All too often, when research about the Great War is undertaken, the focus is on those who died and very little attention is paid to those who survived the war. In many respects, these men had a tougher time as they had to live with what they had seen, and what they had done. Many had to cope with what today would be called Survivor Guilt, wondering why the man beside him got killed and he did not. Many would carry the mental scars of their experiences for the rest of their lives, what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. On all too many occasions, they had to deal with the shame of not being able to secure permanent employment and many, particularly those who had suffered the loss of limbs, had to resort to begging on the street. These are the forgotten men of the Great War.
By the end of 1915, local newspapers reported that over two thousand men from the Workman Clark shipyard were on active service. There is no definitive record of the men from Workman Clark who served and survived the war. However, a trawl of the local newspapers has identified the names of 162 men where reports referred to employment at Workman Clark prior to the war. This list is but a drop in the ocean, however it provides an insight into the experiences of some of those who served and survived the war.
Discharged due to Disability
Men who were no longer deemed to be physically, medically or mentally fit for active war service due to wounds or illnesses incurred during their war service were discharged under King’s Regulations Paragraph 392:
• (xvi) No longer physically fit for war service
• (xvia) Surplus to military requirements (having suffered impairment since entry into the service)
Men discharged in these conditions were awarded the Silver War Badge which was to be worn on the right lapel and signified that he had “done his bit” for King and Country. The Silver War Badge Register records the dates of enlistment and discharge and whether the discharge was due to wounds or illness but often does not elaborate. The associated Pension Index Cards provides additional details but frequently refers to “gunshot wounds”, which covered a range of injuries, including ones arising from shell fire and shrapnel wounds. Men could also be discharged under King’s Regulations Paragraph 392 (XXVa), which defined the man as being, surplus to military requirements (Not having suffered impairment since entry into the service), but this type of discharge did not result in the award of a Silver War Badge.
One such man was Herbert Minnis who was born on 26th April 1897 at Brookmount Street in the Woodvale Ward to Robert Minnis, a flax porter, and Lizzie Minnis (nee Dunbar). Herbert Minnis was an Apprentice Shipwright at Workman Clark, living in Ainsworth Avenue and a member of West Belfast Regiment UVF when he enlisted with Royal Army Medical Corps on 14th September 1914, being posted to 109th Field Ambulance. He was transferred to the 36th (Ulster) Divisional Artillery on 30th August 1915 and deployed to the Western Front on 27th November 1915 as a Driver with 173 Brigade Royal Field Artillery. On 29th September 1917 he suffered a fractured ankle during a football match and was posted to a reserve unit in UK on 24th October 1917. In July 1918, he was released for shipbuilding duties and reported for duty at Workman Clark on 29th July 1918. He was formally discharged from the army on 5th February 1919 under King’s Regulations Paragraph 392 (XXVa).
Robert Quail was born on 7th November 1892 at Tennent Street to James Quail and Selina Quail (nee Dempster). The family was living at Bromley Street when his father, a cabinet maker, died of meningitis on 31st August 1900 in the Royal Victoria Hospital. Selina Quail and her six children were recorded as living at Ohio Street in the 1911 Census and the family was recorded as belonging to the Wesleyan Methodist denomination. In 1911, Robert was recorded as being a French Polisher but he was employed as a stager at Workman Clark when he enlisted with the Royal Irish Rifles at the Old Town Hall on 6th May 1915 at the age of 21 years and six months. He was initially posted to the 17th (Reserve) Battalion and was subsequently posted to the 15th Battalion on 22nd June 1915 and he went to France with the battalion’s advance party on 2nd October 1915. In February 1916, local newspapers reported that Robert had been wounded in the leg whilst serving with No 3 Company and, following another wounding, he was admitted to No 6 Stationary Hospital at Frevent in April 1917. Rifleman Robert Quail was discharged due to wounds on 26th February 1918 with Silver War Badge No 334310. His Pension Index Card records that he had gunshot wounds to both legs and that his left leg had been amputated below the knee. A reference document recorded, A very good man, served his Country well and was wounded in its defence. Disability by wounds will probably prevent him resuming work as a shipyard labourer but such light posts as Lodge of Gatekeeper, Doorman, Timekeeper, watchman, etc. would be likely to suit him and employers are asked to give him preferential treatment in consideration of his war service and wound. He received a disability pension of forty-six shillings per week from 29th October 1919 to 24th October 1922, being reduced to thirtysix shillings in October 1922 – the latter pension amount would equate to £104 per week in current terms). Robert Quail was still living at 12 Ohio Street when he was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1940, where he died on 2nd March, aged 48.
David Craig Wilson was born on 2nd August 1896 at Molyneaux Street in the Dock Ward to James Wilson and Eliza Wilson (nee Kelly), being one of the six children and their eldest son. His father was a shipyard driller and the family was living at Henry Street in 1911, when David was recorded as being a flax preparer. David Wilson signed the Ulster Covenant at the North East Unionist Association Rooms in Brougham Street and was a member of the North Belfast Regiment UVF. He enlisted with 15th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles on 7th September 1914 and was deployed to the Western Front in October 1915 and appeared on the Casualty List issued by the War Office on 6th March 1916 as “Wounded, Shell Shock”. Rifleman Wilson was attached to a Trench Mortar Battery when he was discharged due to his wounds on 20th December 1917 with Silver War Badge No 288670. In January 1917, the Belfast Evening Telegraph reported that he was, so badly wounded in action that it was necessary to amputate his left leg at the Edmonton Military Hospital in Middlesex. The Pension Index Card recorded his address as 35 Cavour Street in the Oldpark district.
John Ernest Corbett was born on 23rd May 1890 at Dee Street in Ballymacarrett to Francis Corbett (a riveter) and Sarah Corbett (nee Patterson), who had eleven children, only eight of whom were still living in 1911. The family belonged to the Congregational denomination and lived at Nevis Avenue in 1901 before moving to Bloomfield Avenue by 1911. Like his father and elder brother, Samuel, John was a riveter and was employed at the Workman Clark shipyard. In 1911, he was lodging with the McDonald family at St. Leonard’s Street but gave his address as 4 Bloomfield Avenue when he signed the Ulster Covenant at the Mountpottinger Orange Hall. John enlisted with Royal Irish Rifles on 25th September 1914 and was posted to 8th Battalion. He was deployed to France with the Ulster Division in October 1915 and, on 15th July 1916, the Northern Whig reported that Rifleman Corbett had been badly wounded, necessitating the amputation of his left arm. John married Elizabeth Patterson of Roseberry Street on 12th October 1916 at Belmont Presbyterian Church and he was discharged from the army with Silver War Badge No 118567 on 5th February 1917. John and Elizabeth’s only child, Sarah Jane, was born on 29th July 1918 and Elizabeth died of acute pulmonary tuberculosis and asthenia at 4 Bloomfield Avenue on 24th June 1919 at the age of 27, being buried in Dundonald Cemetery. The disability pension awarded to John Corbett was initially set at 100% but had been reduced to 70% (twenty-eight shillings per week) in August 1920 – this equates to approximately £64 per week in current terms.
James McConnell was born on 19th October 1894 at Arnon Street in the Court Ward to Hugh McConnell and Margaret McConnell (nee Sherry). Hugh, a furniture upholsterer, and Margaret had 15 children, with James being the fifth of their nine surviving children in 1911, when the family was living at Israel Street. James was working as a red-leader at Workman Clark when he enlisted with 15th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles on 4th September 1914 and was deployed to France on 5th October 1915. On 1st February the Northern Whig reported that his father had received a letter from Reverend Arthur Wilson Watson Wallace. The chaplain reported that James was in hospital having suffered severe wounds to the left leg, necessitating its amputation. The letter concluded that James was making satisfactory progress and would soon be transferred to a base hospital. The 107th Brigade of the Ulster Division had been transferred to 4th Division, comprised of regular soldiers, to gain front line experience from 3rd November 1915 to 7th February 1916. In the absence of a service record it is difficult to precisely determine when Rifleman James McConnell was injured. However, the entry in the Battalion War Diary for 22nd January 1916 records, very heavy shelling all morning from our heavies. Bosche shelled lookers at REDAN. Casualties 1 killed 3 wounded and it is probable that James was one of these men. Rifleman James McConnell was discharged on 17th June 1916 with Silver War Badge No 51731. His father, Rifleman Hugh McConnell, served with the 17th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and an elder brother, John served with the North Irish Horse.
Robert Henry McMaster was born on 11th February 1892 at Parkmore Street in the Ormeau Ward to William McMaster, a carter, and Margaret McMaster (nee Russell), being one of their eleven children. Margaret McMaster died of tuberculosis at the family home in Somerset Street on 14th April 1896. Robert, a shipyard labourer, was living at Walmer Street when he married Agnes Jamison of Great Northern Street on 9th March 1914 at Ulsterville Presbyterian Church. Robert was a stager in the shipyard when he enlisted with 10th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles on 14th September 1914 and Agnes gave birth to their first child, Robert, on 8th August 1915 at Great Northern Street. Robert McMaster held the rank of Corporal when he was deployed to France in October 1915. He held the rank of Sergeant when he received gunshot wounds to his hands and legs during the Somme Offensive and joined the casualty convoy on 5th July 1916. He was transferred to No. 2 General Hospital at Le Havre and invalided to the UK on Hospital Ship Asturias, being admitted to the Royal Victoria Military Hospital at Netley in Hampshire. Robert was subsequently transferred to 375 Employment Company Labour Corps and was discharged on 6th February 1919 with Silver War Badge No B123685.
Of course, some men were discharged with an “invisible” disability and Samuel Mercer was one such soldier. Samuel Mercer was born on 9th September 1885 at Victoria Square to James Mercer, a plasterer, and Jane Mercer (nee McComlish). In 1901, eight members of the Mercer family were living at Cambrai Street, his father was recorded as being a shopkeeper and Samuel’s occupation was recorded as “hawker”. James Mercer died of chronic bronchitis on 30th November 1904 at Silvio Street and Samuel James Mercer enlisted in the army on 27th June 1906 and was stationed in China and Hong Kong with 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1911. He was a reservist, a labourer at Workman Clark, and living at Riga Street when he married Mary Jane Young of Matchett Street in Shankill Road Methodist Church on 13th April 1914. Samuel was recalled to his regiment from the reserves on the outbreak of the war and joined the 2nd Battalion in France on 23rd August 1914. In February 1916, Samuel wrote to Mary to inform her that he was in hospital suffering from shell deafness and he was discharged on 23rd June 1916 due to wounds with Silver War Badge No 1405 and the associated Pension Index Card records his disability as deafness.
William Moreland of Little York Street was a member of the North Belfast Regiment UVF when he enlisted with 15th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. He arrived in France in October 1915 and the Belfast Evening Telegraph reported on 29th December 1915 that he had been admitted to No 9 General Hospital in Rouen with frostbite. During the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, William Moreland was admitted to the 2/3rd London Field Ambulance on 23rd November 1917 with gunshot wound of the lower extremities. Simple flesh contusion or wound and was transferred to No 8 Ambulance Train the following day. Acting Corporal Moreland was discharged to the Class Z Reserve on 20th February 1919.
Hamilton Holmes Cairns was born on 11th August 1896 at Malvern Street in the Shankill district to William Cairns and Emily Matilda Cairns (nee Snodden), being the seventh of their eight children. Emily Matilda Cairns died of typhoid fever at Clements Street on 9th September 1898 at the age of 38, twelve days after giving birth to a son, named Samuel. In 1901, William Cairns, a Foundry Labourer, was living at Paris Street with eight children, ranging in age from three to 16. William Cairns was living at Pernau Street when he married Margaret Finnigan of Fife Street on 24th April 1905 at St Paul’s Church of Ireland on York Road. William Cairns was admitted to the Belfast Union Infirmary from his home at Moscow Street and died of valvular heart disease on 1st December 1911, his second wife, Margaret, being present. Hamilton Cairns was a driller at Workman Clark’s South Yard and was living with his married sister, Emily McClarnon, at Seventh Street when he enlisted with the Sherwood Foresters on 18th November 1915 at the Bridge End Recruiting Office. Hamilton was transferred to the Yorkshire Regiment in May 1916, joining the 13th Battalion in France on 30th June 1916. Fortunately, his service record survived the German air raids on London during the Second World War and provides a wealth of information. The Army Form W. 3202 recorded that Hamilton had appeared before a Medical Board at Graylingwell War Hospital in Chichester on 29th August 1916. The Board had approved that he be discharged from the Service as permanently unfit and noted that he had been sent to his home to await further instruction having been given £1 (one pound) advance and a suit of plain clothes. The form recorded that he had attended the Central Tuberculosis Institute at 91 King Street in Belfast on 7th September 1916. Private Cairns was discharged as being no longer physically fit for war service on 12th September 1916 and a form in his service record states pulmonary tuberculosis as the cause of discharge and another document records that his disability was caused or aggravated by his war service. In a letter (datestamped 06-Jan-1917), he writes requesting a war badge, saying, I think I am Intitled [sic] as the next [man] for I have been in France and done my bit. The War Badge and Certificate was issued on 8th February 1917 and Hamilton signed the receipt form on 10th February 1917. Hamilton Cairns died at Seventh Street of pulmonary tuberculosis on 26th December 1918 at the age of 22. In reporting his death on 28th December 1918, the Northern Whig commented that he had suffered gas poisoning in the war, that another brother had been invalided out of the army and that another two brothers remained on active service. Although the Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects records that he had died after discharge, his name was not identified as an official war fatality and his name does not appear on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database. In 2020, Private Hamilton Cairns was acknowledged as an official war fatality and, although he is believed to be buried in Carnmoney Parish Church Extension Graveyard, he is currently commemorated on the United Kingdom Book of Remembrance by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Brothers in Arms
It was common practice for sons to follow their fathers into the same line and/or place of employment and it should come as no surprise that different members of a family would enlist for military or naval service during the Great War.
GAMMON BROTHERS FROM HARPER STREET
Two sons of Jasper Payne Gammon and Adeline Agnes Gammon (nee Hunter) of Harper Street in the Pottinger district were employed by Workman Clark and served during the Great War. Both sons had also been members of the East Belfast Regiment UVF and one of the sons, William, had signed the Ulster Covenant in the Lecture Hall at Megain Memorial Presbyterian Church.
Jasper Payne Gammon junior was born on 8th May 1896 and was a fitter in the yard when he enlisted with 8th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles on 7th September 1914. He was deployed to France in October 1915 with the Ulster Division and was injured during the opening days of the Battles of the Somme (1916). Medical records show that he had gunshot wound of the upper extremities and compound fracture and on 4th July 1916 was transferred to No 3 Northern General Hospital at Le Treport. Rifleman Jasper Gammon was discharged due to wounds on 19th July 1919 with Silver War Badge No 215311. Jasper Payne Gammon received a 40% disability pension (gunshot wounds, right arm) at a weekly rate of sixteen shillings per week.
William Hunter Gammon was born on 24th December 1893 and was a carpenter in the yard when he enlisted with the Royal Engineers on 7th January 1915 and was deployed to France with the 150th Field Company in October 1915. He was admitted to the 110th Field Ambulance suffering from shellshock and wounds on 28th June 1916 and transferred to base depot on 4th July. He re-joined his unit on 26th July 1916 but was hospitalised again on 23rd January 1917 for ten days and from 8th August to 17th December 1917. After this extended period of treatment, he was discharged to the RE Base Depot at Boulogne and subsequently transferred to the 554th (Dundee) Army Troops, based in the Ypres Salient, on 1st January 1918. Army Troop Companies of the Royal Engineers operated behind the lines carrying out infrastructure engineering work, such as bridge building, road construction and repair, and water supply work. Sapper William Hunter Gammon was despatched to the UK for demobilisation on 24th February 1919 and transferred to the Class Z Reserve on 25th March 1919.
DAWSON BROTHERS FROM DONEGALL ROAD
Four sons of Henry Bailie Dawson and Dinah Dawson (nee Snowden) from the Donegall Road area served in the Great War. Newspaper reports state that three of the brothers were employed at Workman Clark before the war and it is quite possible that Henry Bailie Dawson senior, a plumber by trade, also worked in the shipyard.
John Thomas Gibson Dawson was born on 16th October 1889 at Naples Street off the Grosvenor Road. He was working as a boxmaker when he joined the Royal Navy on 5th May 1908 and was transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve after five years’ service. On the outbreak of the war, John Dawson was recalled from the reserve and posted to HMS Hawke. One of the greatest single losses of Royal Navy sailors from Ulster occurred on the 15th October 1914 when the German Submarine U-9, which was patrolling the North Sea, encountered HMS Hawke and her sister ship, HMS Theseus. The submarine’s first torpedo hit Hawke, igniting a magazine and causing a tremendous explosion which ripped much of the ship apart. Hawke sank in a few minutes with the loss of 524 men, with only 74 men being rescued. At least 48 Ulstermen died in this incident, including Able Seaman Dawson, who is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial.
Henry Bailie Dawson was born on 23rd October 1887 at Elizabeth Street in the Lower Falls and was employed as a plumber in the shipyard when he married Margaret McCarthy on 20th April 1910 at the Belfast Registry Office. He was a member of the South Belfast Regiment UVF before the war and enlisted with 10th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, being deployed to France in October 1915. In March 1916, the Larne Times reported that Rifleman Dawson was lying ill in No 12 General Hospital, Rouen. In July 1916, the Northern Whig reported that he had arrived home on 7th July for a period of recuperation. It is not known when he returned to active service, but he was discharged on 14th December as being surplus to military requirements. Henry and his family were living at Rockview Street off the Donegall Road when he received a 20% disability pension for debility at a weekly rate of eight shillings, supplemented by a weekly dependents allowance of seven shillings and one penny in respect of his wife and four children. The total weekly pension of fifteen shillings and a penny would equate to £35 per week in current terms.
Robert James Dawson was born on 11th October 1893 at Naples Street and the 1911 Census of Ireland records that he was employed as a Printer/Compositor. Robert Dawson enlisted with 10th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles on 10th September 1914 and was serving as a Signaller when he was wounded on 1st July 1916. Casualty records state that he was transferred to a sick convoy on 2nd July and classify his condition as gunshot wound of the upper extremities. Simple flesh contusion or wound. Signaller Robert James Dawson was discharged due to wounds with Silver War Badge No 215230 on 28th July 1917. Robert James Dawson received a 60% disability pension (gunshot wounds, right arm) at a rate of twenty-four shillings per week, which would equate to £69 per week in current terms)
ROBB BROTHERS FROM THE DOCKS AREA
Four sons of David Robb and Mary Ann Robb (nee McGiffen) of Ambrose Street in the Docks Ward were employed at Workman Clark’s North Yard and served in the Great War. Their father, David Robb, had died of bronchitis at North Thomas Street on 25th January 1905 at the age of 55.
David Alexander Robb was born on 2nd September 1882 at Little Ballymena in Ballynure and married Elizabeth Doyle at Trinity Church of Ireland on 26th November 1900. In 1911, David and Elizabeth and their five children were living at Southwell Street. David Robb was a holder-up when their sixth child, Jane, was born on 4th May 1913 at Grove Street. David Robb was a soldier in 5th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers when their seventh child, William John, was born on 19th February 1915 at Vere Street. David Robb served with the 10th (Irish) Division in the Salonika Campaign from October 1915 and was hospitalised in Egypt with dysentery in December 1915. His battalion also participated in the campaign to drive the Ottoman Empire out of the Middle East. In April 1918, the battalion was detached from the 10th (Irish) Division and sailed from Port Said, arriving at Marseilles in May. It came under the command of 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division before finally transferring to the 16th (Irish) Division in August 1918. Private David Alexander Robb died of pneumonia at 7th General Hospital at Boulogne on 26th October 1918 at the age of 36 and is buried in the Terlincthun British Cemetery at Wimile in France. His widow received a War Gratuity of £24 and ten shillings in June 1919 (which equates to approximately £1,293 in current terms). Although it is known that David Robb worked in a shipyard before the war, the civil records do not specify the company for which he worked. An article in the Northern Whig on 13th December 1915 records that he had been employed at Workman Clark’s North Yard. David Alexander Robb is not commemorated on the war memorials for either Workman Clark or Harland & Wolff. It is possible that he had been laid off before the war started and, consequently, did not meet the criteria for inclusion on the Workman Clark memorial.
William John Robb was born on 2nd April 1885 at Little Ballymena in Ballynure and was employed at Workman Clark when he enlisted with the Royal Artillery militia on 23rd March 1903 and transferred to the Special Reserve (Antrim Royal Garrison Artillery) on 19th July 1908. His occupation was recorded as holder-up in the 1911 census when he was living with his married sister, Mary Ann Wilson, at Spamount Street. His period of engagement with the Special Reserve ended on 18th July 1912, his character being recorded as “Very Good”. The surviving service papers indicate that he re-enlisted in 1915 but it has not been possible to verify further details.
Charles Ferguson Robb was born on 23rd November 1889 at Lancastrian Street in Carrickfergus. He enlisted on 2nd April 1915 with 17th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and was deployed to France with 9th Battalion in October 1915. On 14th June 1916, he was admitted to the 108th Field Ambulance with gunshot wound of the lower extremities. Simple flesh contusion or wound and was transferred to No.8 Ambulance Train the following day. Rifleman Robb was discharged due to later wounds to his left arm on 19th March 1919 with Silver War Badge No B162538. In 1920, he was awarded a 50% Disability Pension at the rate of twenty shillings per week (approximately £49 per week in today’s terms).
Samuel Hugh Robb was born on 6th January 1896 at Bentinck Street in the Duncairn Ward and he enlisted with the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was deployed to France with 109th Field Ambulance of the Ulster Division and was discharged on 3rd March 1919. He was living at Trafalgar Street after the war and received a disability pension for bronchitis and gastritis. Given the nature of his illnesses, the Disability Pension rate fluctuated, being 10% in 1919, 100% in 1921 and 20% in 1922, when it was eight shillings per week (approximately £23 per week in current terms).
MCILVENNY BROTHERS OF STRATHEDEN STREET
William Henry McIlvenny and Elizabeth McIlvenny (nee Foster) had nine children in total, although only six were to survive childhood. William Henry MciIvenny, a ship’s painter, died at Stanley Place on 6th February 1900 from a sudden failure of the heart’s action, leaving Elizabeth with six children under the age of 17. Three sons, all of whom served in the Great War, and three daughters. The family home was at Stratheden Street during the war years.
David McIlvenny was born on 23rd December 1898 at Stanley Place in the Docks Ward and was the youngest child of William Henry and Elizabeth. According to later newspaper reports, David was employed in Messrs Workman & Clark’s before the war but he was released for war service by Harland & Wolff on 31st January 1917. David’s attestation papers record that he was a plater’s helper when he enlisted with the Army Service Corps on 6th February 1917. He was deployed overseas in May 1917 as a motor ambulance driver and was awarded the Military Medal for rescuing wounded under shell-fire at St Julien in 1917. He was serving in Italy when he received gunshot wounds to the face on 25th July 1918 and was transferred to the South African Hospital at Richmond Park in London on 5th September. The President of France awarded the Croix de Guerre to David McIlvenny in August 1918 for attending to severely wounded French troops in Italy. Driver David McIlvenny was transferred to the Class Z Reserve on 11th February 1919. In January 1920, David was living at Upper Mervue Street when he received his Military Medal in the post. In February 1920, his disablement was classified at 10% and he received a gratuity payment of £60 (which equates to approximately £2,742 in current terms).
Daniel McIlvenny was born on 17th June 1884 at Prince’s Dock and was a butcher when he enlisted with the Royal Marine Light Infantry on 6th May 1901 and discharged, having served 12 years, on 5th May 1913. Daniel enlisted with the Royal Naval Division, formed by Winston Churchill as an infantry force made up of naval and royal marine personnel. He was serving with the Plymouth Battalion when he was reported as Missing on 9th October 1914, during the retreat from Antwerp. He was officially reported as being a Prisoner of War at the Gefangenenlager at Doeberitz in Germany on the Casualty List issued by the War Office on 20th December 1914.
Samuel McIlvenny was born on 1st December 1893 at Liverpool and was a plumber’s helper when he joined the Royal Navy on 4th January 1913. He was serving on HMS Vanguard as a Stoker First Class when the war started. Vanguard participated in the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 and in an inconclusive engagement in August 1916. On 9th July 1917, Vanguard was stationed at Scapa Flow when, shortly before midnight a series of magazines exploded on the ship. A Board of Enquiry concluded that a fire started in a four-inch magazine, perhaps when a raised temperature caused spontaneous ignition of cordite, spreading to one or the other main magazines, which then exploded. HMS Vanguard sank almost instantly with the loss of 843 of the 845 men aboard. 15 Ulstermen, including Stoker Samuel McIlvenny, were among the 30 Irishmen killed in the explosion.
SANDFORDS OF BALLYMACARRETT
Samuel Sandford was a labourer at Workman Clark and a Half-Company Commander in the Victoria Battalion of the East Belfast Regiment UVF at the start of the war. Although he had already served in the army for 15 years, Samuel Sandford re-enlisted on 28th August 1914, being deployed to 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles in France on 8th October 1914. In January 1915, he was invalided home suffering from shock after his trench was blown up by a shell. On 2nd May 1915 he was badly wounded at Dickebusch and evacuated to the Royal Infirmary in Manchester, where his right arm and right leg were amputated. He was discharged on 6th October 1915 with Silver War Badge No 69975. On 24th July 1919 he wrote to the Infantry Records Office requesting the 1914 Star “as I would like to wear it on peace celebrations in Belfast on 9th August”. He concluded the letter with, if I don’t get it sent on at once I will comunate [sic] with Lord French about it. Send it on and save any trouble about it. Samuel Sandford was born on 4th October 1882 at Westmoreland Street to William John Sandford, a brush maker, and Margaret Anne Sandford (nee Dougan). His father died of bronchial phthisis at Club Row on 9th June 1892, leaving a widow and five children under the age of 11. His mother married Thomas Stewart on 26th May 1895 at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland in Ballymacarrett. Samuel was a riveter when he married Margaret McConnell on 6th July 1908 at First Newtownards Presbyterian Church and they were living at Avon Street in 1911 and later lived at Derwent Street. Samuel and Margaret had seven children, only one of whom survived infancy.
In August 1914, William John Sandford was an apprentice shipwright at Workman Clark and a member of both the 39th Company Boys’ Brigade (Pitt Street) and the Field Ambulance Train of the East Belfast Regiment UVF. He enlisted with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and he landed at Y Beach on the Gallipoli Peninsula with the 1st Battalion, where he was wounded. He later served on the Western Front but was transferred to shipyard work in 1916 and was discharged on 1st February 1919. In October 1920, he was awarded a 19% Disablement Pension in respect of multiple gunshot wounds at the rate of five shillings and sixpence per week (approximately £13 per week in current terms). William John Sandford was born on 5th March 1896 at Medway Street to William James Sandford, a plater’s helper, and Elizabeth Sandford (nee Moore) and the family lived at Ann Street in 1901 and Avon Street in 1911.
From the Gantries to Gallantry
As has already been covered in Chapter 2, Lieutenant Edward Workman was mentioned in despatches and awarded the Military Cross. At least 28 other Workman Clark employees received gallantry or special service awards during the war, some receiving more than one award. Two men were mentioned in despatches and three men received awards from foreign governments. The Workman Clark gallantry record included:
Military Medal: 14 awards
Distinguished Conduct Medal: 6 awards
Military Cross: 3 awards
Long Service and Good Conduct Medal: 1 award
Meritorious Service Medal: 1 award
On 28th July 1917, the Larne Times reported that Cecil Halliday (18) was awarded the Military Medal for an act of bravery: during a raid on the enemy’s trenches on the night of June 24-25 he displayed gallant conduct in reaching the objective though being wounded, and forming a block, and holding it alone until reinforced. Cecil Alexander Halliday was born on 8th April 1899 at Ethel Street in the Windsor Ward to John Halliday, a baker, and Esther Halliday (nee Rodgers). He was employed by Workman Clark when he enlisted with the Army Service Corps in December 1916 but had been transferred to the East Kent Regiment (The Buffs) and was deployed to the 1st battalion on the Western Front three months prior to his act of gallantry. Cecil later served with the 8th Battalion Royal West Surrey Regiment. One of his brothers, Ernest, was wounded whilst serving with the Irish Guards. Another brother, William, had served with the Royal Engineers and been discharged. William Halliday, a painter, was visiting Dublin when he got caught up in the rebellion and died of gunshot wounds on 27th April 1916, aged 23.
Two shipyardmen – Gunner First Class William Thomas Sheldy and Able Seaman William Andrew Lambeston Burns – were awarded the Russian “For Zeal” medal on the ribbon of order of St. Stanislaus for valuable services rendered on the White Sea whilst serving on HMS Jupiter. She had had been part of the Channel Fleet and was a guard ship on the River Tyne when she was dispatched to Russia as an icebreaker. Jupiter made history by becoming the first ship to get through the ice into Archangel (Arkhangelsk) during winter and her arrival was the earliest recorded in history. As recognition of this achievement, Tsar Nicholas II authorised the issue of medals to all officers, petty officers and seamen on HMS Jupiter. William Thomas Sheldy was born at Greenland Street in the Woodvale Ward on 1st January 1883 to John Sheldy, a labourer, and Mary Jane Sheldy (nee Wylie). William Thomas Sheldy was employed as a rigger in the shipyard when he joined the Royal Navy on 1st January 1901 for a 12-year period of engagement. Whilst still in the navy, he married Jane Matheson from Rowan Street on 27th January 1906 in St Anne’s Parish Church in Belfast. He was transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve on 26th April 1908, having served seven years. He was employed at Workman Clark when he was recalled to active service from the reserve on 8th August 1914. During the war, he also served on HMS Edgar, HMS Thetis and HMS Vigorous and was demobilised on 7th March 1919. William Andrew Lambeston Burns was born on 29th September 1886 at Carnduff near Larne to Andrew Burns, a sailor, and Mary Burns (nee Millar). He was a Shipwright when he enlisted on 31st October 1906, transferring to the Royal Fleet Reserve on 30th October 1911. He was recalled on 2nd August 1914 and ended his active service on HMS Carnarvon, being transferred to Shipwright II, a shore base, on 13th August 1918.
George English Lowry was born on 6th February 1886 at Mackey’s Road in the Duncairn Ward to John Lowry and Jane Lowry (nee Cavanagh). His father died at Hanna Street of pulmonary tuberculosis on 24th March 1887. In 1901, Jane and George were boarding at Oldpark Avenue with the Nugent family, Henry Nugent being married to George’s sister, Elizabeth. In 1911, George Lowry was stationed at the Citadel Barracks in Dover with 2 Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. In January 1914, George Lowry was living at Mervue Street when he married Esther Dempsey of Oldpark Avenue on 27th January 1914 at St Anne’s Parish Church. At the outbreak of the war, George Lowry enlisted with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and he joined the 1st Battalion on the Gallipoli Peninsula in July 1915. His battalion, part of 29th Division, was evacuated from Gallipoli to Egypt in early January 1916 and landed at Marseilles for service in France in March 1916. The battalion remained in 29th Division until February 1918, when it was transferred to 109th Brigade in the 36th (Ulster) Division. It was whilst serving in the Ulster Division that Sergeant George Lowry (mis-recorded as Lowery) was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, second only to the Victoria Cross for Other Ranks. The citation was published in the London Gazette in February 1919:
For marked gallantry and good leadership near Driesch. On night of 19th/20th October, 1918, he commanded a platoon with orders to clear the east bank of the Lys and to capture a known hostile strong point on the banks of the canal to enable a bridge to be constructed in that vicinity. Under heavy machine-gun fire he led his platoon to a position from which he might be able to outflank the enemy strong point, and eventually succeeded in capturing the post, with eight prisoners and two machine guns. He rendered excellent service.
George re-enlisted with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on 2nd Feb 1919 and was posted to India with 1st Battalion on 11th Oct 1919. Esther accompanied him and two of his daughters were born in India in 1920 and 1922. George Lowry was discharged on 6th February 1923 at Hamilton in Lanarkshire and died at Ruth Street on 23rd January 1951 at the age of 64, being buried in Belfast City Cemetery.
Andrew Patton was a son of John and Elizabeth Patton and was living at Dock Street when he married Margaret McClenaghan of Nelson Street at St Anne’s Parish Church on 15th April 1911. Andrew Patton was a Holder Up and living at Saunders Street when he enlisted with the Royal Irish Rifles on 10th December 1914. His attestation papers record that he had tattoos of King Edward, Queen Alexandra and King William III. Whilst undergoing basic training at Ballykinlar Camp with 8th Battalion, Andrew Patton stabbed Rifleman Burton. He was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and was sentenced to two months imprisonment, with hard labour, by the civil power on 16th January 1915. He was discharged from the Royal Irish Rifles on 17th July 1915. Andrew Patton subsequently enlisted with the Lancashire Fusiliers, was wounded and was awarded the Military Medal in 1918. He survived the war and returned to work in the shipyard, but his story does not end there. During a period of communal violence in the Ballymacarrett area, Andrew Patton was shot by the Irish Republican Army in Pitt Street whilst he was on his way to work. He was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he died on 23 November 1921, aged 32. He was buried in Dundonald Cemetery on Saturday 26th November 1921 and was survived by his widow and four children.
Robert Thomson Renwick was born on 31st March 1888 at Bothwell in Lanarkshire to John Renwick and Margaret Renwick (nee Thomson), being the first of their three children. His father was a joiner and the family was living at Main Street in Bothwell in Lanarkshire in 1901. Robert Renwick was cousin to William Wilson, a Master Boot Maker, with premises in King Street and of James Renwick Wilson, a Master Leather Cutter, with premises in North Street. Robert Renwick was a draughtsman at Workman Clark and was a member of the Young Citizen Volunteers of Ireland before the war. He was part of the first group of men from that corps to come forward to enlist and he received a commission in the 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles in January 1915. In June of the same year, whilst stationed at Randalstown, he travelled back to Lanarkshire to marry Margaret Buchanan Coates, a dressmaker from Green Street in Bothwell, on 1st June 1915 at the Old Established Church of Scotland in Bothwell. Lieutenant Renwick was deployed to France with 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles in October 1915. In the winter of 1915, Lieutenant Renwick, supervised the erection of a building to accommodate 500 men and later cleared out a barn and converted it for use as a temporary cinema (The Chocolate Soldiers by Steven Moore). A less joyful role was writing to the family of men who had died. One such letter was to Samuel Alexander and Fanny Martin at Springfield Road Belfast, following the death of their son, Rifleman Tom Martin, on 6th May 1916. Lieutenant Renwick wrote:
During a very heavy bombardment of our trenches on 5th May, while on duty with his machine gun, a trench mortar exploded in the trench, killing him instantaneously. He was buried at 3.00 pm the following afternoon in a little graveyard beside the village where we are located, our chaplain conducting the service. The graveyard is one set aside for British soldiers, and a cross has been erected at his grave. Although only in my section for a short time, I had always found him to be a capable, willing soldier and a good comrade. During the action he stood by his gun with great courage, and his name has since appeared in battalion orders for gallantry. To my assurance of deep sympathy is added the sincere regret of his comrades in his section.
(The Chocolate Soldiers by Steven Moore)
The Battalion War Diary recorded that he was wounded on the 1st July 1916 whilst commanding the battalion’s machine gun section. He was promoted to Captain in May 1918 and was awarded the Military Cross in the 1918 King’s Birthday Honours list. Robert Renwick relinquished his commission with effect from 1st February 1919, with the rank of Captain and was living at Ferguson Drive in the Strandtown area in 1924. He helped to establish the Workman & Clark Ex-service Men’s Mutual Aid Association and was present at the annual Remembrance services held at the Workman Clark memorial. The youngest son of Robert and Margaret Renwick died during the Second World War. Lieutenant Andrew James Renwick, 2nd Battalion (Glasgow Highlanders) Highland Light Infantry, died on 14th April 1945, aged 21, and is buried in Hanover War Cemetery at Niedersachsen in Germany. Robert Renwick survived his wife by 13 years, dying on 13th March 1979, at the age of 90.
Samuel Carvill (sometimes recorded as Carvell) was born on 10th February 1885 at Lisaniskey near Portadown to William Carvill and Sarah Carvill (nee McCann), being one of their nine children, and the family was living at Carleton Street in Portadown. Samuel married Emily Davidson of Portmore Street in Portadown on 28th July 1906 in Lurgan Methodist Church. Samuel was a weaver and living at Coronation Street in Portadown when Emily gave birth to their first child, James, in March 1907. A second child, Norman, was born at Portmore Street in February but died of measles, aged six months, in October. By 1911, the family had moved to Disraeli Street in the Woodvale Ward and Samuel was employed as Painter at Works. Samuel was recorded as a Red Leader in the Register of Births for their third child, George, who was born in September 1912. Samuel Carvill enlisted with 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers in late 1914 and was deployed to France with the Ulster Division in October 1915. He was wounded at Hamel on 1st July 1916 and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his action during the Battle of Langemarck in August 1917. The citation was published in the London Gazette on 5th February 1918, For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when left in command of his company owing to casualties. He led the men forward, and after being forced to withdraw reorganised them and led them forward again under heavy machine-gun fire. Private Carvill was later reassigned to the Labour Corps and was transferred to the Class Z Reserve on 1st March 1919. In 1920, he was awarded a 20% Disability Pension at the rate of nine shillings and sixpence per week, plus an award of three shillings and sixpence as a recipient of the DCM, and an allowance of three shillings and sixpence in respect of two children. Samuel Carvill’s total weekly pension of sixteen shillings and sixpence would equate to £38 per week in current terms.
Alexander Erskine Holmes was born on 3rd January 1892 at Ritchie Street in Belfast to James Erskine Holmes, an engine driver, and Margaret Holmes (nee Connolly), being their eldest child. His mother died of pulmonary tuberculosis on 7th May 1894, aged 26, at Canning Street in Belfast. James Erskine Holmes married Matilda Lavery on 3rd April 1895 at Ballyclare Presbyterian Church and the family was living in Carrickfergus in 1901. In 1911. Alexander Erskine Holmes served his apprenticeship with Workman Clark and was a qualified joiner when he enlisted with 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles at Clandeboye on 15th September 1914. He was deployed to France with the Ulster Division in October 1915 and was promoted to Sergeant in February 1917, having been recommended for a commission. Sergeant Holmes was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), with the announcement appearing in the London Gazette in January 1918 and citation being published the following April: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion duty. He did excellent work in keeping up communication under heavy fire during two engagements. He has consistently shown great courage and energy in his work.
Sergeant Holmes was taken prisoner on 21st March 1921 during the Battle of St Quentin and remained in enemy hands until 5th January 1919. He was transferred to the Class Z Army Reserve on 4th April 1919 and received a gratuity of £20 (approximately £1,056 in current terms) in respect of having been awarded the DCM. Alexander Holmes received his gallantry medal in May 1919 and his campaign medals in 1921. Photographs courtesy of Erskine Holmes, a relative of Alexander Erskine Holmes.
Prisoners of War
David Spears was born on 31st October 1892 at Matchett Street to William Stephen Spears, a fireman, and Catherine Spears (nee Bleaky). William and Catherine had 13 children, but only four survived to 1911. David Spears was living at Tobergill Street and was a member of the West Belfast Regiment UVF when when he enlisted with 15th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. David married Elizabeth Keys, also of Tobergill Street, on 1st November 1914 at St Mary’s Church of Ireland on the Crumlin Road. David was deployed to France in October 1915 with 11th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. On 25th April 1916, Lizzie Spears gave birth to their daughter, Sarah. Lance-Corporal Spears was reported as missing after the 1st July 1916 offensive and his wife received notification that he had been wounded and taken prisoner in August. The Prisoner of War documents held by the International Committee of the Red Cross record that David Spears was captured at Thiepval and was treated for bullet wounds at the German field hospital in Le Cateau before being transferred to Minden Mannschaftslager in Westphalia. David was transferred from Furstenberg to an internment camp in Holland on 16th May 1918. He was eventually repatriated to the United Kingdom, arriving at Hull on 22nd November 1918 on SS Porto. (The German passenger ship Prinz Heinrich was seized by the Portuguese government in 1916, renamed as SS Porto and chartered to the Admiralty.) On 1st March 1919, he was transferred to the Class Z Army Reserve, meaning that he was liable for immediate recall to active serve if hostilities resumed. In 1920, David received a 20% Disablement Pension in respect of gunshot wound to the back and knees at the rate of eight shillings per week, with an additional allowance of three shillings and sixpence for his daughters, Lizzie and Sarah. The total weekly pension of eleven shillings and sixpence would equate to £26 per week in current terms.
Thomas Cochrane was born on 20th February 1870 at John Street in Downpatrick to James Cochrane and Letitia Cochrane (nee Turkington). Thomas Cochrane was living at Convention Street when he married Margaret Sarah Wilson of Cuba Street on 17th February 1902 at Belmont Presbyterian Church. In 1911, they were living at Island Street and Maggie was recorded as being a linen weaver. Thomas was a plater’s helper when he enlisted with 8th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and he was deployed to France with the Ulster Division in October 1915. Lance- Corporal Cochrane was captured on 2nd July 1916 and treated for bullet wounds in Le Cateau. He was initially incarcerated at the Minden Mannschaftslager in Westphalia but was later moved to Hameln Mannschaftslager in Lower Saxony. Like David Spears, he was moved to a internment camp in Holland on 16th May 1918 and was eventually repatriated to the United Kingdom, arriving at Hull on 22nd November 1918 on SS Porto. He was transferred to the Class Z Reserve on 28th February 1919. Thomas was living at Well Street when he submitted a claim for a disablement pension, citing rheumatism, but no award was made.
John Anderson was born on 11th October 1898 at Skipton Street to Robert Anderson (a Plater’s Helper) and Sarah Beattie, being one of their nine children. He was living at Hornby Street when he enlisted in Belfast on 4th May 1916, aged 17. He was posted to the 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, and deployed to the Western Front after 31st December 1915. He was wounded in the arms and hand during the Battle of St Quentin in March 1918. He was taken prisoner at Cugny on 24th March 1918 and sent to the Limburg an der Lahn Mannschaftslager in Hesse, a camp that held 12,000 prisoners. As a lot of men from Irish regiments were incarcerated there in 1914/1915, Sir Roger Casement had visited the camp to recruit men for an “Irish Brigade” to fight for the Germans. The Germans abandoned the project when it became apparent that not many Irishmen were interested in switching sides. Following the Easter rebellion in Ireland in 1916, Sir Roger Casement was executed for treason. Rifleman John Anderson was discharged as being Medically Unfit for active service on 17th April 1919, with Silver War Badge No 509199. As a consequence of having suffered a variety of gunshot wounds, John Anderson was awarded a lifetime disability pension which was set at 20% (eight shillings per week) in 1920 and increased to 30% (twelve shillings per week) in 1922 – the latter rate equates to approximately £35 per week in current terms.
William Nugent Kincaid (sometimes Kinkade) was born on 13th April 1898 at Holywood Street to Thomas Kincaid, a riveter, and Margaret Kincaid (nee Nugent), being their youngest child. The family was living at Convention Street when William enlisted with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He initially served in France with 10th Battalion and was wounded in January 1917. He was serving with 1st Battalion when he was captured on 23rd December 1917 near Arras. The battalion was in front-line trenches at the Monchy Defences when two 20-strong German parties raided the Y Saps. One party was repulsed by the machine gun section, but the second party entered the trench and took six prisoners. William was held at the Dulmen Mannschaftslager, a camp near the German border with The Netherlands. The family received notification that William was a prisoner in February 1918. William Kincaid survived the war and was awarded a 14% Disablement Pension of seven shillings and sixpence per week (approximately £17 per week in current terms).
William John McCullough was born on 18th October 1896 at Dunn Street in the Court Ward to George McCullough, a cabinet maker, and Mary Ellen McCullough (nee Trimble), being the eldest of their five children. The family was living at Cumberland Street in the Shankill area and William was employed as an apprentice joiner when he enlisted with the Royal Irish Rifles 9th September 1914. He was deployed to France with 9th Battalion in October 1915. He was a Sergeant with C Company when he was taken prisoner on 1st July 1916 in Thiepval Wood. In the advance, he had received a bullet wound in the left leg and hand grenade wounds to the back. He was imprisoned at Soltau Mannschaftslager in Lower Saxony, a camp that held 35,000 prisoners. Sergeant McCullough was transferred to an internment camp in Holland in May 1918 and was discharged due to his wounds on 10th December 1918 with Silver War Badge Number No B69044. In November 1919, he was living at Tenth Street when he was awarded a 30% Disablement Pension at a rate of fourteen shillings per week (approximately £38 per week in current terms).
Belfast’s “Shipyard Poet”
Thomas Carnduff was born in 13 Kensington Street, off Sandy Row, on 30th January 1886 to James Graham Carnduff, a Steward, and Jane Carnduff (nee Holland). He was a labourer at the Belfast Steam Print Company when he married Susan McMeekin on 20th August 1909 at Great Victoria Street Presbyterian Church. They lived at Selby Street in 1911 and they were living at Carlisle Street when Thomas signed the Ulster Covenant at Belfast City Hall on 28th September 1912. In the same year, Thomas joined the newlyformed Young Citizen Volunteers of Ireland and, as a member of the Cliftonville Company, participated in the company’s first drill parade at Cliftonville Presbyterian Church on 12th October. At the outbreak of the war, Thomas was employed as a plater’s helper at Workman Clark. He served with the Royal Engineers (Inland Waterways and Docks branch) on the Western Front and was discharged in 1918. Following a period of unemployment, he returned to Workman Clark. In 1922, he became a Special Constable with the Ulster Special Constabulary and became an employee for Belfast Corporation Gas Department in the same year. However, Thomas appears to have been employed at Workman Clark in 1924 as he wrote a poem for the launch of the SS Arlington Court in April. By the start of the Second World War, he was again in the employment of Belfast Corporation and served with the Civil Defence during the Second World War. In 1951, Thomas and his second wife, Mary, became the resident caretakers of the Linenhall Library in 1951. Much of his literary work was drawn from his experiences working in the shipyard and his involvement in the labour and trade union movements. His first book of poetry, Songs from the Shipyard and Other Poems, was published in October 1924 and he formed the Young Ulster Literary Society in 1936. The following year, his radio play about the building of a ship, Birth of a Giant, was broadcast by BBC. He was active in the Independent Orange Order and was a member of All Souls (Non Subscribing) Presbyterian Church on Elmwood Avenue. Thomas Carnduff died on 15th April 1956 and is buried in Carnmoney Main Cemetery.
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