2739 Private Moses Neill
Bugler Moses Neill in India
Moses Neill—known as ‘Mosey’—was the older brother of my great-grandfather William Neill. He served with The Royal Irish Rifles from 1890 for 12 years, including during the South African War, and a further two years with the Royal Garrison Regiment. Continue reading
My great-grandfather William Neill was the influence behind my exploration of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers that led to Blacker’s Boys. Since writing the book I have discovered other relatives who served during the First World War, and some who served during the Boer War and the Second World War. Each has a very different story (those without a link are yet to be written): Continue reading
Recently, two parallel pieces of research overlapped, out of which came an idea for a short piece about a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery that no longer exists. As with all things about the First World War, the story has more facets than at first may seem to be the case.
The CWGC register for Charleville Communal Cemetery, closed in 1962
The town of Charleville sits on the north bank of the River Meuse in the Ardennes department, the only department of France to be wholly occupied by the German army throughout the First World War. Famous for the Charleville musket—a mainstay of the Continental Army during the American War of Independence—and, more recently, as the birth place of the poet Arthur Rimbaud, in modern times the town merged with the adjacent town of Mézières. The latter was the capital of the Ardennes region, a function that now falls to the combined commune of Charleville-Mézières.
After falling to the German army early in the war, in September 1914 the town became the site of the supreme German headquarters, the component parts of which were established in the best homes, chateau and municipal buildings throughout the town. Continue reading
The letters written by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker in July 1916 have now been published and you can read them all on the project’s website. The 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers took part in the attack on 1 July and suffered grievously; the letters that follow are tragically sad. By the end of the month the Battalion is back in the line, much reduced but reinforced by men from the 10th (Reserve) Battalion. It has moved north, to a sector near Messines, south of Ypres, where it will remain until the summer of 1917.
The area over which the Battalion attacked on 1 July 1916.
The biographies of the six men buried in Rhode Island are now complete; two were American, two were British, one was Canadian and the nationality of one cannot be confirmed. One case is rather unusual: the ashes of Second Lieutenant Evanda Berkeley Garnett were repatriated to the United States from England over 40 years after his death in a flying accident.
Second Lieutenant Evanda Berkeley Garnett
Like many families from Ireland we had relatives who took part in the attack on 1 July 1916. Luckily, my great-grandfather Sergeant William Neill, the Transport Sergeant of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers, did not ‘go over the top’ that morning and survived the attack. Less fortunate was his nephew—my first cousin, twice removed—Lance Corporal Thomas Bunting. He was serving in 8 Platoon, ‘B’ Company, 9th Royal Irish Rifles in 107th Brigade and was reported as wounded and missing in that battalion’s follow-up to the main attack by 36th (Ulster) Division. He was 19 years old.
His family did not know his fate for many months. About a month after he was declared missing his father wrote to the Red Cross hoping that he was a prisoner of war. On 25 August 1916 the Red Cross replied—there was no record of him. Sometime in mid-1917 Thomas Bunting’s family were informed that his death was presumed to have occurred on or after 1/2 July 1916. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He is also commemorated on the memorial at Dollingstown in County Down.
Lance Corporal Thomas Bunting, 8 Platoon, ‘B’ Company, 9th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles (West Belfast), killed in action 1 July 1916. Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
Read more about my family in the First World War.
The BBC’s Voices 16 tells ‘the story of a tumultuous year in the history of Ireland through the eyes of the people who lived it‘. I am very pleased that this super BBC project now includes excerpts from my project Blacker’s Letters.
The letters written by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker in May 1916 have now been published and you can read them all on the project’s website. The 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers is just about to move out of the line with the other battalions of 108th and 109th Brigades, 36th (Ulster) Division, to train and prepare for the forthcoming attack. The letters that will follow in June are hopeful of success…
The graves of Sapper William Bustin and Edwin Jones, in North Burial Ground, Providence
On Memorial Day weekend, I have no better image to share than this one. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone of an Englishman, living in Providence, Rhode Island who volunteered to serve with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Sapper William Bustin died in Canada during the influenza pandemic and his remains were returned to Rhode Island for burial. The gravestone has been decorated by the cemetery staff in preparation for Memorial Day; the flag is held in a Rhode Island ‘World War Veterans’ flag holder. Beside him lies Edwin Jones, an Englishman born, a naturalised citizen of the United States, and a long-serving member of the Providence police department. He volunteered to serve early in the war with the British Army and was gassed. Discharged unfit for further service in 1918, he returned home and died less than three months later, aged 54. He is not commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and I will tackle that in the coming months. Two of Jones’ sons served: Markham F. Jones with the American Expeditionary Force in France, and Edwin H. Jones with the United States Navy.
The grave of Sapper William Bustin
Rhode Island World War Veterans flagholder
The letters written by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker in April 1916 have now been published. The Battalion is now established in the line at Hamel engaged in the routine of trench life. This month’s letters also reveal some of Blacker’s thoughts on the Easter Rising.
The letters from April can be found by clicking on the linked image below:
Sergeant William Neill DCM