glendermott, Co. Londonderry

Private John Rafferty, Butler St, Belfast

Private Samuel Ritchie, Manderson St, Belfast

Private William Ruddy, Ardgowan St, Belfast

Private Robert Scott, Seapatrick, Co. Down

Private Francis Joseph Quinn, Cappagh, Co. Tyrone

Private James Templeton, Cupar St, Belfast

Private William Warnock, Richmond St, Belfast

Serjeant Thomas Wilkinson, Cappagh, Co. Tyrone

Corporal George Ayer, Doagh, Co. Antrim

Private Robert Falls, Cookstown, Co.Tyrone

Private James Carr, Downpatrick, Co. Down

Private James Browne, Hillview St, Belfast

Private William Harvey, Convention St, Belfast

Private George Henning, Bessbrook, Co. Armagh

Private William Nixon, Portadown, Co. Armagh

Private Thomas Donnelly, Belfast

L/Corporal Joseph Willey, Christopher St, Belfast

History: The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers have a long and proud history and attachment with Ireland. The origins of the Regiment can be traced back to 1688 when citizens of Enniskillen organised to defend the town against the forces of King James. They were incorporated into the British army as the 27th Regiment of foot and fought with distinction at Waterloo. In 1881, as part of Army reforms, the 27th became the 1st and 2nd Battalions Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Three further battalions, 3rd, 4th and 5th became militia or reserve battalions.

Battles Fought: In addition to le Cateau, the 2nd Inniskillings fought at the battles of Marne and the Aisne in 1914, at Festubert in 1915, the Somme in 1916 and at St Quentin during the German spring offensive of 1918.  At le Cateau, the Inniskillings had a battle strength of around 1,000 officers and men. In addition to the thirty-six killed, many more were wounded and a number taken prisoner.

Research completed by Michael Nugent, Associate Member of History Hub Ulster

Michael Nugent has recently launched a new research website for families hoping to find out more about their World War One ancestors at

Pictures courtesy of History Hub Ulster Member, Nigel Henderson at


Moira Hero Captain William James Lyness MC**

Moira Hero Captain William James Lyness MC** was one of only 168 men in the British Army to receive three Military Crosses in the First World War.

NB & BB Rolls of Honour - 010Around 200 bank officials from the Northern Banking Company and the Belfast Banking Company served in the Great War.  15% of them died during the conflict.

Amongst those bank officials who volunteered and served was Tullyard man, Captain William James Lyness.  He was the son of William John Lyness and Frances Mary Lyness from Tullyard, Moira, Co. Down.

Lyness worked in the College Green, Dublin branch of the Belfast Banking Company prior to his enlistment as a cadet in Colonel Shannon-Crawford’s battalion.  He then went on to serve with the Royal Irish Fusiliers and attained the rank of Temporary Lieutenant (1916), Captain and Adjutant (1918).

He saw action at Messines, Langemark, Cambrai and the Somme (1918).  During his military career Lyness was awarded 3 Military Crosses and the Croix de Guerre. Only 168 men received 3 Military Crosses during World War One, a testament to how brave Captain Lyness was.

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when clearing a wood with his platoon.  In spite of the very strong resistance which he met, his dispositions and leadership were excellent, and after heavy fighting at various points he captured a large number of prisoners and guns of various calibre. His splendid gallantry and coolness proved invaluable as an example to his men.”

The London Gazette of 17th September 1917

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.  When visiting his outpost line he was fired on by the enemy at forty yards range, whereupon he obtained a Lewis gun, stood up in full view of the enemy and fired it from his shoulder until it jammed.  He then rushed the enemy post with two bombers, and cleared them out.  He had already led a successful attack on the two preceding nights, and it was entirely due to his initiative and personal courage, in spite of three days without sleep, that his posts were established and our position made secure.”

The London Gazette of 18th October 1917

“When the right flank of the brigade war held up he went forward to reconnoitre and unexpectedly met with a nest of machine guns and about fifty of the enemy, who opened very heavy fire. With great difficulty he made his way back, got a Lewis gun and a man with a supply of magazines and went forward again, engaged the strong point, firing eleven magazines, killing the majority of the enemy, and capturing a machine gun.  He then led the flank forward about 500 yards and straightened out the line.  The man with him was killed and he was wounded.  He showed great gallantry and determination.”

The London Gazette of 10th January 1919

“Captain and Adjutant W. J. Lyness, M.C. Royal Irish Rifles, wounded, is a son of Mr. W. J. Lyness, Tullyard House, Moira, and nephew of Mr. R. Logan, Belfast Bank, Bangor.  Before the war Captain Lyness was on the Belfast Bank’s Dublin staff.  He was a cadet in Colonel Shannon-Crawford’s battalion prior to receiving his commission.  Captain Lyness, who has been adjutant of his battalion since 22nd March, has a fine record of service, having won both the Military Cross and a bar thereto.  His brother, Lieut. I. Lyness, of the Tank Corps, also holds the Military Cross.  Captain Lyness has been wounded in the shoulder by a bullet, but his injury is not serious.”

Lisburn Standard of 13th September 1918

Lyness W JThe Lyness family still reside at Tullyard, Moira.

Military Cross Statistics – The Great War – 37,104 singles, 2,984 with 1st bar, 168 with 2nd bar, 4 with 3rd bar

In December 1914 the Military Cross was instituted to recognise “distinguished services in times of war of Officers of certain ranks in Our Army”.  The majority of Military Crosses were awarded for gallantry, but the decoration could also be granted for “distinguished and meritorious service”.

The French Croix de Guerre was either awarded as an individual or unit award to those soldiers who distinguished themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy.

For further information on Banking memorials visit

Research by Gavin Bamford, a member of History Hub Ulster

Christopher Fitzgibbon – First Ulster fatality of WW1 in an Irish Army Regiment

History Hub Ulster is asking people living in the Kilkeel area for help to find information on First World War serviceman Christopher Fitzgibbon. It is believed Private Fitzgibbon enlisted in the Connaught Rangers in Dublin around August 1909 and died on 17 August 1914. He is buried in the Ferozepore Military Cemetery in India.

 Fitzgibbon, Christopher

Fitzgibbon, Christopher MIC

Christopher Fitzgibbon is believed to be the first Ulster fatality in World War One serving with an Irish Army Regiment. However research has produced very little information on his life. He is noted to have been born in Kilkeel although no evidence for this has been found.

The Connaught Rangers’ War Dairy notes the following:

Ferozepore 17th August 1914.

“Battalion entrained for KARACHI. Marching out strength 14 officers 878 other ranks. Owing to intense heat 10 men had to be left at FEROZEPORE suffering from heat stroke. Of these three died. Most of the remainder subsequently rejoined. One man died from heat stroke in train.”

These four casualties were Private Jeremiah Cronin from Cork, Private Christopher Fitzgibbon from Kilkeel, Private Martin Keeley from Galway and Private Michael Lapparth from Mayo. Privates Cronin, Keeley and Lapparth are all remembered on the Kirkee War memorial while Private Fitzgibbon is remembered on the Karachi memorial. This indicates that he was most likely the soldier who died from heat stroke on the train.

While we know how Private Fitzgibbon died and where he is buried, his early life remains a mystery as his birth has not been sourced nor was he entered on either the 1901 or 1911 census in Kilkeel. Where did he grow up in Kilkeel? Who were his family? Are his family still in the area? Is he remembered on a war memorial in Kilkeel? Who took receipt of the British War Medal he was awarded?

Karen O’Rawe, Chair of History Hub Ulster said “While no-one will remember Christoper Fitzgibbon directly, we are asking Kilkeel residents to contact us if they are aware of any Fitzgibbon families in the area. Perhaps he enlisted under an alternative name or was not born in Kilkeel at all. Maybe you have an idea about where else we could look for information?”

If you have any information please contact

Additional information:

Christopher Fitzgibbon was a Private in the 1st Battalion, Connaught Rangers, service number 9750. His service number suggests an enlistment date around August 1909. The 1st Battalion of the Connaught Rangers was stationed in India from March 1908. It is likely that Private Fitzgibbon joined the battalion in India between Dec 1909 and March 1910. He was awarded the British War Medal. He died from heatstroke on 17th August 1914 and is buried at FEROZEPORE Cemetary in India.

HMS Amphion – First Ulster deaths of World War One

HMS Amphion Lost 06 August 1914

The first Ulster casualties of the Great War were sailors on the HMS Amphion, the first ship of the Royal Navy to be lost in the First World War on 6th August 1914.  HMS Amphion was an Active-class scout cruiser and the wreck site is designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

Amphion, Newsletter, 8 August 1914

Newsletter, 8 Aug 1914

These Ulster men were:

Engine Room Artificer (1st Class) HENRY JOHN BENNETT born at Tor Head in County Antrim, died aged 36.

Able Seaman WILLIAM CLARKE born in Moville, County Donegal, died aged 26.

Petty Officer (2nd Class) JOSEPH LYNCH born in Bright, County Down, died aged 39.

Able Seaman CHARLES GEORGE McCONACHY born in Belfast, died aged 25.

On August 4th 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. In anticipation of war, Germany had converted the Konigin Luisea former holiday ferry into a minelayer.  On the night of 4th August she left her home port of Emden and steamed south through the North Sea to lay mines off the Thames Estuary.

Meanwhile, HMS Amphion and the destroyers of the 3rd Flotilla were preparing to sail from Harwick.  By daylight on the 5th August they were in the North Sea where they received reports of an unknown vessel ‘throwing things over the side’.  At 10.25 Amphion sighted the unknown steamer and sent the destroyers Lance and Landrail to investigate. The Konigin Luise alteredher course and disappeared into a squall where she began laying mines.  HMS Lance signalled she was engaging the enemy and is credited with firing the first shot of World War I. The destroyers were soon joined by Amphion (which had won the fleetgunnery prize for 1914). The Konigin Luise was only lightly armed and offered little resistance. Commander Biermann changed course hoping to draw the British ships into her minefield. However, after receiving numerous hits, the ship was sunk.

HMS Amphion

HMS Amphion

The British destroyers sighted another ship flying a German flag and began an attack.  Amphion recognised her as the St.Petersburg which was carrying the German Ambassador back to Germany from England.  Amphion signaled the destroyers to cease fire but the signal was ignored. Captain Fox then put the Amphion between the destroyers and the St. Petersburg to deliberately foul the range and allow the ship safe passage.  That evening Amphion and the destroyers set course to return to Harwick but due to reported problems with mines and submarines, the allocated course ran very close to where the Konigin Luise had laid her mines.HMS Amphion

At 06.45 on 6th August, the Amphion struck a mine which exploded and broke the ship’s back.Abandon Ship was ordered. As most of Amphion’s boats were destroyed, the destroyers sent their boats to rescue the crew.  However, although Amphions’s engines were stopped, she continued turning in a circle and she struck the same row of mines.  Her magazine detonated and the destroyers were showered with debris.  Amphion sank at 07.05 and 151 men were lost.

With the war only 32 hours old, HMS Amphion, which had primarily assisted in inflicting the first German Naval loss of the war, became the first British Naval war loss.

Known Irishmen on the Amphion were:

First Name Surname Rank Area
OWEN CALLAGHAN Stoker 1st Class Waterford
GEORGE CHRISTIE Shipwright 2nd Class Cork
ANDREW COLLINS Leading Stoker Cork
MARTIN MUNNELLY Chief Stoker Sligo
SAMUEL PARSLOW Stoker 1st Class Wexford
HENRY JOHN BENNETT Engine Room Artificer 1st Class Antrim
WILLIAM CLARKE Able Seaman Donegal
JOSEPH LYNCH Petty Officer 2nd Class Down

Ballymena Observer 21st August 1914

The official press bureau on Wednesday afternoon issued the following:-

“3.30pm – at 9am on August 5th, HMS Amphion with the 3rd flotilla proceeded to carry out a certain pre-arranged plan of search and about an hour later a trawler informed them that she had seen a suspicious ship ‘throwing things overboard’ in an indicated position. Shortly afterwards the mine layer Konigen Luise was sighted steering east. Four destroyers gave chase and in about an hour’s time she was rounded up and sunk. After picking up survivors the search continued without incident till 3.30am when the Amphion was on the return course.

At 6.30 am Amphion struck a mine. A sheet of flame instantly enveloped the bridge which rendered the Captain insensible and he fell on the fore and aft bridge. As soon as he recovered consciouness he ran to the engine room to stop the engines, which were still going at revolutions for 20 knots. As all the forepart was on fire, it proved impossible to reach the bridge or to flood the fore magazine. The ship’s back appeared to be broken and she was already settling by the bows.

All efforts were therefore directed to placing the wounded in a place of safety in case of explosion and towards getting her a tow by the stern. By the time destroyers closed in it was clearly time to abandon ship. The men fell in with composure and 20 minutes after the mine struck, the men, officers and captain left their ship.

Three minutes later it exploded. Debris falling from a great height struck the rescue boats, destroyers and one of the Amphion’s shells burst on the deck of one of the latter killing two of the men and a German prisoner rescured from the cruiser. After 15 minutes the Amphion had disappeared.Captain Fox speaks in the highest terms of the behaviour of the men throughout.”

Amphion, Newsletter 7 Aug 1914

Newsletter 7 Aug 1914

HMS Amphion Newsletter 7 Aug 1914

Newsletter 7 Aug 1914

Lights out for a shared moment of reflection

Garrison Church, Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn

Stained glass window at Garrison Church, Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn

Troops across Northern Ireland will be attending Garrison Church services and vigils this evening (Monday 4th August) to remember the outbreak of World War One 100 years ago today.

At the headquarters of 38 (Irish) Brigade in Lisburn final preparations have been made at the Garrison Church where members of the Armed Forces and their families will gather at 10pm for a service during which the lights will go out one by one until only a candle will remain to light the stained glass window.

Similar services are being held at Palace Barracks in Holywood and at Aldergrove.

The Armed Forces in NI are supporting civic commemorative events being held across Ireland to commemorate the service and sacrifices made by men and women across the services.


One such event is being held in St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, led by Dean of Belfast John Mann.

A candlelit vigil and act of remembrance will be held later tonight at the Cenotaph at Belfast City Hall.

Organiser Jeffrey Donaldson said: “We face a decade of significant centenaries in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland and I feel it is important that these should not become divisive.

“The global events that took place during 1914-1918 involved people from across the island and the political divide and had a profound effect on the history of Ireland in the 20th century.

“We owe it to those who sacrificed their lives with such valour to ensure that the centenary is used to promote better understanding between our various traditions on this island.

“The centennial commemorations of the war provide an opportunity to enhance our shared understanding of this history and to promote reconciliation.”

A member of the Royal Family and First Minister Peter Robinson will be present at the commemorative service along with a senior member of the Irish government and other community leaders from across Ireland.

Representatives of the Royal British Legion and regimental associations of the army will also attend.

The candlelit vigil will coincide with a similar event at Westminster Abbey and in other regional capitals across the UK.

It will be open to the public and those planning to attend are encouraged to bring a candle. The ceremony will include a short act of remembrance and wreath laying, with “lights out” in City Hall for a period during the vigil.

For other Lights Out events visit:

Lights Out


The Road to War lecture series

The Road to War, a National Museums of NI and PRONI joint lecture series featuring Dr William Mulligan, Dr Catriona Pennell, Professor David Fitzpatrick and Dr Senia Peseta.  Free but must be booked in advance.


The Road to War