Greg Denieffe writes:
Newry is a small town in County Down, Northern Ireland, five miles from the border, which was established on 6 December 1922 as a consequence of the Anglo Irish Treaty, signed exactly a year earlier which ended the Irish War of Independence.
According to the late Walter Mitchell, who died earlier this year, aged 96, Newry Rowing Club was formed in 1873, but they did not take Irish rowing by storm. In his book Belfast Rowing Club 1880-1982 (1994), Walter writes about Newry’s formative years: ‘Between 1873 and 1890 – to view the matter in the specified context – its progress was not remarkable.’ However, after 1890 it made substantial progress, so much in fact, that by 1902 it raced in the International Cup in Cork, finishing second to Berlin Ruder Club, but ahead of Magdalen College, Oxford. The following year they beat Thames Rowing Club in a heat of the Thames Cup at Henley before losing to Trinity College, Dublin. On home waters, they were successful at all the northern regattas and at Dublin Metropolitan Regatta (DMR) with their most prominent results being the victories by G. T. Allen in the Eblana Challenge Cup in 1912 and 1913. Allen raced unsuccessfully in the Diamonds at Henley in 1913 and 1914.
For most Irish clubs, but especially for provincial clubs, The Great War put an end to rowing for four years. Newry RC was a case in point. Their minute book records a ‘Roll of Honour’ of 39 men who had joined the ranks by 26 May 1915 and of these men, five are recorded as having died on active service: four in France and one in Egypt [sic]. Conscription came into force on 2 March 1916 (it did not extend to Ireland) and therefore it appears that most, if not all, members of Newry RC eligible to enlist had done so within ten months of the outbreak of war and before conscription came into force for those on the other side of the Irish Sea.
Newry was one of those towns that chose not to put individual names on their local war memorial as explained by Colin Moffet in his book Newry’s War Dead: “It was decided not to inscribe the names of those who had been killed or served in the war because of the cost involved and the embarrassment, if after the names were engraved, it was found that someone had been overlooked.”
The first member of Newry RC to be killed in the Great War for Civilization was probably Samuel Scott. I write ‘probably’ because there is one man, James Kiss, who the club’s minutes say was killed in France but no date is given for his death and I have been unable to trace any record of him. The photographs of a couple of the other men killed are rather poor but I have included them to give as complete a report as possible.
Samuel Scott was a native of the Mourne district of County Down and worked for Messrs Joseph Fisher & Sons, shipbrokers and coal importers, Newry. He was a member of the local U.V.F. (Ulster Volunteer Force) where he was in charge of the Newry motor cycle section. It was this interest in motorbikes that led him to join the Royal Engineers (Ulster Division) on the commencement of hostilities.
At the beginning of January 1916, Scott, age 36, was involved in a collision with a motor lorry while he was engaged in motor cycling duty at the front. He failed to recover from his injuries and died several weeks later but not before he was visited in France by his elder brother. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church and whilst resident in Newry, he was attached to the First Newry (Sandy Street) congregation.
Following the 1919 Annual General Meeting of Newry RC, held on the 29 April, a comprehensive report of proceedings was printed in the local newspaper. Surprisingly, only a single paragraph, in which two of their members killed get a mention, was included. The following is what was reported about Scott: ‘Our late Treasurer, Mr. Samuel Scott, died in France. For many years he rowed in our crews, he held office for a long period, and his name will be long remembered in connection with the Club.’
Walsh Crozier was in the three seat of the Newry eight that raced in the International Cup in Cork in 1902 and in the seven seat of the Thames Cup crew the following year. In both programmes he is named as ‘W. Crozier’ and in the Newry RC minute book he is called ‘Walsh Crozier’. His military records list him as Captain T. A. (Thomas Alexander) Crozier, Queen’s (Royal West Surry) Regiment and record that he was killed in action in France on the 23 March 1918, aged 35. His obituary in the Newry Recorder includes the following paragraph:
The gallant young officer was born in Banbridge, and was educated in Ireland. He was for many years an assistant in Foster’s Ltd., Newry. He took great interest in Sport, and was a member of Newry Rowing Club, being one of the crew (eight) which rowed against the Germans at the Cork International Regatta, in 1902, while the following year he was also a member of the crew rowing at Henley against Thames and Dublin University.
During his stay with the club he was a most popular and successful oarsman. On coming to London he joined the Vesta Rowing Club and took part in many contests, winning numerous valuable prizes.
The newspaper gives details of his career in the army and of how he won the Military Cross in Italy in 1917. On 23 March 1918, he was shot through the left lung and died before the stretcher bearers could get him to a doctor. The obituary reports: ‘They found a little hollow in the ground and put him in, and used an old spade they found to cover him.’
His body was later retrieved and buried in Bancourt British Cemetery. Bancourt was occupied by Commonwealth forces in March 1917. It was lost a year later during the German offensive in the spring of 1918, but recaptured by the New Zealand Division on 30 August 1918. The Commonwealth War Graves records make sad reading. Initially his body could not be identified and they recorded him as “UNKNOWN 2/Lt. Mc & Mons ribbons 1 red and 2 blue chevrons [sic]” and “Queens R.W. Surrey Regt. on buttons”. After six months in the ground in an unmarked grave he was exhumed and reburied. Presumably, because of his rank, MC and buttons, he was later identified and the typed CWGC records amended in manuscript to read “Lieutenant T. A. Crozier MC.”
At some point, Walsh and his parents (his father was also Thomas Alexander and his mother, Marian) moved to London and took up residence at 45, Glebe Road, Barnes, and as reported in his obituary, ‘Walsh’ joined Vesta Rowing Club. At Vesta he was known as Thomas and features on their WWI memorial. Previous to the outbreak of war he joined the London Scottish (T.R.), and almost immediately on the proclamation of hostilities he volunteered and was sent to France in September 1916. You will also find his name on the Banbridge War Memorial.
The newspaper report of the Newry R. C. 1919 AGM mentioned above continued:
Mr. Walsh Crozier, who had seen service in France and Italy, was killed in action. He was an active member for a number of years and a prominent oarsman in our senior crew, having rowed for us at Cork International Regatta in 1902, against the Germans and Magdalen College, Oxford, also at Henley the following year. Later he was a member of our Premier Four, which won all their races for the season 1906, he was always a favourite amongst his brother oarsmen, both with us and other clubs, and his memory shall always be revered.
Thomas Sprott was born on 8 June 1888 in Portadown where he lived at least until 1905. According to RAMC records, Sprott attended Old Scholar Friends’ School, Lisburn, (a Quaker school) entering on 14 January 1901. His work and conduct were recorded as generally ‘very satisfactory’ although he appears to have struggled at some subjects. He left school on 21 July 1905 and moved to Newry sometime before June 1907. Initially, I could not read his hand written name in the minutes of Newry RC (it looked like Spratt) but Nigel Henderson, Great War Researcher from Belfast suggested ‘Sprott’ and I found him mentioned in the minutes of a committee meeting of the rowing club dated 28 June 1907: ‘It was decided to write to T. Sprott who was reported for a breach of Rule 21 by the Vice-Captain, saying that the committee regretted what had occurred & thought that the matter might now be allowed to drop.’ One can only wonder what ‘Rule 21’ forbade.
Whilst living in Newry, Sprott entered the communion of the Presbyterian Church and after his death, aged 30, from pneumonia on 11 October 1918, a report appeared in the Portadown News which quotes from an address by the Rev W. G. Strahan preaching in the First Portadown Presbyterian Church, the following is a short extract from the address:
I knew him intimately a number of years ago. He was living in Newry and a member of my congregation. It was through a communicant’s class conducted by me he entered the communion of the Church. I then formed a very high opinion of him, and felt assured that there was before him a life of great promise and thorough Christian fidelity. When war broke out he gave up a good position in order to join the army, and was in Palestine serving his country by ministering to those stricken with wounds and sickness among our fighting men. He did so because it was his duty.
John Knox was from the small hamlet of Tierkelly, Rathfriland, Co, Down and was a member of the Union Masonic Lodge, Newry, having being proposed for membership in August 1907.
He originally enlisted as a private in the North Irish Horse before being transferred to the 1st Bt. Royal Irish Rifles. He was awarded a Military Cross in February 1918 and a bar was added the following November with the following citation:
T./2nd LT. John Knox, M.C., R. Irish RIF. For conspicuous gallantry during an attack. Having reached his final objective, he found the platoon on his right held up. He at once led an attack on the point, and captured it, taking a machine gun and six prisoners. Then he worked along fences, clearing out three enemy posts, and established touch with the division on the right. He handled his platoon with the greatest skill, and showed fine courage and coolness under difficult conditions.
On the 23 October 1918, less than three weeks before the ending of hostilities, Knox died of wounds he had received several days earlier; he was 28 years of age and was buried at Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, Pas de Calais, France. Engraved on his headstone are the following words: “GONE FROM A WORLD OF SIN AND STRIFE, GONE TO A NEW AND BETTER LIFE”. His death is recorded in the Newry RC minute book as “Killed in France 1918” without further comment.
The great certainty of war is death and so it proved for Newry Rowing Club. The average age of Scott, Crozier, Sprott and Knox was 32, quite high compared to average of 22 for the fatalities from Carrickfergus A. R. C.
A few other snippets of Newry RC history may be of interest to HTBS readers. The club’s colours were black with a gold/yellow star. They survived the First World War but not the Second, the club was registered with the IARU for the 1939 season but their name does not appear the on list of registered clubs for 1940. Their minute books from 1907 to 1935 can be read here.
The following two photographs are curtsey of Irish Rowing Archives; I can’t help playing at Poirot.
Finally, a rare video featuring women’s rowing in Ireland from the 1920s pits two Newry crews together in a race at Islandbridge, Dublin.
Newry A. & B. teams fight out the final of the Ladies’ Outrigger Race at the 1926 Dublin Metropolitan Regatta. They launch at the same slip as the eight pictured above.