The medals of Sergeant James Hughes DCM, MM
In March 1918, for the third time in 21 months, the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers in 108th Brigade, 36th (Ulster) Division was all but destroyed. Blacker’s Boys devotes a whole chapter to the actions fought in the week following the German attack south of the River Somme and the subsequent action against the German second phase attack south of Ypres.
In these actions, 36th (Ulster) Division suffered over 7,200 casualties, of which over 5,600 were missing, most of whom had been captured. This was the highest casualty rate of any division facing the German attack. The 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers lost 46 killed or died of wounds, 142 wounded and an estimated 334 captured. By this stage of the war the Battalion was nothing like that which had landed in France in October 1915. The majority of its men were those who had joined from 2nd North Irish Horse, there was also a fair number of Englishmen—from Yorkshire, Derbyshire and London—and Irish soldiers from all over Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant.
Many of the men killed in the actions fought in March 1918 were later described as falling in the period 21-29 March or on 29 March but neither of these descriptions is wholly accurate. Continue reading
One hundred years ago, on 21 March 1918 on the first day of the German offensive that swept back the British Fifth Army, my great-uncle Robbie was captured in the ‘Line of Resistance’ at the very front of the defensive positions held by 15th Royal Irish Rifles in 107th Brigade in 36th (Ulster) Division. His story is here.
107th Brigade Forward Zone
‘Twice they got out on top and walked along it, clearing enemy out of it with rifle and rifle grenades.’
Farther back, ‘D’ Company held out in Racecourse Redoubt until that evening. During the attacks there in the morning, one of ‘D’ Company’s platoon commanders, Second Lieutenant Edmund De Wind, defended his position most gallantly and, assisted by Corporal Samuel Getgood and Lance Corporal Hubert Walker MM, repeatedly cleared the enemy from a trench at the west of the redoubt. Around midday De Wind was killed; Getgood and Walker were captured when the redoubt was surrendered that evening. For their gallantry De Wind was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross and Getgood and Walker were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Recently I was able to help a descendent of De Wind put together some of his story, in preparation for a commemorative event in Comber, Northern Ireland, De Wind’s home town prior to his emigration to Canada. It is with his permission that I can show these fabulous photographs of his Victoria Cross.
The Victoria Cross of Second Lieutenant Edmund De Wind
De Wind Victoria Cross, Obverse
De Wind Victoria Cross, Reverse
The graves of Lieutenant Colonel S J Somerville, the Commanding Officer, and Captain R D Miles, C Company, Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No. 3
Few of the 154 officers and men of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers who were killed immediatley prior to or during the attack on 16 August 1917 lie in marked graves—three-quarters are commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, a substantially higher proportion that those killed on 1 July 1916 who are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. There are four primary reasons for this: firstly, very few bodies could be recovered immediately after the action from the area over which the Battalion had attacked; secondly, the area was subjected to continued severe shelling and was not captured until over a month later, by which time many of the bodies were destroyed; thirdly, in early 1918 a narrow gauge railway was built over the area from which the attack was launched, and, fourthly—in consequence—few of the bodies were identified by name in the post-war battlefield clearance.
When the heavy rain began on 31 July 1917, the men of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers were at Watou, seven miles west of Ypres preparing for the forthcoming offensive. On 2 August, the Battalion was ordered forward with 13th Royal Irish Rifles and two battalions from 109th Brigade to take over a reserve position in the trenches from which 55th (West Lancashire) Division had attacked on the first day of the battle. This period in the line was short but exhausting, spent in muddy, partially destroyed and crowded trenches and, in the last few hours as the men began the move back west of Ypres, under gas attack. Miraculously, casualties were few but two men, James Greer from Rathfriland and Isaac Hague from Nottingham, would die of their injuries some days later.
The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private Lawrence Manning
Three new biographies have been added to the Sacrifice project website:
Private Chester Covell Buck served briefly in England with 202nd (Sportsman’s) Battalion before being sent back to Canada unfit for further duty. He died in Ponoka Asylum Hospital, Alberta, on 7 December 1917 and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Plymouth, Indiana.
Private Lawrence Eugene Manning served in France with 72nd Canadian Infantry Battalion (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada). Greatly affected by his experiences, he took his own life on 9 November 1919 and is buried in Salt Lake City Cemetery, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Second Lieutenant George Albert Ruffridge and Cadet Hugh Barker O’Leary of No. 80 Canadian Training Squadron were killed in a flying accident at Camp Bordon in Canada on 6 May 1918. Ruffridge was buried in Rosedale Cemetery, Montclair, New Jersey.
Private Chester Buck
Second Lieutenant Albert Ruffridge
It is always a great pleasure to help someone out with research and then be contacted sometime later to be told that their project has come to successful fruition. A new book—Names Carved in Stone—tells the story of 69 men from The Mall Presbyterian Church in Armagh, Northern Ireland who served during the Great War. It is an excellent, small community, commemorative work that has been produced to the very highest standards. The layout and illustrations are beautifully done by Jason McFarland at ArtworkArmy. I’m very pleased to host this piece by the author, Fiona Berry, who describes the inspiration behind the project and a little bit about the men it commemorates.
The Memorial Tablets in The Mall Presbyterian Church, Armagh
The book began with the more modest ambition of an article for the Church magazine, profiling the story of one of the soldiers named on the War Memorial. In many projects like this the inspiration often comes from a family story. I had grown up hearing of three great-great uncles who fought in the First World War—William, Joseph and John Johnston of Disraeli Street, on the Crumlin Road. Joseph’s death at Gallipoli in August 1915 was a devastating loss for the family. The next generation of the family were to suffer again during the Belfast Blitz of 1941 when their house in Duncairn Gardens suffered a direct hit and was completely destroyed. Our family left Belfast for Newtownards and the connection with their Belfast community was broken. Continue reading
In memory of:
Naval Airman 1st Class Kenneth Admiral Brown, Royal Navy
Died, 22 April 1940
Acting Sub-Lieutenant (Air Branch) Arthur Stephen Griffith, Royal Navy
Killed in action, 18 January 1941
Leading Airman Alfred Samuel Rush, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Sub-Lieutenant (Air Branch) Philip Donald Julian Sparke DSC**, Royal Navy
Killed in action, 11 May 1941
Twice a year I specifically write a story about Remembrance—for Memorial Day here in the United States and for Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. A few days ago, I saw seemingly unconnected lines of research come together that led me to a story of wartime gallantry and sacrifice 75 years ago. I was researching a group of Royal Signals soldiers awarded a King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct when I noticed an award to a Maltese Sapper, who had rescued an airman from the sea. Curious (I grew up in Malta), I searched for his story and, in doing so, identified the man that he rescued, his link with three other airmen who died in 1940 and 1941, and discovered a related painting by the renowned Maltese artist Edwin Galea, the father of one of my childhood friends. The story that pulls together these threads is worth telling on this Remembrance Day.
HMS Illustrious at Malta 1941 by Edwin Galea
The tiny island of Malta in the central Mediterranean had a strategic importance out of all proportion to its size during the early years of the Second World War. Bombing of the island began immediately after Mussolini’s declaration of war on 10 June 1940 and, besieged by Axis forces in Sicily, the island suffered a gruelling fight for survival that lasted until November 1942. Continue reading
Warrant Officer Class 2, Company Serjeant Major, George Mayer Symons, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), attached to the British Military Mission, died during the influenza epidemic at Camp Lee, Virginia on 8 October 1918. He was buried in Poplar Grove National Cemetery near Petersburg. Unfortunately, his grave marker was incorrectly inscribed. On Saturday 27 August I was privileged to attend the dedication ceremony for the new headstone. You can read about the ceremony here.
The new gravestone for George Symons, August 2016
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 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
This quote is taken from a report by the Seamen’s Institute about their cemetery plot in The Evergreens Cemetery, Brooklyn. Buried there are nine men commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. There are four other casualties of the First World War buried elsewhere in that cemetery. All of their stories are now complete and you can read them by following the links on this piece about the cemetery that appears on The Sacrifice Blog. ‘A Stranger in a Strange Land‘
The Seamen’s Church Institute Plot, The Evergreens Cemetery, Brooklyn