WITH this week marking the anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme local Great War historian Jeffrey Martin has traced the history of those remembered on the war memorial in Dollingstown.
Royal Irish Fusiliers
1. Sgt Herbert Curry Johnston (No. 22761 – 9 RIF) was the youngest of three sons of Mr David Johnston JP of Grace Hall in Lurgan. Herbert’s brother Lieut Ernest Johnston served with the South Staffordshire Regiment and was killed on the Somme on 10th July 1916. His second brother David Percy Johnston served with the Royal Engineers and gained a commission as a Lieut. in the Royal Field Artillery. In November 1915 Herbert joined the Cadet Corps of the 10th Royal Irish Fusiliers based at Brownlow House. (The previous occupants, the 16th RIR had landed a month before in France with the 36th (Ulster) Division). Herbert transferred to the 9th Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers and was killed in action at the Battle of Langemark on 16th August 1917, aged 19. Herbert is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium.
2. Acting-Sgt Wilson Fulton (No. 10882 – 1 RIF) was born in Knocknamuckly (Down) and lived in Dollingstown. He was the son of John and Mary Fulton of Ballymacateer. He enlisted in Lurgan into 1st Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers. By Spring 1917, the 1st RIF prepared for the Battle of Arras on April 9. Two days later they assembled near Fampoux for their next attack. At midday the assault began but the troops were met with heavy machine-gun fire, some attackers getting to within 200 yards of the target. The 1st Battalion suffered casualties to 11 Officers and 307 other ranks including Wilson killed, aged 21. He is buried in nearby Fampoux British Cemetery, northern France.
3. Pte Moses Bell (No. 5760 – 1 RIF) was the son of Joshua and Mary Jane Bell of Inn Rd, Ballymacateer, Lurgan. He enlisted into the 1st Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers and was an unmarried professional soldier. The 1st RIF had played a gallant part in the retreat from Mons in August 1914 and by November 1914 took part in the fighting around Ypres. By April 1915 the German army had launched their first gas attack against Allied lines and British troops were now being rushed to hold the line. On April 25, the 1st Bn was in action at St. Julien, where they suffered casualties to 10 Officers and 350 other ranks. Moses was killed in action on this day, aged 21 and is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres.
4. Pte William Carson (No. 5749 – 1 RIF) was the son of William and Margaret Ellen Carson of Dollingstown. He enlisted in Lurgan into the 1st Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers and was an unmarried professional soldier. The closeness of his regimental number (5749) to Moses Bell’s (5760) would seem to indicate that they joined up pre-war around the same time, indeed both were probably pals. William died on April 27, 1915, from wounds received in the same action at St. Julien on April 25, 1915 which killed Moses Bell. Notice of their sacrifice appeared in The Lurgan Mail on May 15, 1915, when letters from the Front confirmed the sad news. William is buried three miles from Ypres in Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, he was only 23 years old.
5. Pte Thomas Henry (Harry) McCormack (No. 23364 – 9RIF) was born in Donacloney and enlisted in Lurgan into the 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers. He was killed in the same action as Sgt Herbert Johnston on August 16, 1917. The battle of Langemark commenced only 17 days into the Passchendaele offensive. The deadly delay after victory at Messines ridge in June 1917 allowed the German army to consolidate their position with concrete fortifications fitted with machine guns. By August 1917, Belgium had become a quagmire with rain making the ground almost impassable. It was into this maelstrom the 9th RIF was sent to attack. Harry is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium.
6. Pte Thomas McKinley (6356 – 7/8 RIF) enlisted in Lurgan into 7th Royal Irish Fusiliers. His brother James had joined the militia in 1908 and was working on the local McDonald’s farm when his call up papers arrived. James landed with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in August 1914 and was wounded in April 1915 and returned to the Front in June, where he suffered from gas poisoning. James survived the war and served in the Constabulary, also serving in World War Two. Thomas’ other brother William was wounded with the Royal Irish Rifles. Whilst a fourth brother, Samuel, served with the United States Army. On Thomas’ final visit home he was bid farewell by his family at the Belfast docks as he headed back to France. He was killed in action on November 20, 1917 at the Battle of Cambrai, where British tanks were used to break through the fortified German Hindenburg line. Thomas is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.
Royal Irish Rifles
7. Second-Lieut. Ivan Philip Watson was the youngest son of Hugh and Mary Watson of Beechpark, Lurgan. He served in the 12th Bn Royal Irish Rifles. On March 21, 1918 the German army launched its final gamble to break through on the Western Front. On the 36th (Ulster) Division’s front the 12th RIR was holding one of the frontal sectors. They gallantly held out from 9.40am to late in the afternoon against an attack force of one million German infantry along a 30 mile front. Ivan died from his wounds at Rouen Hospital on March 28, 1918, aged 22. He is buried in St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen. In 1923 the Select Vestry of Magheralin Parish Church granted Mrs Watson permission to erect in church the wooden cross taken from her son's grave in France.
8. Cpl Samuel Hamilton (No. 5 – 16 RIR) was born in Magheralin, the youngest son of Mr & Mrs John Hamilton. He had three sisters: Sarah, Fanny and Maggie and two brothers who served: George (1 RIF) and James (13 RIR). He enlisted in Lurgan in November 1914 into 16th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. Samuel landed with the Ulster Division in France in October 1915. He took part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and at Messines ridge in June 1917. He was killed by an artillery shell on July 31, 1917, the opening day of the Passchendale offensive. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres.
9. Cpl William John McConnell (No. 262 – 16 RIR) was born in Shankill, Lurgan where he enlisted into 16th Royal Irish Rifles. Though a local to Dollingstown, he later moved to 39 Shannon Street, Belfast with his wife. By mid November 1917, after the Battle of Cambrai, the British army consolidated their position repairing wire defences and roads in this part of the salient. The 16th Battalion was given this job, which was not only a physically demanding one but also dangerous, as machine gun fire swept the roads to prevent them. Consequently, the shelling increased in the area and the ‘Pioneers’ were forced to return to their camp near Hermies. Even here the shelling continued, killing William and another Lurgan man (Pte James Neill 16 RIR) on 2nd Dec 1917. Both lie barely six feet apart in Hermies Cemetery.
10. Pte Joshua Bell (No. 5/4659 – 16 RIR) served with 16th Royal Irish Rifles, his number shows that he had previously been a member of the 5th Bn RIR. A home reserve battalion which sent drafts to the Front due to the losses sustained. His date of death on February 3, 1919 indicates that he may have died from the flu epidemic which was sweeping the world as the Great War concluded. Certainly, the 16 RIR were within the area of his burial and many were not demobbed until March 1919. Joshua is buried in Tourcoing Communal Cemetery.