BALLYMENA 1914-1918

Click here to edit subtitle

The strange case of Samuel C. Devlin

EVERY war memorial has its mystery men, and the list of fatalities which appears on Ballymena's 1914-1918 memorial is no exception. Arguably, the case of Samuel Cromwell Devlin is the most intriguing.

Samuel C. Devlin was reported as having been killed while serving with the Royal Irish Fusiliers in France on October 12, 1916. The Ballymena Observer gives a home address, the name of his mother, an approximate date of enlistment and some basic information about his army career.

But extensive enquiries have revealed no such person on the comprehensive archives of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Certainly, there are a number of Samuel Devlins recorded. There is even a Samuel C. Devlin, but he doesn't remotely fit the bill for the man on the memorial.

Private Samuel C. Devlin

The Observer recorded on November 10, 1916:

Mrs. Mary Jane Devlin, 11 James Street, Ballymena, was officially informed on Saturday last that her son Pte. Samuel Cromwell Devlin, Royal Irish Fusiliers, was killed in action on 12th October 1916. Private Devlin was at the front during the last four months and he enlisted shortly over a year ago. Prior to joining he was a farm servant. He took part in quelling the recent rebellion in Dublin. 

Pte. William J. W. Devlin, Royal Scots, another son of Mrs. Devlin, has been at the front over a year and was once wounded.

Research has shown that a total of 78 Royal Irish Fusiliers died that day and amongst them was Henry James Cromwell .

From Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC): 

CROMWELL, HENRY J, Private, Royal Irish Fusiliers, 1st Btn., Date of death 12/10/1916, Service no. 21647,  Pier and Face 15A, Thiepval memorial.

Although the Commonwealth War Graves record does not give a home address for Henry James Cromwell, these details can be found in 'Soldiers Who Died in the Great War', a huge archival document, now available on CD and online.

'Soldiers Died' records place of enlistment and known address where possible and it confirms that Henry James Cromwell, service no. 21647, was indeed from Harryville, Ballymena, and most locals will know that James Street, the address of Samuel Cromwell Devlin's mother is in the Harryville district of the town.

It would seem that Samuel Cromwell Devlin may have served under an alias as Henry James Cromwell, and, as a result, both names have been recorded on the war memorial. (Henry Street and James Street are both Harryville streets).

But there is more to this story, for the Observer reported on August 24, 1917:

Mrs. Devlin 11 James Street, Ballymena has received official information that her son, Pte. William G. Wilson, Royal Scots, has been wounded in action. He has been at the front for nearly two years and was wounded before. His brother, Pte. Samuel Cromwell Devlin, Royal Irish Fusiliers, was killed in action in October 1916.

While the Wilson conundrum can be explained away by the mother re-marrying, it does nothing to explain the mystery of his 'brother'  or 'half brother' Samuel.

Two more pieces of information add to the story. 

The name of  Samuel J Cromwell appears on the Roll of Honour for members of the Harryville UVF Company who served in the Great War, and the St. Patrick's Church of  Ireland memorial lists Samuel Cromwell Devlin as being killed in action.

Yet there is no medal index card for Samuel; there is, however, a card for Henry James Cromwell. Just another little mystery thrown up by the Great War.