Today Remembrance Day is celebrated in several countries (in USA called Veterans Day). HTBS’s Greg Denieffe writes about some Irish oarsmen who fell in the Great War. Greg writes:
On the 22 June 2012, Carrickfergus Sailing Club was badly damaged by fire. By chance, I saw the BBC news report on the fire and knowing that the club was once active in Irish rowing, I paid it some heed. I spotted in the video accompanying the report a very sad sight – the First World War Memorial to the members of the then named ‘Carrickfergus Amateur Rowing Club’ (CARC) lying in a pile of rubbish. I tracked down the report and the video and resolved to find out what became of it and if possible a little about the seven members that it commemorates. You can read the BBC report and watch their video here.
I contacted Nigel Thompson of Carrickfergus Sailing Club about the memorial and was relieved to receive the following reply:
I can confirm I have had temporary custody of the plaque since the fire with the intention of restoring it to its former glory. We were lucky that such an important piece of the Club’s history was saved and it will be placed back into the new clubhouse in a place of prominence as is fitting.
It is constructed of etched brass with enamel inlay and mounted on an oak plaque. Unfortunately the enamel is destroyed but I’m hopeful that can be repaired. The oak plaque just needs a rub down and re-varnishing, they don’t make them like that anymore!
The following is a short history of the club (adopted from the club’s website) whilst it participated in competitive rowing:
Carrickfergus Amateur Rowing Club was founded in 1866 by Charles H. Crawford. By early 1867 membership had reached thirty and a four-oared racing gig had been delivered by Matt Taylor, boat builder of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, at a cost of £35. Crews from Carrickfergus competed with great enthusiasm in many northern Irish regattas, achieving their first win at a local event in 1870.
Prior to the completion, in 1874, of the first clubhouse, boats were stored in premises belonging to the Antrim Artillery, on the site of the present Town Hall, and carried across the rough shingle beach for launching. This clubhouse, a wooden structure supported on piles, was erected behind the East Pier with the consent of the Carrickfergus Harbour Commissioners. Work was supervised by Paul Rodgers of the shipyard, at that time a member of the Club, and cost approximately £150. The building was replaced in 1888 and again in 1902 following storm damage.
Until the establishment in 1891 of the Carrickfergus Sailing Club, the Rowing Club’s Annual Regatta included sailing and swimming events as well as rowing. Judging by the secretary’s remarks in his Annual Report the introduction, on the occasion of the coronation in 1911, of ladies rowing races was not universally welcomed and it was not until 1921 that ladies were admitted to the club as members. Tennis was then introduced, and in 1922 the rowing and sailing clubs amalgamated. The club, then known as “Carrickfergus Amateur Rowing Club incorporating Carrickfergus Sailing Club”, continued to promote rowing, sailing, swimming and tennis. Membership, however, continued to decline and it was not until 1934 that the annual regatta was again held.
The year 1934 also saw the launching of a new clinker-four named ‘Fairey II’. Crews from Carrickfergus continued to enjoy considerable success at regattas until the early 1950s when competitive rowing ceased. The last clinker-four to be purchased arrived in 1950, named ‘Castle Dobbs’, and was little used and remains in the club’s possession to this day.
You can read about CARC’s exploits in The Mulholland Cup, a previous HTBS post where you can see photographs of two medals (dated 1873 and 1876) bearing the club’s crest.
I have used various sources to gather information about the men named on the plaque. The credit for the information below belongs to those involved in the original research.
In 1972, a new memorial was erected in Carrickfergus. It commemorates the men and women of Borough who were killed or went missing in the Great War and the Second World War. The list of names on the memorial includes those originally listed in The Carrickfergus Advertiser in 1921, with the footnote: ‘The above list is as read, but does not claim to be strictly accurate’.
It, in turn, had taken the information from the records held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
In addition, several of the names appear on other memorials which will be listed at the end of each entry. The Carrickfergus Roll of Honour deserves the greatest credit as the primary source of information on many of the entries.
William Graham Boyd was born on 8 March 1896, the son of the Rev. R. H. Boyd and Sarah Louisa Boyd of Fitzroy, Carrickfergus, and brother of Lt T. W. Boyd. He joined the 17th (Reserve) Royal Irish Rifles on 6 April 1915, subsequently being commissioned into the Royal Irish Fusiliers on 23 August 1915. Both he and his brother joined the 9th Battalion in April 1916, William serving with C Company. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 23 February 1917.
William’s poem, “Ode to a Wet Night in Camp”, was printed in the June 1915 edition of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution School News:
Drip! Drip! Drip! And a ceaseless patter of rain
And I would I dared to write my thoughts but I think I’d better refrain.
For through the holes just over my head, comes the rain in a steady pour
And my blankets are soaking up the floods that are streaming over the floor.
Oh, well for the tent-maker now that his home is nowhere near
For it’s oh for a grip on the back of his neck, and a few soft words in his ear.
The rain comes steadily down, and it’s dark, and I cannot see
But the well-starched stiffness that once was mine will never come back to me.
William was killed by shellfire on 16 August 1917, at the age of 21, when leading his platoon into battle at the Battle of Langemarck (3rd Ypres). In all, the battalion suffered 456 casualties that day.
Corporal O’Neill of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers wrote: ‘Lt Boyd’s platoon was immediately on my right during the advance at a strong point known as “Gallipoli”. I regret to state that a shell burst just above our heads and several of us were wounded. I went to where I saw Lt Boyd laying and found that he was mortally wounded and he died soon after. I certify that the above is a true statement of how this splendid officer died at the head of his platoon.’
In the months following William’s death, his mother wrote a number of letters regarding the fate of her son. As no body had been found, she wondered whether it was possible he had survived, perhaps being taken prisoner by the Germans. After the receipt of Corporal O’Neill’s letter above, she wrote:
‘I thank you for your letter and enclosure from Corp O’Neill in regards to the fate of my dear son. I wonder did Corp O’Neill see him dead or does he only think he died soon after he saw him. I have had several letters from soldiers who say they saw him badly wounded and think he died, but none saw him dead. The strange part is where is his body, as the British took back again 3 days after where his body was lying and the Red Cross say if the Germans buried him they would send word to the Red Cross Office. It is queer no trace can be found and the director of graves cannot locate his grave. One man wrote that he saw him wounded when they were going forward at 5 o’clock and coming back at 8.30 he saw him again and he was still living so between all reports I do not know what to believe.’
William’s body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial (Panel 140 to 141), Flanders, Belgium.
John Carton Clarke was born on 2 February 1897, the son of William Thomas and Genna G. M. Clarke. In 1911, the family address was recorded as house 4.1, Castlerock Town, Downhill, Co. Derry. On ‘Ulster Day’, Saturday, 28 September 1912, Clarke signed the Ulster Covenant at Articlave Orange Hall. In October 1914, Clarke joined the Northern Bank at Carrickfergus and took up residence in the town. In July 1916, Clarke volunteered and was enlisted into the 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, City of London Regiment. This regiment was in the 18th (Eastern) Division involved in the attacks in October 1916 on the stubbornly defended and vital position of and around the Schwaben Redoubt. On 7 October, there was a determined counter-attack by the Germans to recapture the Redoubt. It appears that Private Clarke was killed during this assault. His body was never recovered and he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.
Clarke is also commemorated on the Carrickfergus Borough memorial, details and photograph taken from the Carrickfergus Roll of Honour blog.
Charles Legg, from Bayview, Carrickfergus, County Antrim, attended Queen’s University Belfast after Royal Belfast Academical Institute, from where he graduated with a BSc in 1914. He was also a member of the Officer Training Corps at the university. During university holidays he had been working for Hollywood District Council as an assistant engineer. He was 22 years old when he enlisted in June 1915 and was commissioned to the Royal Engineers in January 1917. Charles suffered a serious injury while riding. In a statement, Lt Tate of the Royal Engineers said: ‘2nd Lt Legg and I were riding from the Company Camp to the CRE’s office at Bavinchove on duty and when crossing a field, Lt Legg’s horse bolted with him and he was thrown against a tree. Captain Lavington R.A.M.C. and his orderly were riding with me at the time and attended to Lt Legg after the accident until the arrival of the ambulance which was immediately sent for. The doctors did all they could but he died from a fracture of the ribs on the right side with internal injuries accompanied by severe shock’. He died on 15 September 1918, aged c. 25, and is buried in Arneke British Cemetery (ref VII A 17), Nord, France.
Legg is also commemorated on the Carrickfergus Borough and Queen’s University, Belfast, Memorials. All details and the photographs from a blog by Moonshiner Extraordinaire.
Of the seven names on the CARC Memorial, I found five in the online records of the CWGC; the two unidentified being James F. Morgan and Fred Williams. However, Morgan is named on the Memorial in St Nicholas Church of Ireland in Carrickfergus. Fred Williams remains a mystery.
Private Edwin Millilken Patton of the 10th Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was killed in action 4 October 1917, aged 23. He body was never recovered and he is remembered at the Tynecot Memorial. Prior to the war Patton was living in Carrickfergus. He was the son of Mrs A. F. and Mr Samuel Patton of 34 Lendrick Street, Newtownards Road, Belfast.
On 5 October 2014, he was remembered on the Carrickfergus Roll of Honour Facebook page where an interesting comment by Valerie Kerr confirmed that according to the 1911 census Edwin was born on 7 March 1894 and at the time of the census he was 17 years old and working as an apprentice at Belfast City Linen. He was the eldest of four children.
William Henry Young (Henry Young on the CARC memorial) was the only son of William and Elizabeth Young of High Street, Carrickfergus. He was a native of Cork, Ireland. William’s father was the local Head Constable with the Royal Irish Constabulary. Prior to the war, William had trained as a chemist, hence his decision to join the Royal Army Medical Corp. He enlisted in Carrickfergus in 1915 and as a Lieutenant saw service with the 28th General Hospital R.A.M.C. and died of dysentery on 13 July 1916, aged 24. The following details appeared in the August 1916 edition of the local paper: ‘He had been in Salonica for several months and a fortnight ago intimation was received by his parents that he was dangerously ill with dysentery, a dreaded disease which has caused much mortality among our troops in that part of the war area. Mr Young was unable to withstand its ravages and on Wednesday his relatives received the sad news of his demise’.
Young is buried in the Salonika Anglo French Military Cemetery (Lambret Road), Greece. The CWGC records record that his family chose to have a private inscription on his headstone – 43 letters long at a cost of 12/6. It read:
LOVINGLY REMEMBERED BY
ALL AT HOME
GOD’S WILL BE DONE
The poem “On the Rowing Clubhouse Wall” by Kevin Pyne was published on the ‘Rowperfect’ website in November 2011 with the following introduction: ‘His lyrical and ironic poem touches on the transience of life, marked by a Senior B men’s rowing crew who never made it through WW1.’
When they died, the average age of Boyd, Clark, Legg, Patton and Young was approximately 22. There is no reason to suspect that Morgan or Williams were much older. Today on HTBS, we remember seven young men, seven rowers, seven representatives for all the rowing and boat clubs that lost their youth in ‘The war to end war’.