BALLYMENA 1914-1918

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TWO BROTHERS FROM BALLYMENA: THE SEARCH FOR RICHARD RAE AND JAMES HOY RAE

Richard and James Hoy were sons of James and Sarah Rae/Rea (nee Dunseath) who were married on 12 May 1865. The family of at least ten children were generally recorded with the surname of Rea and had, at various times, lived in the townlands of Rathkenny, Lisnamurrican, Knockboy and Kenbally before moving into Ballymena.

Richard was born in Knockboy on 29th February 1880 and James in Kenbally on 21st April 1886. By 1901 the family were living at 9 Greenvale Street in Ballymena and moved a half mile to 12 Waveney Avenue where their father James died in 1910. Their mother Sarah appears to have spent her later years living with her daughter Agnes Leetch in nearby 60 Galgorm Street. Between 1904 & 1908 Richard is recorded as living in Greenvale Street and working as a pork cutter for Messrs William McConnell & Sons (Provision Curers and Lard Refiners) in Hill Street, Ballymena. In 1906, James is also recorded as being employed as a pork cutter so he could possibly have been employed by the same company.

Both sons could read and write and are recorded as being Presbyterians. Their father was an illiterate labourer but their mother was able to read. Both are recorded as adherents of the Brethren of Christ.

Both boys moved to Kirkcaldy in Scotland around 1909 to find employment as coal miners. About this time they changed the spelling of their surname to the more common Scottish form of Rae. They lived with their wives and children in adjacent parallel streets in the district of Sinclairtown and were probably employed at the nearby Dunnikeir colliery.

At the outbreak of war, they both immediately enlisted in the 12th Battallion of the Royal Scots which was raised in Edinburgh in August 1914. The battalion became part of the 27th Brigade, 9th (Scottish) Division stationed in the Bordon area near Aldershot. They landed in France at Boulogne 11th May 1915. Four months later on 28th September 1915, younger brother James (aged 29) was killed at the Battle of Loos. Richard (aged 36) was killed in action on 15 July 1916 the day after the 12th Battalion Royal Scots launched an attack at Longueval during the Battle of the Somme. The 12th Battalion suffered very heavy casualties in this engagement.


Battle of Loos, 25th September, 1915. Captured German trench showing wrecked concrete machine gun emplacement, near Loos, 30th September, 1915.

Photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum - © IWM (Q 28981)

The Battle of Loos, September – October 1915, was part of a French and British Offensive in Champagne and Artois, and the British First Army role being to attack a ten-kilometre front between Loos and La Bassée.  This allotted British area was difficult ground for an offensive, the terrain being flat and open, except for coal slag heaps dotted across the plain. Moreover, the British attack was also short of supporting artillery, the troops then being reliant on the effective use of poison gas.

On the 25 September 1915 six divisions attacked in the wake of a four-day artillery bombardment. British gas actually hindered the attack in the north along the La Bassée Canal, and these troops were repulsed with heavy casualties. The 9th (Scottish) Division in the centre of the attack, of which the 12th Royal Scots were a part, managed to seize the fearsome Hohenzollern Redoubt and the crucial observation point of Fosse 8. The 7th and 1st Divisions hurled themselves towards the Lens-La Bassée Road, some units reaching Hulluch. In the south, the successful gas use allowed the 47th (London) Division reach the Double Crassier, important slag heaps. Elsewhere the 15th (Scottish) Division took Loos itself and pressed on to the stronghold of Hill 70.

Reserves were by nightfall urgently needed, but by the time the 21st and 24th Divisions sent to the area were already exhausted by a long march. They suffered heavy casualties and were thrown back, until the arrival of the Guards Division allowed stability to be gained. Fosse 8 and the Hohenzollern Redoubt were, however, lost, and an attempt to retake them on 13 October ended in failure.

The battle resulted in 16,000 dead and over 50,000 casualties. 15973 Private James Hoy Rae, 12th Royal Scots (Lothian Regt), killed on the 28th September 1915, was one of them.

The ruined village of Longueval, September 1916.
Courtesy of Imperial War Museum - © IWM (Q 1225)
12th Battalion, Royal Scots at Longueval, Somme - Richard Rae’s 12th Battalion, Royal Scots (Lothian Regt) was a key player in the attempt to take the village of Longueval on the Somme in July at the start of the second phase of that battle.

Longueval and nearby Delville Wood were found on the summit of the plateau and were strategic positions. Drive the Germans, who fully understood the importance of their positions, out of their defences and the prospects for continued Allied advance were good.

The attack began on 14 July. The 11th Battalion, Royal Scots, together with the 9th Scottish Rifles (Cameronians), were to overrun the trenches that lay in front of Longueval and, thereafter, the 11th and 12th Royal Scots Battalions were to seize the village itself. The operation began with a night approach which moved the attackers to within 300 - 500 yards from the German front line.

Allied artillery opened fire at started at 3.30 am. The 11th Battalion went forward and met unbroken barbed wire; casualties were initially heavy. Once the first trench had been secured, however, the Battalion took the remaining German trenches ahead of the village, its initial objective, within an hour. The 12th Battalion, coming forward in support of the 11th, had regrettably also sustained heavy casualties when both battalions had been initially slowed by the unbroken wire.

At 4.15 am the bombardment of the village ended and both Battalions continued their advance. The 11th, on the left, was able to reach the western edge of the village and it dug in to await the 12th coming up on its right. The 12th met hard opposition but, despite losing 50% of its strength, it had by 7 am occupied a shallow trench near the centre of the village. The 12th were subsequently to make three further attempts that day to capture the village. Success evaded them and what was left of the Battalion consolidated its position. Next day, the 15th July and the day Richard Rae died, they made two further attacks. Small gains that were made were soon lost. However, a German counter-attack was broken up.

On the 16th of July the 11th Battalion attempted to secure the village, but after six-and-a-half hours close quarter fighting and many casualties, they were no more successful than the 12th. They mounted a final assault on the village at 2 am on 17 July but in confused fighting they gained little and were forced to retire.
After many years of searching for the grave of my grandfather James Rae, my husband discovered BALLYMENA AND THE GREAT WAR - an excellent website which provided a vast amount of information including the following entries:-

RAE, Richard, 15910, Private, 12th Royal Scots (Lothian Regt), was KIA on the 15th or 18th July 1916. He was the son of James and Sarah Rae, 12 Waveney Avenue, Ballymena. His wife resided in Newtownards. He is buried in Quarry Cemetery, Montauban, Somme.

RAE, James Hoy, 15973, Private, 12th Royal Scots (Lothian Regt), was KIA on the 28th September 1915. He was aged 29 and the son of James and Sarah, 12 Waveney Avenue, Ballymena. His wife Agnes Logan Rae lived at 148, Institution Street, Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland. He is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

I also learned for the first time of Richard Rae and had not been aware of my grandfather James’s middle name. I was also unaware of the variations in the spelling of their surnames.

Richard, who died aged 36, was survived by his wife Pearl (nee Adair), daughter Sarah Dunseath (aged 12) and his sons David (aged 10) and James (aged 7). The family had been living at  90 Sutherland Street, Kirkcaldy until 1914 but by 1925 Pearl and the children had moved 600 yards to 15 Haig Road, where Pearl died in 1961. Daughter Sarah lived to age 89, but son David, aged 19, was found drowned on a nearby beach. Son James must have left the area as no record can be found.

James was survived by his wife Agnes (nee Logan) and his daughters Sarah Dunseath (aged 3) and Mary Jane (aged 1) who continued to live at 148 Institution Street, Kirkcaldy where Agnes, aged 50, died in 1932. Both daughters were teenagers when their mother died and both lived into their 90s.

Sarah married William Todd and had one daughter named Eileen. Mary married Robert Whyte and had two sons named John and Robert and one daughter named Myra. Between them, these four grandchildren produced ten great grandchildren. Sadly, John and Myra are no longer with us.

Presented by Eileen A Smith (granddaughter of James Rae) with research provided by my husband Stewart, my cousin Robert Whyte and John Hoy of the Ballymena and the Great War website.
November 2017