My Family at War – Part 6: Moses Neill

2739 Private Moses Neill

Bugler Moses Neill in India

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.

He was born on 28 April 1873 at at Tullyherron, a townland in Donaghcloney parish near Waringstown.[1] After he left school, he became a labourer. He enlisted into the Militia on 5 September 1889, aged 16 but declared himself to be a year older, for a six-year engagement with the 5th Battalion (Royal South Down Militia), The Royal Irish Rifles.[2] He was allocated the regimental number 1356. The following year he decided to enlist into the regular Army and he attested on 26 May 1890. He joined the Depot in Belfast, where he was renumbered 2739, and after his period of training was posted to the 2nd Battalion in Malta. The Battalion had arrived in Malta from Egypt in March 1891 and Private Moses Neill joined in September that year; he was posted to ‘H’ Company. He was appointed Bugler on 7 May 1892.

On 18 November 1894 the Battalion sailed for India on the troopship Victoria, arriving at Bombay (Mumbai) two weeks later. Moses Neill would spend four years in India in the Bombay Presidency, in Bombay until 1896 and thereafter in Poona. During this period it is evident that his conduct was not ideal; he was deprived of his Lance Corporal’s appointment twice, forfeited his good conduct pay, and his extension to 12 years’ service (granted in 1892) was cancelled on 4 June 1897. He arrived back in Ireland on 21 January 1898 and was discharged and transferred to the Army Reserve two days later.

Army Order 23 of 1898 made provision for the re-enlistment of men from the Army Reserve for a bounty of £20, a considerable sum then, and Moses Neill re-enlisted under these conditions on 16 November 1898 and was posted to the Depot. The 2nd Battalion had arrived back in Ireland on 16 February 1899 and Private Neill rejoined his Battalion in Belfast on 25 February.

The outbreak of war against the Boers in South Africa resulted in the 2nd Battalion sailing from Queenstown (Cobh) in County Cork on the SS Britannic on 24 October 1899. The Britannic arrived in Cape Town at the end of November and, after collecting Major General Sir William Getacre KCB, DSO, General Officer Commanding 3rd Division, and his staff, she sailed on to East London in Eastern Cape. Here the Battalion moved by train and foot to Putter’s Kraal. There is no detailed record the course of Moses Neill’s war in South Africa but it is known that he took part in the action at Stromberg on 10 December 1899—a misdirected action that cost the Battalion 11 men killed, 51 officers and men wounded, and 224 captured.[3] In the War Office casualty list that was received at the Regimental Depot on Friday 15 December, Moses Neill was reported as one of those killed in action.[4] He had, in fact, been captured and sent with the other prisoners to Watervaal, north of Pretoria.[5] When the camp was relieved on 6 June 1900, some of the 158 officers and 3029 other rank prisoners were taken by train to Pretoria but the majority marched 13 miles down the railway line to the town—Moses Neill was one of 227 men of the Royal Irish Rifles freed at Waterval (10 officers were released from a camp in Pretoria). The men were in poor condition and malnourished and it would be some weeks before they were fit to rejoin their units.

British prisoners walking to Pretoria following their release from Waterval

During his captivity, the Battalion had crossed the Orange River into the Orange Free State and had taken part in the disastrous action at Reddersburg, which resulted in three companies of the Battalion being captured. In consequence of this and the earlier setback at Stromberg, the Battalion was subsequently employed largely in garrison duties in the Orange Free State (after its capture renamed Orange River Colony). It was here that Moses Neill rejoined the Battalion in the summer of 1900.

The Queen's and King's South Africa Medals

The Queen’s and King’s South Africa Medals

In the early part of this garrison duty in early November 1900 he was charged with drunkenness and tried by Field General Court Martial. The sentence was severe—70 days’ field imprisonment. He seems to have kept himself out of trouble thereafter, however, being awarded his good conduct pay in January 1902. The Battalion returned home in July 1902. Moses Neill was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps ‘CAPE COLONY’, ‘ORANGE FREE STATE’, and ‘TRANSVAAL’, and the King’s South Africa Medal with clasps ‘SOUTH AFRICA 1901’, and ‘SOUTH AFRICA 1902’. His time expired, he was discharged on 31 August 1902 and awarded the gratuity for service during the South Africa campaign—£6.15.0.

On 16 October 1902 he enlisted again, into the Royal Garrison Regiment, and was allocated the regimental number 5890. The Royal Garrison Regiment, initially of four battalions, had been authorized in February that year. It recruited former soldiers, many of whom had served in the Royal Reserve Regiment on garrison duty in the British Isles. Three of the four battalions were sent for garrison duty in Malta and a fourth was sent to Gibraltar. A fifth battalion was raised later for service in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It is not known which of the battalions Moses Neill served with. After his two-year engagement, he was discharged at Fort Widley—one of the defensive forts on Portsdown Hill and by that time the Depot of the Regiment—on 15 October 1904.

Mosey Neill & William Neill, 1914

Mosey Neill & William Neill, 1914

Moses Neill returned to Lurgan and became a sailor, a ship’s rigger; little is known of his later working life. On 23 February 1907, he married Maria McCleary, a mill worker from Lurgan, in Moira Presbyterian Church.[6] The couple had a son, James, born on 9 January 1910 and Maria and her son continued to live with her family in Avenue Road, Lurgan while Moses was away from home. A daughter, Ellen, was born there on 15 October 1911. The family moved to Belfast and lived at 29 St Andrews Square, East, where their third child, Thomas, was born on 27 February 1914. Moses Neill died of myocarditis on 2 October 1954 at 12 Mount Vernon Park in Belfast, aged 81. He was buried in the north-west part of Belfast City Cemetery on 5 October, in grave V1-191, which is unmarked. Maria died on 14 January 1963 and his son James died on 23 August 1976; both are buried with him.


1. (Back) He was the fifth of the seven children of Gilbert Neill (born 1837), my great-great-grandfather, and Ellen Thompson (born 1833), who were married on 2 September 1864 in Magheralin Parish Church (The Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Magheralin). The other children were: Annie (born 1863), Thomas George (born 3 November 1865), Joseph (born 28 October 1867), Elizabeth Jane (born 21 August 1870), William (born 1 June 1876), and Hamilton (born 5 September 1884). Moses Neill was my great, great uncle.
2. (Back) The Royal Irish Rifles had been formed in 1881 as a consequence of the Cardwell Reforms, which restructured the British Army. The 83rd (County of Dublin) Regiment of Foot and the 86th (Royal County Down) Regiment of Foot amalgamated to become, respectively, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, The Royal Irish Rifles. The reforms also aligned militia units with the county regiments. In this case the Royal North Down (Rifles) Militia became the 3rd Battalion (Royal North Down Militia), with its headquarters at Newtownards; the Antrim (Queen’s Royal Rifles) Militia became the 4th Battalion (Royal Antrim Militia), with its headquarters at Belfast; the Royal South Down Militia became the 5th Battalion (Royal South Down Militia), with its headquarters at Downpatrick; and the Louth (Rifles) Militia became the 6th Battalion (Louth Militia), with its headquarters at Dundalk.
3. (Back) The men killed at Stromberg were: 2867 Corporal S Anderson, 2590 Private J Carroll, 5594 Private J Carson (memorial shows ‘W’), 2530 Private J Dixon (not recorded on memorial), 4999 Private J Earls, 5238 Private P Manifold, 3663 Private J McAuley (memorial shows ‘S’), 5572 Lance Corporal T McCabe (memorial shows ‘H’), 2341 Private J McDonnell, 2920 Private J Madden, and 5548 Private J Walsh. In addition, 2744 Private S Dougherty died of wounds on 18 December 1899 and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Averell Eagar died of wounds on 13 February 1900.
4. (Back) The list was incomplete and had multiple errors—of the eleven men on the list five were killed, three were captured and three were not recorded as casualties in the action.
5. (Back) His capture was reported in The Army and Navy Gazette, 16 June 1900, p .594. based on the casualty lists following the relief of Waterval.
6. (Back) Maria McCleary was born on 8 February 1879, the daughter of James and Jane McCleary (registered as Marie McCleery). James Neill’s birth registration records his mother’s name as ‘McClury’. Ellen and Thomas Neill’s birth registrations record their mother’s name as ‘McCleery’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.