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
The letters written by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker in November 1916 have now been published and they can be read on the project’s website. The letters cover a wealth of subjects from equipment and clothing, to promotion and the award of medals, and, of course, the weather. In a few days Lieutenant Colonel Blacker will go home on leave and we won’t hear from him again until early January 1917/2017.
The Thornton Trench Coat – “New Thornton coat and long gum boots kept me quite dry in spite of rain and flood.”
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
Lieutenant Colonel S W W Blacker DSO
Lieutenant Colonel Blacker’s letters home in October 1916 are all now published and you can read them all on the project’s website. His comments about the weather are reminiscent of those written the year before; this time, however, the Battalion must contend with the nearby River Douve, which regularly breaks its banks flooding the trenches. These letters reflect the routine of life for many in the line south west of Ypres—cold and boring in the most part with occasional flurries of activity and noise, described by Blacker as ‘hideous’.
The Corps of Signals was established by Royal Warrant on 28 June 1920.
Six weeks later, the title ‘Royal Corps of Signals’ was conferred by King George V.
From its earliest days soldiers of the Royal Corps of Signals were engaged in operations across the Empire, most notably in Mesopotamia and on the North West Frontier, and they were duly recognised for their gallantry and valuable service. The majority of awards were made during the course of the Second World War but since then the officers and soldiers of the Corps have been decorated for their gallantry in most of the conflicts in which the British Army has been engaged. Continue reading
The stories of the seven men commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Connecticut are finished and may be read here. Most were United States citizens but one was a British officer working as a small-arms inspector with Winchester and Remington, which were contracted to manufacture the P14 rifle.
The P14 Rifle
The ‘Rifle, .303 Pattern 1914’, known as the P14, was a new rifle, based on the design of the Pattern 1913 Enfield (the P13), an experimental rifle designed to fire a new .276 Enfield rimless cartridge, which had been developed as a result of experience during the Boer War. The outbreak of the First World War made the adoption of this new cartridge impracticable and, in essence, the P14 was the P13, built to accept the standard British .303 cartridge. 1,235,293 rifles would be manufactured by Winchester and Remington (and one of Remington’s subsidiaries). Initially issued in some numbers, the P14 was replaced in front-line service in 1916 by the ubiquitous Short Magazine Lee Enfield No.1 Mk3*, which was by then being produced in the United Kingdom in sufficient quantity. The P14 was then used primarily as a sniper rifle and was highly regarded for its accuracy.
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
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
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.
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.