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Stories of the Fallen

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Stories of the Fallen

Fortunately, many soldiers returned from the First World War, though few were untouched by the horror they experienced. Of those who fell, some were buried in war cemeteries while others have no known grave and are commemorated through memorials or cenotaphs. The dead should all be remembered as heroes, they were young men who died hundreds of miles from their families and friends. Here are some of their stories collected by local war historian Robert Thompson and included in his book Ballymoney Heroes.

Brief Glossary
D.O.W. - died of wounds
K.I.A. - killed in action
M.C. - awarded the Military Cross
M.M. - awarded the Military Medal

Between the trenches at Flers

Lieutenant James K.M. Greer M.C.
1st Battalion, Irish Guards D.O.W. 3 October 1916

Sergeant Hugh Carton M.M.
1st Battalion, Irish Guards K.I.A. 15 September 1916 No known grave

The attack on the village of Flers on the 15 September 1916 claimed the lives of many servicemen. The story of two, Lieutenant Greer and Sergeant Carton, is a clear example of the commitment and bravery for which the Ulster Division and the Irish Brigade became renowned. Lieutenant Greer had been seriously wounded the previous year, but in the months since then he was decorated for bravery and fought at the Somme. On the 15 September he led his men once more into battle. What followed was told to ‘The Chronicle’, 28 April 1917, by Private Joseph Doherty of Seacon, another local Irish Guard who showed outstanding courage and fortunately survived: “The Coldstreams led the attack, the ‘Micks’ [Irish Guards] followed, and the supports were the Scots Guards and the Grenadiers....Lieutenant Greer led us to the second line of trenches. He had a revolver in one hand and a stick in the other, and he rushed in front pointing his stick towards the enemy and shouting at us to ‘Come on’. It was between the trenches he got hit on the head, and fell. He gave his revolver to Quartermaster-Sergeant Hugh Carton, and told him to ‘Carry on’. Carton then told us to follow him, and that we did, right into the German third line. It was pretty hot there, I can tell you. Our N.C.O. then asked for ten volunteers to go out and make a barricade in order to bomb the Germans in case of a counter-attack. As a Ballymoney man, I did not hesitate. It was during the erection of the barricade that Sergeant Carton got knocked out with shrapnel in the head. Three of us bandaged him as well we could, but he died about three minutes after he got it. There were only four now left out of the ten, so we had to retire to the trench. Another officer was coming out at the time and got wounded. I tried to pull him in but that was the time when I got it with shrapnel, a bullet going right through my leg above the ankle and shrapnel in my thigh and stomach...It was six in the evening when I got to the dressing station....and was sent right away to ‘Blighty’...”.

Sergeant Hugh Carton is commemorated in Carncullagh Presbyterian Church. Lieutenant J. K. M. Greer died of his wounds on 3 October 1916, he is commemorated both in First Ballymoney Presbyterian Church and, until recently, on a plaque in Ballymoney Courthouse erected by the North Antrim Solicitors’ Association.

The Somme

Rifleman William Blackmore
Rifleman Malcolm McFadden
Rifleman John Burns
Rifleman Edward McFall
Rifleman James Clarke
Rifleman Daniel McKay
Rifleman Robert John Coleman
Rifleman William McKendry
Lance Corporal James Fenton
Rifleman John Murphy
Rifleman Frank Kennedy
Lance Corporal Ernest W. Shields
Rifleman William Laverty
Rifleman Samuel Taylor
Rifleman David Linton
Corporal James Watson
Rifleman David McClelland

All the above 12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles All K.I.A. 1 July 1916

The 1 July 1916 will be recalled as one of Ballymoney’s darkest days. On that single day, twenty-nine brave men from this area were killed at the Battle of the Somme. The fighting was so intense that the bodies of only four of these men could be retrieved for a Christian burial. Of all the Allied regiments, the Royal Irish Rifles enlisted the most Ballymoney men, and in particular the 12th Battalion. Of the Ballymoney dead that tragic day, seventeen came from that battalion. Late June had been very wet and the trenches were deep with mud and water. Ironically, however, the 1st of July had dawned with bright sunshine. At 7.30am the Riflemen and officers of the 12th Battalion heard the whistle and climbed from their trenches, courageously advancing towards the German lines. As the battalion approached an area to the north of Ancre, they made an easy target for the enemy. From the high ground where the Ulster Tower now stands, the German machine gunners effortlessly mowed them down. We can only guess what went through the minds of these young men as they watched the massacre around them. The battalion were left decimated and they were immediately withdrawn for reorganisation. Their memory, and the names of those who have no known grave, are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

From bank to battlefield

Rifleman Neason Henry Hale
1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles K.I.A. 11August 1917 No Known Grave

2nd Lieutenant John Purves Gray
1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers K.I.A. 1 October 1918

During the First World War patriotism was very strong, and communities and workplaces often keenly followed the news of their friends and colleagues. The Ulster Bank published a regular magazine ‘Passing Events’ chronicling the lives of employees, many now serving abroad in the forces. Two young Finvoy men are mentioned in its pages, Neason Hale and John Gray. Neason Hale joined the staff of the Ulster Bank after leaving school, working along side his close neighbour John Gray. Both men enlisted in March 1916. Lieutenant Gray was reported as injured twice, the second time in July 1918 when the magazine ‘Passing Events’ noted he was seen in Belfast and seemed to be recovering from his wounds. Sadly, that October the magazine reported he had been killed shortly after returning to his regiment. Rifleman Hale’s name is included in a list of missing in the edition for Christmas 1918. The magazine editorial expressed the hope that he, and the other men, would soon return, but unfortunately the fate of Rifleman Hale will never be known. The Hale family were never officially informed that he had been killed, and his mother always believed that one day he would come home. Rifleman Neason H. Hale and Lieutenant John P. Gray are commemorated on a plaque in the entrance hall of the Ulster Bank Buildings, Waring Street, Belfast.

Friends who died together

Rifleman John Hanna
Lance Corporal James McCoubrey
Rifleman William Wade
12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles K.I.A. 2 June 1917

Rifleman George Wales
12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles K.I.A. 22 November 1917 No known grave

On the morning of 2 June 1917, at the Battle of Messines Ridge, a single shell landed in the midst of four young Ballymoney friends. Three of them, 18 year old Rifleman Hanna, Lance Corporal McCoubrey and Rifleman Wade, died instantly. Tragically, it is uncertain whether they were killed by a German shell or a British one falling short. Hanna, McCoubrey and Wade were buried together, side by side, in Pond Farm Cemetery, Belgium. The fourth man, Rifleman George Wales, was fortunately sheltered from the direct blast and only injured by the shell, but sadly he was killed later that year at Cambrai.

The lone sentry who fought off a raiding party

Rifleman William Workman M.M.
12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles K.I.A. 21 March 1918 No known grave

In May 1917, Kilraughts man William Workman was on early morning sentry duty when he spotted a German raiding party, clearly making for a nearby British Lewis gun position. Rifleman Workman shot and killed the German officer leading the attack, managing under fire to kill five and wound another eight of the raiding party. Faced with such an overwhelming counter-attack the Germans retreated, forced back by the lone sentry. Afterwards, it was found that the burly German who led the attack had been highly decorated with the Iron Cross, and Rifleman Workman was presented with his trench dagger. These heroic actions earned Rifleman William Workman the Military Medal. Rifleman Workman was killed on 21 March 1918. It is thought that one of his comrades accidentally shot him during a battle. He is commemorated in Kilraughts Presbyterian Church.

The sergeant who commanded a battalion

Sergeant John Brangam M.M.
9th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers K.I.A. 29 March 1918 No known grave

Ballymoney born Sergeant John Brangam was decorated with the Military Medal for his bravery on 20 November 1917 during the Battle of Cambrai. His battalion had reached the front line trenches with little opposition, but were then halted by intense fire from German machine guns. Sergeant Brangam crept around the right flank of the German line and managed to get close enough to bomb a machine gun post, killing two German soldiers and taking two prisoners. This action allowed his company to advance and take the German line. On the third day of the battle the Germans launched a strong counter-attack. As all the other officers in the 9th Battalion were casualties, Sergeant Brangam assumed the command and forced back the German offensive. Sergeant John Brangam was killed in action on 29 March 1918. He has no known grave, but is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial.

The ‘Last Ditcher’

Private Archibald Nicholl
1st Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers K.I.A. 22 December 1915

According to military records, the evacuation of the 1st Dublin Fusiliers took place on 20 December 1915, two days before Private Archie Nicholl was killed. One report states: “Sunday, 19 December 1915 Gallipoli The firing line of trenches from Karakol Dagh, north of Suvla to Lone Pine Plateau, South of Anzac Cove, was held by picked Riflemen, one every seven yards. These were known as the ‘Last Ditchers’. Their job was to hold off the enemy until the evacuation was complete.” Private Archie Nicholl survived for two days after the withdrawal, ensuring his fellow soldier’s safe evacuation. He is commemorated in Mosside Presbyterian Church, and is interred in Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery.

A final sacrifice to save their friends

Private Patrick McKee
L/Corporal John Laverty

7th/8th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers
Both K.I.A. 20 November 1917 No known graves

The actions which lead to Newbuildings man Private Patrick McKee and his Ballymoney comrade Lance Corporal John Laverty being decorated are unrecorded. What is known, is that over a two week period in August 1917, Private McKee and Lance Corporal Laverty acted with such heroism that they were both awarded the Military Medal shortly afterwards. In November that year, McKee and Laverty held off a German attack with a heavy machine gun, while their fellow servicemen withdrew. Both men manned the gun to their deaths. They have no known grave and are commemorated on the Arras Memorial, France.

The call to duty

Lance Corporal Hugh Crawford M.M.
No.1 Squadron, Machine Gun Corps K.I.A. 4 April 1918

According to his sister, Mary Crawford, Hugh found "sitting on an office stool...training to be a solicitor’s clerk far too frustrating". He left Ballybrakes and enlisted in Scotland, but was killed in April 1918. His parents received his Military Medal in September that year, however, why he was decorated has never been discovered by his family . However, in a letter to his parents his Commander said of Hugh `he died a gallant soldier and men of his character can ill be spared’.

Private William Hanna
1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers D.O.W. 3 October 1918 No known grave

Private Hanna, like many young men at the time, wanted to fight for his country and see the world. Unfortunately he was too young, and he therefore lied about his age when he enlisted. When his mother found out she contacted the army and brought him home. But William was determined, and the next morning when his mother went to wake him he was gone again! He eventually enlisted in Hamilton, Scotland, and transferred to the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers. His battalion was involved in many conflicts - the Somme in 1916, a year in Messines in 1917, a winter of snow in the open trenches at Cambrai. By late September 1918 Private Hanna’s Battalion were involved in fierce fighting, again in the Messines area. It was here that he was seriously injured and died of his wounds on 3 October 1918. Private Hanna has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium.

Private Daniel Patrick Nevin
1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers K.I.A. 22 March 1918 No Known Grave

Aged fifteen, Private Daniel Nevin enlisted at the outbreak of war, giving a false age. He survived many horrific battles and was wounded at the Somme on 1st July 1916. In March 1918 he was reported missing, believed killed, when his platoon’s position at the village of Hamel was obliterated during a pre-assault bombardment and subsequently overwhelmed. Surprisingly, his father served in the same unit throughout the war , but survived. He was not with the battalion during the fateful attack as he was suffering from the results of gas and shell shock. He was discharged that November, and returned alone to Ballymoney and his family.

Victims of the snipers

Sergeant Robert Ramsey
12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles K.I.A. 23 August 1916.

Sergeant Robert Ramsey regularly wrote home and these letters have helped to tell many personal stories of his time in the army. In one letter he writes of when he was promoted to Lance Corporal. His fellow officers warned him not to associate as closely as before with his non-ranking friends, however Robert replied that they had always been his pals and nothing was going to change that, not even stripes. Robert lived with the constant news that people he knew had been killed. In his letters he writes of the death of his friend, Joseph Watson of Rasharkin, at Le Touret and also of Robert John Coleman who lived close to the Ramsey’s home. Robert John Coleman was killed on 1 July 1916 along with 16 other men from the 12th Battalion. After the 1 July, where once Sergeant Ramsey had been amongst a crowd of friends from the Culmore district, now he was one of only three. A few days later, the 12th Battalion was moved to the Messines area of Belgium, and it was here on the evening of 22nd August 1916, that Sergeant Ramsey, then 21 years old, wrote his last letter home. The next morning at 10. 30am he was killed, shot in the head by a sniper. He had just fired five rounds and inadvertently stood up straight to re-load his rifle. He is buried at Ration Farm Cemetery, near where he died.

Rifleman Hugh Rock
11th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles K.I.A. 8 June 1917

War time often meant that women took jobs that they had previously been considered unsuitable for. Rifleman Rock was the postman at Cloughmills, and on enlisting, his sister agreed to take over his round until his expected return. In those days delivering the mail was done on foot, in all weathers, without even a bicycle - a tough job for a young girl. Probably because his job had kept him fit, Rifleman Rock was often given the duty of being a ‘runner’. These men had to hand-deliver dispatches from trench to trench when other forms of communication failed. It was an extremely dangerous and hazardous task, and he was constantly under the threat of snipers and enemy fire. In early June 1917 Rifleman Rock was given permission to take leave. A week before he was expected home, word reached his family that Hugh had been shot while delivering dispatches. He is buried at the Spanbroekmolen British Cemetery, Belgium.

Ulster Division and Irish Brigade, fighting side by side

Private Samuel Meeke
2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers Died at home, Dervock 19 January 1919

Samuel Meeke was captured on 21 March 1918 and sent to the notorious prison camp at Langensalza. At the camp he was forced to work in the sulphur mines, and was often badly treated. On his release after the Armistice, his health was so poor that he died a fortnight after arriving home. He is buried in Derrykeighan Old Graveyard. Samuel also had a brother, John, who was awarded the Military Medal. At the Battle of Messines in June 1917, the Irish Brigade was on the left of the Ulster Division. Private John Meeke was a stretcher bearer, and during one particular attack the intensity of the British shelling meant that at times it was impossible to see more than a few yards. In the confusion, Private Meeke noticed Major Willie Redmond of the Irish Brigade being wounded. Willie Redmond was a politician with strong Irish Republican views, and Meeke was a member of the original Ulster Volunteer Force. Back home in Ireland this would probably have left them less than friends, however, on the battlefield loyalties were different. Using the shell craters as shelter, John Meeke ran across the battlefield towards the injured officer. As he treated Major Redmond, Private Meeke was also wounded by shrapnel, but he carried on, making sure the Major was taken back to the dressing station when the battle calmed. Disobeying orders, Private Meeke then continued tending to the other wounded until he was forced to stop and go to the dressing station himself. Unfortunately, Major Redmond died of his wounds, but John Meeke survived the war, although he died quite young in December 1923, aged 28.

Courage and leadership rewarded with the Military Cross

Captain James Harte M.C.
West Riding Regiment K.I.A. 1 November 1918

Captain James Harte, a Finvoy man serving with the West Riding Regiment, was awarded the Military Cross for his heroic action at Bailleul on 13 April 1918. Captain Harte was in command of a company of soldiers advancing behind the front line. As troops in the front line and on both sides of his company gave way, he and his men held position. The company inflicted heavy losses on the German lines, fighting courageously in close combat with rifles and Lewis guns. At nightfall, when the company withdrew, it was only the Captain’s gifted leadership which brought his men back, without being cut off by enemy forces. On withdrawing, Captain Harte carried a wounded officer from the forward positions, saving him from being captured. Captain Harte was killed in action, aged 26, on 1 November 1918, only days before the Armistice.