BALLYMENA 1914-1918

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Bits & Pieces

ROBINSON, Lieutenant James was born on the 27th March 1895, the son of farmer Joseph Robinson and his wife Agnes Gordon of Rathkeel (sic Rokeel), Broughshane. The couple had married in 1st Ballymena Presbyterian Church on the 9th January 1894. Joseph’s father was William John Robinson, his mother probably Eliza Ann Strange. James Gordon, Craigywarren was the father of Agnes.
The family of Joseph and Agnes Robinson appear in the census returns of 1901 and 1911. The couple, 40 and 37 years old respectively, listed James (27th March 1895),  William John (19th Feb 1897), Andrew (31st Dec 1899) and Lizzie (Lizzie Jane, 8th May 1902) in 1911. Stewart Robinson, born 1st December 1915, was also a son.
James was educated in Broughshane and later joined the Canadian Bank of Commerce, London Branch, on 14th March 1914, and it was from there that he enlisted in July 1915. He subsequently became a Rifleman James Robinson, 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. He was a fine soldier, serving in battles such as those around Ypres, Cambrai, St Quentin. He became 2nd Lieutenant on 26th April 1917 and Lieutenant on 26th October 1918, and he was to serve at times as the Battalion Signal Officer and Acting Adjutant. 
He was wounded in the groin by shrapnel on the 21st March 1918 on the opening day of the German Spring Offensive and was taken prisoner. The 36th Division had been holding a sector of the British front line and Forward Zone south west of St Quentin when the German onslaught began. Their position defences consisted principally of isolated redoubts. They held these for several hours while under intense bombardment but they were eventually surrounded and cut off, hence Robinson's wounding and capture. The events and the capture of Lt James Robinson were, thanks to a letter, noted in the Ballymena Observer:
The Rev. Andrew Gibson, Chaplain to the Forces, had written the following to friends of 2nd Lieutenant J. G. Robinson of Broughshane:

The Germans launched a great attack on March 21 and it so happened that the part of the line our battalion was holding was in the line of his most determined assault. We could get no information from them (the men in redoubts)  from early in the morning. We know they held up his (Hun) attack for several hours and considerably delayed him.

Rev. Gibson believes that Lieutenant Robinson may have become a prisoner. He is the son of Mr. Joseph Robinson of Rathkeel, Broughshane, and was temporarily holding the post of adjutant.

Ballymena Observer, April 12, 1918.

Robinson, the fighting over since 11th November 1918,  was demobilised on the 17th July 1919 and resumed his career in the bank later the same month.
Lieutenant James Robinson is remembered in the 1st Broughshane Presbyterian Church entry in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland Roll of Honour, 1914-1919. His brother William John Robinson was killed - See Virtual Memorial and Weekly War 1918 for details of the DCM he was awarded.

1820 Sergeant Robert Smyth (or Smythe)

Http:// records another Ballymena man.  He was the son of George Rock Smyth and Elizabeth Smyth.   At the time of the 1901 census the family were living at 11, Cullybackey Road Ballymena; they had moved to 16, Cullybackey Road by  the time of the 1911 census. 

Robert Smyth volunteered and enlisted in 1916 into the 1st Bn. Welsh Guards. His service number was 1820. He would have been 40 at this time. He served in France from 26th September 1916 until April 1919 as a Corporal, Lance Sergeant and then a Sergeant. Following his demobilisation, he applied for an Army Pension and in Section 7 of the application document, he records his employer before joining the army as being the Northern Banking Company Limited, Belfast.

Bonnie Woodgreen

Down by the green bushes of Bonnie Woodgreen

Where me and my true love so oftimes have been

As the days they rolled onward so happy were we 

Ah, but never she thought that a soldier I'd be. 

It was early one morning as the lambs they did play

'Twas off to Kells Barracks, I there made my way 

To enlist in the army and fight for my King

And I bid my farewell to Bonnie Woodgreen. 

Our ship at Larne Harbour sat ready to sail 

And mothers were weeping and sisters looked pale

There was singing and dancing all happy and gay 

Ah, but little they thought of the lads far away.

It was 'way out in Flanders at the back of the line

They were talking of sweethearts they all left behind 

When one Irish soldier says, "I have a queen, 

And she works in John Ross' of Bonnie Woodgreen." 

It was early one morning while facing the foe 

A shot from the enemy this young lad laid low 

He called for his comrades, it was a sad scene,

"Say good-bye to my Nellie and Bonnie Woodgreen." 

So if ever to Ulster you chance for to stray

There's a neat little fact'ry near Ballymacvea 

Where there's weavers and winders all rosy and clean 

And they all wear white aprons in Bonnie Woodgreen. 

(John Ross had a linen weaving factory in Kells, Co Antrim, a few miles south of Ballymena.  Ballymacvea is a local townland.)

Some time ago my attention was drawn to a photograph of a couple and their son. The couple was said to be John Agnew McMillin and his wife Agnes, said to have been born Agnes Blanchard.  Their son, dressed in a Great War infantry uniform, was deemed to be called Samuel (Left). That, and the alleged fact that there was an Ahoghill connection, was then all that was known by me, for I know of no local reference to the family. The original image, which I can no longer find, was labelled ‘American Galleries, 7 Lime Street, Liverpool’, it had been posted by someone local called Jimmy McCaig.
The CWGC casualty website revealed only one soldier called S. McMillin. He was 201537 Rifleman S. McMillin, 1st/5th Bn. The King's (Liverpool) Regiment who died on the 27th June 1918 and who is buried in Lille Southern Cemetery. Sadly, unlike many such entries on the CWGC website, the entry did not name his parents. However, the photographic image’s annotation, ‘7 Lime Street, Liverpool’ and an enlargement of the cap badge, clearly that of The King's (Liverpool) Regiment, suggested this was the man.
1/5th Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment was created in August 1914 at St Anne Street, Liverpool and was part of Liverpool Brigade of the West Lancashire Division. This battalion was used to guard the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, before enjoying a short stay at Ramsgate and then an onward move to Canterbury. On the 22 February 1915 it landed at Le Havre, France and transferred to 6th Brigade, 2nd Division. The 15 December 1915 found the unit transferred to 99th Brigade in same Division, but finally, on the 7 January 1916, it transferred to 165th Brigade, 55th (West Lancashire) Division.
A quick search of the wider Internet followed, and it turned up a lot of information. Agnes McMillin, born Blanchard, 1874 - circa 1948, was said to be the daughter of Richard Blanchard and his wife Alice Cowell, born in 1838 in Ince, Blundeston, Lancashire. Richard was apparently born on 25th February 1838, in Croxteth or West Derby, in Lancashire. Daughter Agnes Blanchard, one of a family of twelve children, had married bricklayer John McMillin (also John Agnew McMillin, also McMillen and McMillan), born in Ahoghill, Ballymena on 28th October 1872, in Liverpool about 1892. They were to have eleven children, among them William (1892-1916), Joseph McMillin and Samuel McMillin.
William appears to be 154724 Pioneer William McMillin, 2nd Bn Special Brigade, Royal Engineers.  He died on the 25th July 1916 and is buried in Y Farm Military Cemetery, Bois-Grenier. Joseph may be 724 Gunner J McMillin, 1st/4th (East Lancs) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. He was killed at Gallipoli on the 25th December 1915 and is buried in Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery.
John McMillin, also known as John Agnew McMillin, McMillen, McMillan, born Ahoghill, Co. Antrim.
Agnes McMillin, nee Agnes Blanchard, born Lancashire, England.
The local registration of John McMillin’s birth shows he was actually born on 28 October 1871, the son of weaver Thomas McMillan (sic) and Ann Jane Agnew of Ahoghill. Ann Jane Agnew, Co. Antrim had married Thomas on the 15th October 1857 in First Portglenone Presbyterian Church. Elements of the family, probably wider elements, seem to be associated with Limnaharry/Ballybeg, Ahoghill, and people of that name still live there.
Thomas McMillen (sic), a 77-year-old retired carpenter who was born in Co. Londonderry, appears on the 1911 census, as does his wife Ann Jane, aged 71.  The couple were living at Garfield Place, Broughshane Street, Ballymena. They said they had been married for 53 years and that they had had eight children, seven of whom were still alive in 1911.
The home at Garfield Place, Ballymena was shared with others, interestingly laundry worker Rose Margaret McCaig, aged 33 and born in England, and her children David (10), Samuel (5), William James (3) and Mary Agnes (1).  The first two were born in England, the last two in Co. Antrim. Rose McMillin, probably John's sister, was apparently married in Liverpool in 1904 to James McCaig, born on the 11th August 1871 at Nilteen Grange, Dunadry, Co. Antrim. He was the son of farmer James McCaig and his wife Margaret Ann Boyle.

Samuel Mawhinney, 11th Royal Irish Rifles, died a POW at Cambrai of wounds received on the Somme

Above: Thomas McMeekin (born Ballymena, enlisted Belfast) killed in action on 9th May, 1915 at the Battle of Aubers Ridge. His entry is included on the 'Virtual Memorial' - the picture was recently forwarded to this site.

Another face for the gallery - the man above is Rifleman Robert Connaughty from Garvaghy, Portglenone. He joined the army as a volunteer in November 1915, being posted to the 18th Btn. Royal Irish Rifles for training before being assigned to the 11th Royal Irish Rifles (South Antrims). He served with 'A' coy. of  that battalion on the first day of the Somme when he was almost buried alive by an exploding shell which killed several of his comrades. His army service records confirm he was amongst the wounded of 1st July and was diagnosed with 'shell shock' on 5th July 1916. He was again wounded in 1918.

Rifleman Robert Connaghty

Rifleman Hugh Connaghty

My thanks to Mr. John Luke of Ballymena who gave me this scan of Mr. W. J. McNiece (sitting), who lived at Queen Street, Ballymena. He is shown in his wartime uniform as a signaller with the 36th (Ulster) Divisional Signals Company (Royal Engineers). He was the recipient of the Belgian Croix De Guerre and after the war became a leading member of the Old Comrades Association. He is mentioned on several occasions on the website 'Weekly War' sections.

James McGall, DCM from Portglenone. Picture kindly passed on by John Burrell, a member of the Great War Forum.

See 'Virtual Memorial' for more details and Weekly War for newspaper items.

Rifleman David Wright 

Rifleman David Wright of Laymore, Ballymena, killed in action at the Battle of Cambrai.

Thanks to Allie Wright for this excellent picture of his ancestor. 

He seems to be 12th Royal Irish Rifles Transport Column - note bandolier and spurs.

Rifleman Samuel Herbison of Ballymoney Street, Ballymena.

He was wounded in action 1st July 1916. 

Thanks to Dr. Herbison for these pictures.

And his brother, John, also of Ballymoney Street

Rifleman John Herbison

Andrew Davison (seated right) of Gracehill, 108th Machine Gun Coy. 36th Ulster Division, killed in action on 1st July 1916. 

Any information about the other two soldiers greatly appreciated.

John Alexander McNiece, Otago Regiment, NZEF, formerly of Duneane, Randalstown, near Ballymena, died of wounds on October 15, 1917.  He was a policeman in New Zealand.

Thanks to the McNiece family in Ballymena for this photograph.

Rifleman Ronald Waterman, was originally from Cullybackey. Waterman, seen here with his sisters, like many young men of the time had moved to Belfast to seek work. He was killed on July 1, 1916 at the Battle of the Somme.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland Roll of Honour, 1914-19 wrongly says he came from Ballywater, Moy, Co Tyrone.  He was from Ballywatermoy, Craigs, Co Antrim.

The family grave that records his name is in Craigs Parish Churchyard.

John Gillen
Army Service  Corps, from Donegal, was the driver of the Ballymena Observer Ambulance.
Private William John Richmond, North Irish Horse

William John (Jack) Richmond came from Killygore, Ballymena, the townland that lies along the Broughshane-Clough Road at the point where it crosses the Ballymena-Glenariff Road. He was born at Pollee, Broughshane on 17 January 1897, son of agricultural labourer Alexander Richmond and his wife Margretta Richmond, nee Ferguson. The couple had married in West Church, Ballymena on the 5 December 1889, both then stating that they came from Rathkenny, the Killygore area. Both parents, William Richmond and John Ferguson, were labourers. They went on to have a second child, David Craig Richmond, on the 14 December 1899, also born at Pollee, Broughshane. His grave in Clough Cemetery reads: 1969 - Richmond - In loving memory of a dear husband and father David Craig died 14th February 1969, Also his wife Margaret died 20th February 1986. Till we meet again.

William John Richmond enlisted in the 12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (No.469), at Belfast on the 28 September 1914 and according to one source claimed to be a 19-year-old carpenter.  The discovery of his real age, which meant he was underage for military service, caused him to be discharged under the terms of King's Regulations. This happened on the 28 October 1914.

Richmond was, however, determined to be a soldier and subsequently enlisted in the North Irish Horse in November 1915 and was later sent to France as reinforcement for the 1st North Irish Horse Regiment. His medal index card at Nation Archives, London records him as Richmond, 1885 William J, North Irish Horse and as 71616 of the Corps of Hussars.  The Ballymena Observer, 19 November 1915 notes his enlistment in its section ‘Ballymena and District Men with the Colours'.

North Irish Horse was initially attached to GHQ until 4 January 1916, and then transferred to 55th (West Lancashire) Division. On 10 May 1916, it was attached to VII Corps, forming along with D and E Squadrons the 1st North Irish Horse. 1 North Irish Horse was transferred to XIX Corps in July 1917, and then to V Corps, September 1917.

In March 1918, it became the 5th (North Irish Horse) Cyclist Battalion and remained so until the end of the war. Almost immediately the regiment became part of the "Great Retreat of 1918" during the initial phase of the German Spring Offensive, but it was part of the later advance, the Hundred Days, and at the Armistice the regiment was located close to Le Cateau, close to where it began its the war.

The "Horse", as it was affectionately known, won an impressive eighteen battle honours. Captain Richard West was awarded the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order and Bar, and Military Cross, a remarkable achievement that itself points to the importance of the unit.
Private Richmond was transferred to the Army Reserve on 2 March 1919.  He died on 18 March 1965.

Joseph (in Royal Irish Rifles uniform) and James McAuley. 

These men are believed to be brothers, perhaps from the Alfred Street area of Ballymena.
Robert McAllen Kinnear, according to the 1911 census return, was born in the United States of America, circa 1893 or 1894; at his enlistment, however, he said he had been born in the Craigs. He was one of two children of farmer James Kinnear and his wife Hessie, nee McAllen. James, a farmer from Teeshan, Galgorm, had married Hessie (Hessy sic) McAllen, born on the 8 December 1868, the daughter of  Robert and Martha McAllen (nee Walker) from Tully, in First Ballymena Presbyterian Church on the 15th April 1891 before emigrating to the USA.

There is a headstone in Connor New Cemetery, dated 1905 and it is stated to have been erected by Hessie Kinnear, Tully, which says as follows: ‘in loving memory of her mother Martha McAllen, died 5th May 1905. Also her father Robert McAllen, died 22nd Sep 1905.’ Whether or not this event is connected to the family’s return to Ireland isn’t known, but we do know that they did return, and the 1911 Census shows James and Hessie living at Kildowney, Glarryford, the Craigs area of County Antrim, with Robert, their other child having died.

Kinnear had enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Ballymena in the pre-war period, and at the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914 the North Irish Horse was at summer camp. The unit, which was designated 'A' Squadron and placed under the command of Major Lord Cole, consisted of 6 officers and 154 other ranks. It was, along with the South Irish Horse, designated 'B' Squadron, assigned to the British Expeditionary Force. Both squadrons sailed from Dublin on the SS Architect on 17 August 1914 and they were the first non-regular troops to land in France and be in action in the First World War. The press cutting states that they were 'acting as a bodyguard to General Sir John French'.

‘A’ Squadron was certainly attached to GHQ until 4 January 1916, and it was then transferred to 55th (West Lancashire) Division. On 10 May 1916, it was attached to VII Corps, forming along with D and E Squadrons the 1st North Irish Horse.

Kinnear saw action during opening phase of the Great War, more precisely, from the retreat from Mons to the advance to the Aisne. On 21 November 1914 the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph reported that:

Corporal Kinnear (Glarryford), who is serving on the North Irish Horse, which is acting as bodyguard to Sir John French, in a letter home to a Ballymena friend, recounts his recent experiences at the front, and some very keen fighting which he has come through.

It was about this time that Kinnear was wounded in the foot, as reported in local press accounts. On 19 December the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph reported:

Corporal Kinnear, North Irish Horse, a native of the Glarryford district ... is home visiting his friends, and was in Ballymena on Wednesday. Corporal Kinnear was wounded, a bullet passing through his foot in one of the engagements of the war, and was in hospital for some time, but he is now almost convalescent....
[His medal index card says Kinnear was always Private Robert Kinnear.]

He was sent to No.14 General Hospital, Boulogne, and onward to England thereafter for treatment.

Phillip Tardif in his book, The North Irish Horse in the Great War, published by Pen & Sword Military, says, ‘Kinnear returned to his squadron in France in February 1915 and a series of disciplinary breaches followed. On 27 April 1915 he was awarded seven days' Field Punishment No.2 for "Leaving his horse ungroomed"; on 6 December 1915 he was confined to barracks for ten days for "disobedience of orders"; and on 23 April 1916 he was awarded seven days' Field Punishment No.1 for being "Absent from Roll Call 8.30pm to 9.20pm".’ He then indicates that Robert Kinnear left the army in May 1916 when his term of service was completed and that he was discharged at the unit’s Antrim base.

Robert McAllen Kinnear got married on 6 September 1921 at 1st Ballymena Presbyterian Church to Lizzie McDowell, daughter of William McDowell, Galgorm Parks, Ballymena. Her mother was Jane, nee McMichael. The groom was then recorded as a ‘special constable’ and gave his address as Ballymena.

Military Cross Awards

T/Captain Edwin Arthur Telford, 15th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, Clinty, Ballymena. 

Entry from The London Gazette, 29 July 1919, Supplement Issue 31480, page 9778

T/Lt John Taylor, 9th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Galgorm Parks, Ballymena.

Entry from The London Gazette, 29 July 1919, Supplement Issue 31480, page 9778

Reverend William Holmes Hutchison, Cuningham Memorial Presbyterian Church, Cullybackey.

Entry from The London Gazette, 29 July 1919, Supplement Issue 31480, page 9742