Poppy crosses laid at graves of Larne war dead

LARNE man David McNeill goes on an annual pilgrimage with The Friends of the Somme to visit the graves of solders from the Larne area who were killed in the First World War. This year, David also visited a number of Second world Cemeteries. Here, he writes about some of the young men on whose graves he laid poppy crosses:

WITH The Friends of the Somme Mid Ulster Branch we set out in this the 95th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme on our annual pilgrimage to the battlefields of the two world wars.

Our first visit on June 30 was to Du Hallow A.D.S. military cemetery on the outskirts of Ypres in Belgium and the graves of Cpl. Charles Kydd, Machine Gun Corps, and L/cpl. Robert Crawford 1st. Btn. Royal Irish Rifles, who was originally from Cairncastle.

Next stop was Tyne Cot military cemetery and memorial - the largest Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in the world with 11,954 graves, most of which are unknown and almost 35,000 names of the missing - including seven soldiers from the Larne area - are engraved on the memorial. They are Samuel Bell, son of Thomas and Elizabeth, 44 Mill St.; James Lennon, son of Henry and Jane and brother of John, 34 Glynn Rd.; James Hayes, son of James and Sarah, 48 Carson St.; Samuel Millar, whose family including sister Mary lived at 31 Herbert Ave.; Houston Clements, son of James and Elizabeth, 20 Glynview Ave.; William Cumberland of Dundresson, Islandmagee; and Samuel James Jackson, who was born in Larne.

For the first time, I visited a local man’s grave in this massive cemetery as I was unaware until fairly recent that Andrew Mc Bride Campbell, 2nd. Btn. Royal Irish Rifles, was buried here. Andrew was the son of Thomas and Martha from Aughrenalough, Carnlough, He was only 18 years of age when he was killed in action on August 8, 1917.

In the evening we attended our annual evensong in St. George’s Memorial Church, Ypres, and afterwards, led by our piper, we marched from the church to the Menin Gate for the Last Post Ceremony which is held every evening at 8pm and is usually attended by very large crowds. This evening was no exception.

On the walls of the Menin Gate are engraved the names of 54,389 men reported missing in the Ypres area and including 10 from Larne.

July 1:

On the 95th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme we gathered in the morning at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing which contains the names of 73,000 officers and men who have no known grave and were lost in the Somme area.

Forty men from the Larne area are commemorated on this memorial and after the official ceremony I joined with Ald Jack Mc Kee, Councillors Gregg McKeen and Mark McKinty to place a poppy cross on one of the panels containing their names.

Later in the afternoon, during the service at the Ulster Tower, we laid a poppy wreath on behalf of the citizens of Larne. The Duke of Gloucester was in attendance and led the wreath-laying ceremony, with music at both ceremonies provided by the band of the Royal Irish Regiment.

Just across the road from the Ulster Tower is Connaught Military Cemetery, where James Dobbin from Kilwaughter, who was killed at the Somme, is buried.

As is customary every year during the period between these two ceremonies, we stop outside Authuile Military Cemetery and have our daily picnic. We always take the opportunity to visit the graves of Frank Lynas, Royal Irish Fusiliers, whose sister-in-law lived at 19 Meeting House St., and William James Kirkpatrick, Machine Gun Corps son of William and Margaret and husband of Elizabeth, North Row, Millbrook.

William was on duty at his gun when he was wounded in the head by shrapnel, which also jammed his gun. One of the company officers came across and found him, although wounded, trying to get the gun firing again. Together they got it firing until another shell killed them both and smashed the gun. William’s senior officer praised him highly, noting: “He died at his post doing his duty and doing it well.”

William was killed on the June 10 and his brother Thomas, also a gunner, died on 12th July of wounds received at the Battle of the Somme.

Before returning to our hotel, we visited the Poziers Memorial which commemorates 14,000 casualities of the United Kingdom and 300 South African Forces who have no known grave and who fell during the 5th Army retreat on the Somme from March 21 to August 7, 1918. Eight men from the Larne area are among those commemorated.

July 2:

We were back in Belgium to visit Pond Farm Military Cemetery and the graves of Larne men Capt. A. McBride; William Robinson, 12th. R.I.Rifles; Hugh Mc Clure, Royal Engineers, a member of 1st. Larne Church; and William McIlroy, Royal Irish Fus., grandson of Catherine Nelson of Rorys Glen, Kilwaughter.

Later we returned to France and visited the CambraI Memorial at Louverval. At the entrance is the following inscription in English and French: “To the glory of God and to the enduring memory of 7,048 officers and men of the forces of the British Empire who fell at the Battle of Cambrai between the 20th November and 3rd December 1917 whose names are here recorded but to whom the fortunes of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.”

The names of eight Larne men are recorded on the memorial. They are Sgt. James Caldwell, 12th. R.I.Rifles, who was a member of 1st. Larne church; Rfm. John Hunter, 12th. R.I.Rifles, who lived at Magheramorne and his brother and sister-in-law James and Lily lived at 103 Circular Road and his uncle and aunt James and Ellen McClure lived at Ballypollard, Magheramorne; Rfm. Robert McFall, 12th. R.I.Rifles, the second son of Robert McFall of Millbrook; Cpl. Thomas Robinson, 8th/9th R.I.Rifles, killed in action on November 23, 1917, one of the first Larne men to be wounded in the war and had lived at Larne Harbour; Rfm. William Robinson, 2nd. R.I.Rifles, who was killed on November 23, 1917, whose nephew David Robinson, lives at Lealies Drive, Antiville; William McChesney, 8th/9th R.I.Rifles, who was born in Larne; and William Petty, 9th.R.I.Fus., grandson of Joseph W. J. Shaw of Glenview House, Raloo.

Later we made our way back to the Somme area for our annual service at the Ginchy Cross memorial to the men of the 16th Irish Division.

July 4:

On American Independence Day we made our way to Normandy, where we visited areas associated with the D Day landings and the ensuing battles that took place.

Our first visit was to the massive American cemetery at Omaha beach, where fierce fighting had taken place, resulting in enormous casualties. We held a short service for all the American servicemen who died in the invasion at the impressivemMemorial known as the Spirit of American.

Our final visit of the day was to the British Memorial and Cemetery at Bayeux. At the memorial we laid a cross below the name of Pte. Martin Crawfordm Canadian Calgary Highlandersm who was killed in action in Julym 1944 and whose body was never found. Martin lived at Kilnside House, Gleno, and was educated at Larne Grammar School and had emigrated to Canada. He was the son of Hugh and Hessie Elizabeth.

Three other Larne are buried in the nearby cemetery. They are Capt Andrew Wright, Merchant Navy, who died on March 8, 1945 as a result of enemy action. He was the eldest son of James and Margaret and lived at White House, Kilcoan, Islandmagee. He had taken part in the evacuation from Dunkirk and the D Day landings.

John Torbitt Smyth, Royal Ulster Rifles Airborne Division, son of William and Mary and husband of Gladys, died of wounds received on August 25, 1944, aged 19. He attended Larne Grammar School and was a member of 1st. Larne Boys’ Brigade.

Sgt James Hanna, air gunner, R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve, died June 7, 1944 aged 21. He was the son of William John and Mary and had worked in the Lab. at British Aluminium. His father was well known in Larne and for many years around the 12th of July he would form the famous Wully Hanna’s Flute Band. We conducted a short service at his graveside and laid a poppy cross on behalf of the citizens of Larne and also one on behalf of his brother-in-law Tommy Manson and family.

July 6:

After a visit to the famous Pegasus Bridge and the Gonderee Café, which was the first building to be liberated in France after the D Day invasion, we made our way to Ranville Military Cemetery for a service of remembrance for the men of the 1st. Royal Ulster Rifles (Airborne).

Next stop was the memorial to the men of the 2nd. Batallion of the Royal Ulster Rifles who came into Normandy from the sea in landing crafts and some of them were from Larne.

At the nearby Cambes-en-Plaine military cemetery I was able to visit the grave of Rifleman Ronald McAllister, Royal Ulster Rifles, who was killed by enemy action on June 7, 1944. His family lived at 2 Ferris Lane, Larne.

July 7:

On our final day we travelled to the Military Cemetery at Charles-de-Percy via the famous Dickies Bridge. Here the local Mayor took part in our service of remembrance.

Buried in this cemetery is George Fitt, Irish Guards, a brother of the late politician Gerry Fitt.

Also in this cemetery and our last grave visit is Sgt. Charles Joseph McVeigh, Royal Ulster Rifles 2nd Btn., who was killed on August 12, 1944, aged 27. His wife Molly lived at 34 Old Glenarm Road.

During all our visits to the graves and memorials of the men from the Larne area Wesley Wright, John Ritchie, Robert Magill and myself paid our humble respects and gratitude to them all and ensured that a poppy cross was placed on behalf of all the people from Larne.