The Sergeant Brothers

The Sergeant Brothers

The Sergeant Brothers

In the Saturday edition of the Lurgan Mail on 25 November 1916 there was a page dedicated to ‘Patriotic Familes’—those families from the town with more than three members serving with the British Army, the Royal Navy and the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The page, the large format page rarely seen in newspapers today, had three columns of names and listed 88 families. Four families had six sons serving, one had a father and his five sons in the Army and Royal Navy, and 16 families had five sons at war. Two years into the conflict, the number of families recording multiple men killed, wounded and missing was considerable.

This degree of commitment was not unique to Lurgan nor, indeed, the United Kingdom—Mrs Charlotte Wood, an English born Canadian, saw eleven of her sons enlist, of whom five were killed in action and two severely wounded.

The Sergeant household from Gilford in County Down was another whose sons contributed much. This was a large family. Samuel, a linen bleacher, and Margaret Ann (née Sands) from Drumarran had 12 children, 11 of whom survived childhood—eight boys and three girls. Five of the brothers served during the First World War, and a sixth served after the war. One was a regular soldier, the others were wartime volunteers. One was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme; the others survived.[1]


16/512 Corporal George Edward Sergeant, The Royal Irish Rifles

Corporal George Sergeant (right)

Corporal George Sergeant (right)

George Sergeant enlisted in the autumn of 1914, aged 17. The 16th (Service) Battalion (2nd County Down) was raised somewhat later than the other battalions of 36th (Ulster) Division and some of its men came from those who had already volunteered and were in training at Clandeboye. The local newspapers of 7 November advertised for recruits for the new battalion and called for volunteers ‘who did not respond to Lord Kitchener’s initial appeal’.[2] In the absence of his service record it is impossible to say when exactly that George Sergeant enlisted but his regimental number puts him amongst those who joined the battalion in December 1914.

Private George Sergeant

Private George Sergeant

George was barracked relatively close to home at Brownlow House in Lurgan. In January 1915, 16th Royal Irish Rifles was formally acknowledged as the pioneer battalion of 36th (Ulster) Division. Its training continued at Lurgan until it moved with the rest of the Division to Seaford on the Sussex coast. George landed in France with 36th (Ulster) Division on 5 October 1915.

At some time (possibly in early 1918) George Sergeant was renumbered 22021. He may have been wounded previously or fallen sick, and was discharged and subsequently re-enlisted. In this new guise he served for the remainder of the war, for a period in the 1st Battalion, finishing the war as a Corporal in 12th (Service) Battalion (Central Antrim) in 107th Brigade, 36th (Ulster) Division. After the war he was transferred to the Class Z Reserve.[3]

On 1 March 1921 George Sergeant married Sarah McCreanor at Tullylish parish church. George Edward Sergeant died at Gilford on 22 October 1935, aged 38; his wife died on 15 April 1976, aged 77.

His medals group comprises: 1914-15 Star; British War Medal 1914-20; and Victory Medal.[4]


8300 Company Quartermaster Sergeant James Sergeant, Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers), and The London Regiment

Colour Sergeant James Sergeant, Princess Victoria's (Royal Irish Fusiliers)

Colour Sergeant James Sergeant, Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers)

James Sergeant was a regular soldier. He enlisted into the British Army in January 1904, aged 18, and joined Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers); he served with the 1st Battalion.

Lance Corporal James Sergeant and Corporal A Sherson

Lance Corporal James Sergeant and Corporal A Sherson

James Sergeant was quickly promoted to Sergeant and he qualified as a Physical Training and Bayonet Fighting instructor. He was in the team that won the Duke of Connaught’s Shield at Aldershot in August 1910, one of a number of successive cross country running victories for the Battalion. After nine years with the Colours he left the Army and emigrated to Canada in 1913. Returning on the outbreak of war, he was recalled from the Army Reserve, posted to the 5th (Service) Battalion in Dublin, part of 10th (Irish) Division, and was appointed as a company quartermaster sergeant.

The Battalion embarked on the RMS Andiana on 11 July 1915 destined for the Mediterranean. There is no record of James’ role in the Gallipoli landings nor, indeed, in the later history of the Battalion in Salonika or Egypt. It is known that he was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 2 and served as a Company Sergeant Major with the 5th/6th Royal Irish Fusiliers after the amalgamation in November 1916.[5]

Before the 5th/6th Royal Irish Fusiliers embarked for France in mid-May 1918, Company Sergeant Major Sergeant was attached to 1/10th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Hackney) in 162nd Brigade, 54th (East Anglian) Division. He was transferred later and renumbered 424748. He served with 1/10th Londons until the end of the war in Egypt and through the final operations in Palestine, finishing the war in Beirut.

Company Sergeant Major James Sergeant, Princess Louise’s (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders)

Company Sergeant Major James Sergeant, Princess Louise’s (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders)

After the war, in 1919, he re-enlisted to serve as a regular soldier with Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) (renumbered 32905 and renumbered 7041183 in 1920) and served as a company quartermaster sergeant with the 1st Battalion, which included the operations in Iraq and North West Persia in 1919 and 1920. Soon thereafter, he transferred to Princess Louise’s (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) and served as a company sergeant major. He was awarded the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal.

James Sergeant married Mary Crozier at Newmills Presbyterian Church on 26 January 1927. He died on 1 June 1964, aged 78.

His medals group comprises: 1914-15 Star; British War Medal 1914-20; Victory Medal; General Service Medal 1918-62 with clasps ‘IRAQ’ and N. W. PERSIA’; and Army Long Service & Good Conduct Medal.

 


16/156 Private Robert John Sergeant, The Royal Irish Rifles & 143623 Royal Army Medical Corps

Private Robert Sergeant

Private Robert Sergeant

Robert John Sergeant enlisted on 16 November 1916 at Lurgan and, like his brother George, found himself in the 16th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles (2nd County Down). He landed in France on 2 October 1915.

He served with 36th (Ulster) Division’s pioneer battalion in France and Flanders, in No. 2 Company, until he was wounded on 3 August 1917 (his only previous injury being a sprained toe in January that year).

No. 2 Company, 16th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles (2nd County Down) (Pioneers)

No. 2 Company, 16th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles (2nd County Down) (Pioneers)

The Third Battle of Ypres began on 31 July and, after the initial attacks that morning, 16th Royal Irish Rifles—at this stage under the orders of the Chief Engineer of XIX Corps—was one of the pioneer battalions ordered to prepare the way for further advance. For five days the Battalion laboured under shellfire and rain to rebuild a roadway near Wieltje, where it crossed the captured enemy front line. The lack of progress by the infantry meant that the enemy’s guns were well within rage and, coupled with the weather, conditions were grim. In the midst of this Private Robert Sergeant was shot in the right leg.

He was treated in hospital in France before sailing from Boulogne to England. He arrived at Western General Hospital at Fazakerley in Liverpool on 8 August 1917 (from when he was held on the strength of the Royal Irish Rifles Depot). Four months later he was assessed fit enough to join one of the Royal Irish Rifles’ reserve battalions and he arrived at 18th (Reserve) Battalion on 23 December 1917.

His wounds proved too much, however, and he was not able to return to duty as an infantryman. He transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps (143623, Private) on 14 April 1918 and served the rest of the war in England with 20th Company, which supported the military hospital at Tidworth. He was discharged to the Class Z Reserve on 21 May 1919; his wound attracted a pension.

Robert Sergeant married Margaret McCreanor (his sister-in-law; the sister of the wife of his brother George) at Tullylish parish church on 11 July 1924. He died at Gilford on 1 May 1967. His wife died on 2 December 1988.

His medals group comprises: 1914-15 Star; British War Medal 1914-20; and Victory Medal.


1740 Bombardier Samuel Sergeant MM, Canadian Army Medical Corps and Canadian Field Artillery

Private Samuel Sergeant, Canadian Expeditionary Force

Private Samuel Sergeant, Canadian Expeditionary Force

Prior to the war Sam Sergeant served with 3rd Battalion, Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) Special Reserve. On 15 March 1911 he emigrated to Canada on the SS Lake Manitoba and settled in Oxford County, Ontario. Soon after the outbreak of war, on 20 November 1914, he enlisted in Toronto for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He joined 5th Canadian Field Ambulance, Canadian Army Medical Corps (1740, Private), which became part of 2nd Canadian Division.[6]

Section of 5th Canadian Field Ambulance, Canadian Army Medical Corps

Section of 5th Canadian Field Ambulance, Canadian Army Medical Corps

5th Canadian Field Ambulance had been formed in Hamilton, Ontario on 9 November 1914 and had relocated to Toronto on 19 November. Sam Sergeant became a signaller in ‘A’ Section, which included the Field Ambulance’s headquarters. He left Toronto on 15 April 1915 and sailed for England from Halifax two days later.

5th Field Ambulance Signal Section - The 'Wig-Waggers'. Private Samuel Sergeant is standing on the right

5th Field Ambulance Signal Section – The ‘Wig-Waggers’ – Private Samuel Sergeant standing on right

Sam Sergeant and the men of the Field Ambulance landed in France on 16 September 1915. The wartime exploits of 5th Canadian Field Ambulance are well worth reading in ‘Stretcher Bearers…at the Double‘ by Frederick W. Noyes.

On 18 May 1916, while the Field Ambulance was at Reningelst west of Ypres, Sam Sergeant was transferred to the Canadian Field Artillery for service with 2nd Canadian Division Ammunition Column as a signaller. The Artillery Column was responsible for the movement of ammunition and other supplies forward to the batteries of the divisional artillery. In November he spent four days in hospital being treated for scabies and a month later was granted a fortnight’s leave, which was probably spent in Ireland.

Prior to the attack by the Canadian Corps at Vimy in April 1917, Sam Sergeant was attached to the Trench Mortar Group of 2nd Canadian Division Artillery as a signaller.[7] During the attack he earned the Military Medal:

During VIMY operations terminating on April 8th 1917. This N.C.O. acted as linesman and superintended the maintenance of it in the Forward Area. Time and again he prepared broken wire under very heavy shell fire, displaying great courage and devotion to duty.[8] [9]

Samuel Sergeant's medals

Samuel Sergeant’s medals

After the battle, in September 1917 he was sent on an advanced signallers’ course, which lasted for six days, and three weeks later he was posted to the Trench Mortar Group of 2nd Canadian Division Artillery, where he had previously distinguished himself.

On 5 November Sam Sergeant was granted leave and permission to marry. He travelled home to Gilford and, on 13 November 1917, he married Hester ‘Essie’ McGuinness at St Pauls Church of Ireland, Gilford, attended by his brother Robert, who was recovering from his wounds.[10] Sam returned to his unit on 25 November.

On 18 January 1918, Sam Sergeant was briefly promoted to Lance Bombardier (paid as Bombardier) while another soldier was in hospital. He was finally promoted to Bombardier on 17 May and appointed Acting Corporal the same day. He saw out the war in this rank with the Trench Mortar Group.

Just after the war ended, on 13 November Sam went home again on leave and, while at home, he was posted back to the Divisional Ammunition Column, which he rejoined on 4 December. The Division began demobilizing in early 1919 and by early April Sam was back in England attached to the Canadian Artillery Regimental Depot at Ripon in Yorkshire. He was attached to the Canadian Discharge Depot at Buxton, Derbyshire on 13 May and on 27 June he sailed from Liverpool for Canada on the troopship SS Metagama.

Sam did not leave Essie behind—she too sailed for Canada on the SS Metagama. The couple arrived Quebec on 6 July 1919.

Notwithstanding his transfer to the Canadian Artillery in 1916, Sam always felt strongly attached to 5th Canadian Field Ambulance and he was a regular attendee at the unit reunions.

Samuel Sergeant died on 19 November 1977 at Tillsonburg, Ontario and was buried in Tilsonburg Cemetery. His wife died in 1984, aged 90.

His medals group comprises: Military Medal, GVR; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal 1914-20; and Victory Medal.


13/498  Private Thomas Henry Sergeant, The Royal Irish Rifles

Private Thomas Sergeant

Private Thomas Sergeant

Thomas Henry Sergeant enlisted in mid-September 1914, aged 16. He joined the 1st County Down Battalion in the 2nd Brigade of the Ulster Division and began his training at Clandeboye Camp at the end of the month. That Battalion became 13th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles (1st County Down).  Tom Sergeant trained at Clandeboye and at Seaford in Sussex with ‘D’ Company before landing in France in 108th Infantry Brigade, 36th (Ulster) Division on 5 October 1915.

The Inspection of 36th (Ulster) Division by King George V

The Inspection of 36th (Ulster) Division by King George V

He was killed in action on 1 July 1916, aged 18, on the left flank of the attack by 36th (Ulster) Division at Thiepval. The Battalion’s casualties were severe. In his account of the battle Martin Middlebrook notes that the Battalion suffered 595 casualties that day; an awful total surpassed by only five other battalions of the more than 80 that took part in the attack.[11]

‘D’ Company provided a flank guard on the far left of the attack out of Thiepval Wood. It recorded 155 casualties—18 killed in action (including Thomas Sergeant), 60 men wounded (one of whom is noted as dying of wounds), seven men wounded and missing, and 70 men missing (most of whom were killed in action).[12]

The only officer of the Battalion to survive the attack was Second Lieutenant Marcus Fullerton of ‘D’ Company.[13] His account of the Company’s attack is in the Battalion’s war diary (a full account of the Battalion’s action may be found by following the link to the right.):

War DiaryIn the advance 14, 15, 16 Platoons reached the sunken road with few casualties, but from there to A1 line, we lost very heavily.  I (2nd Lt Fullerton) arriving there with about 16 men, we then proceeded to bomb dugouts from there to the left for about 150 yards & we took about 70 prisoners.  Then we were held up by a bombing party of the enemy, but held on and succeeded in gaining another 50 yards.  Owing to our bombs giving out we had to barricade ourselves, & signaled for bombs and reinforcements but the enemy started to bomb us & we withdrew up the trench & barricaded ourselves again, but the enemy still continued to bomb us & I, having only a few men left, we had to withdraw back into our own lines.[14]

Memorial Plaque given to the family of Thomas Sergeant

Memorial Plaque given to the family of Thomas Sergeant

Private Thomas Henry Sergeant has no known grave and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Pier and Face 15 A and 15 B.

Thomas Sergeant on Thiepval Memorial

Thomas Sergeant on Thiepval Memorial

His medals group comprises: 1914-15 Star; British War Medal 1914-20; and Victory Medal.


Acknowledgements:

William Moffett for genealogy information and photographs of the Sergeant brothers.
The Sergeant family for photographs of the Sergeant brothers.


1. (Back) Samuel (13 Dec 1856 – 1 Jun 1903); Margaret Ann (née Sands) (18 December 1861 – 12 July 1938); Mary Jane (12 March 1883 – 20 November 1971); Joseph (7 May 1884 – 19 May 1960); James (11 August 1885 – 1 June 1964); Thomas (born and died in 1886); William H (23 June 1887 – 31 August 1959); Eliza (5 October 1889 – 19 June 1973); Samuel (19 November 1891 – 19 November 1977); Robert John (September 1893 – 1 May 1967); George Edward (21 December 1896 – 22 October 1935); Thomas Henry (9 June 1898 – 1 July 1916); Margaret Ann (24 July 1899 – 26 November 1969); and Lewis Alfred (14 June 1901 – 1972).
2. (Back) White, S N. (1996). The Terrors. 16th (Pioneer) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. Belfast: The Somme Association. p 1.
3. (Back) The Class Z Reserve was established on 3 December 1918 to ensure that those who had been engaged for the duration of the war remained available for service in the event of the Armistice failing. It ceased to exist on 31 March 1920 and the men of the Class Z Reserve were discharged as of that date.
4. (Back) The 1914-15 Star was issued in the name ‘Sergent’.
5. (Back) For a short history of the 5th (Service) Battalion see: Johnson, F W E (Foreword). (1919). A Short Record of the Services and Experiences of the 5th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers in the Great War. Naval & Military Press Reprint, 2009.
6. (Back) His service record is being digitized and is not yet available.
7. (Back) The Trench Mortar Group comprised: ‘V’ Canadian Heavy Trench Mortar Battery, and ‘X’, ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ Canadian Trench Mortar Batteries.
8. (Back) London Gazette 9 July 1917. Issue 30172, p 6843.
9. (Back) See also: Library and Archives Canada. Honours and Awards Citation Cards. Accession 2004-01505-5. Volume 60. Item 97603.
10. (Back) The birth certificate for Hester McGuinness records her name as ‘Esther McGuiness’.
11. (Back) Middlebrook, M. (2006). The First Day on the Somme. Barnsley: Pen and Sword. Appendix 5, p 330. Note, however, that official casualty numbers for the first day of the Battle of the Somme are not always accurate.
12. (Back) The National Archives (TNA). Public Record Office (PRO). WO95/2506-3. War Diary of 13th Royal Irish Rifles.
13. (Back) Marcus Fullerton was born in Donaghadee, County down in 1892. He was commissioned into The Royal Irish Rifles on 23 August 1915 and joined 13th Royal Irish Rifles in France in February 1916. He subsequently transferred to The King’s African Rifles and served with the 4th Battalion.
14. (Back) TNA. PRO. WO95/2506-3. Op. Cit.

9 thoughts on “The Sergeant Brothers

  1. Robert Sergeant

    Great work and a well presented account of the Sergeant brothers involvment in the Great War. As the grandson of my name sake Robert John Sergeant I’m honoured that you took the trouble to document our families history during the war.

    Reply
  2. Mervyn Sergeant

    On this Mothers Day I would like to thank you Nick and Gillian who helped on the photos with mum. Although mum never got to see the finished article I am sure she would be very greatful for your time and effort as I am. Once again many thanks.
    Mervyn Sergeant

    Reply
    1. Nick Metcalfe Post author

      Mervyn, my pleasure. I’ll update Samuel’s piece when his service record becomes available. In the meantime if you have anything else you’d like added or changed don’t hesitate to ask.

      Reply
  3. Bill Sergeant

    Hi Nick:
    Thank you very much for all of the research that you did into the Sergeant family’s contribution to the Great War. I am the grandson of Samuel Sergeant and may be able to help you with his service records and pictures of him in uniform.
    Regards, Bill

    Reply

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