BALLYMENA 1914-1918

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Reverend Canon Arthur Edwin Ross

Arthur Edwin Ross, son of David and Anne Maria Ross (née Neligan), was born on the 18 December 1869 at Montenotte, Cork.   He was later educated at Trinity College, Dublin and during his time there was an international rugby player.  He was ordained a clergyman in the Church of Ireland in 1895, was curate of St Anne’s Church, Belfast before becoming rector of Portrush & Ballywillan. He was appointed rector of St Patrick’s Church, Ballymena in 1912 and was later to be Vicar of Holywood Parish, Canon of St Patrick's Cathedral and Chancellor of Down Cathedral. He became the 5th Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry in 1920.

The Reverend Ross had offered his services during the war, the Ballymena Observer of December 17, 1915 telling the public ‘We have been informed that Rev. Canon A. E. Ross, Rector of Ballymena and Ballyclug, has offered his services to the army and has been appointed Chaplain. He will leave for the front at the beginning of the year.’

His war was followed carefully by the Ballymena population and they were delighted to learn that he had been mentioned in despatches in January 1917. After over a year of his service at the front, they got a chance to meet him in person during a furlough in 1917, the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph of the 3rd March 1917 noting that St Patrick’s Church on Castle Street was filled with his own parishioners and ‘by his friends in other denominations in the town.’ 

In this evening service he told the assembled crowd that troops had ‘died in a true and lasting sense for the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness’. He thought ‘some troops may not have apprehended for what [troops had died] but they knew it was worth dying for.’ He said that he believed personally that they had ‘died that justness and fairness and true dealing and freedom may be preserved’.  He understood they had ‘died for their country, but they have died for the world, too. We must see that it is so’. He probably already thought WW1 was the ‘war to end wars’.

He told them a little about the gruesome reality of the fighting, the horror of warfare, and about the harrowing nature of his role.  He related the tale of how he had on one occasion during fog been on the frontline just 40 yards from German lines. Looking through the trench periscope he could see ‘the ground littered with friend and foe’. One man had told him that he could see ‘lying there his officer and comrades’.  Ross then explained that he often got letters, mostly from mothers, asking him to “tell me where my son died, where he was buried, and shall I be able to find his grave after the war?”  He revealed thereby the agonies of those at home and said  that answering these ‘caused [him] great trouble ... You could hardly say that when a shell falls in a trench there was no need of burying; and when they asked “where was he buried?” it was hard to write ‘he was buried where he fell’.

On a more positive note he went on to say that he thought the war had brought ‘a new sense of brotherhood ... a new spirit of service to one another and mankind’. He linked this to an idea that was to emerge in the resounding promise of the Lloyd George Coalition after the armistice that it was necessary to make Britain a land “fit for heroes to live in”. Ross asked, ‘What is the good in our Empire preserving itself from destruction ... unless we see to it that the Empire is worth living in for all it citizens?’ He died in 1923 and sadly had lived just long enough to see the recession get under way, a recession of the 1920s that made way for the depression of the 1930s, events that ensured a land “fit for heroes to live in” never materialised before WW2.

He also referred to the Home Rule Crisis in his sermon. He asked, ‘Are we going to start it again after the war has ended? The thought is appalling.’ He was thinking of the near civil war of 1914 and was probably upset by the Easter Rising (1916) and its aftermath, events that were already destroying his perceived ‘new sense of brotherhood.’

The Reverend Major A E Ross won two MCs during the war, fitting for a brave man who had married into a military family.  Mary Elizabeth Linzee Hezlet, a well-known golfer, had become his wife in 1909, and he was therefore a son-in-law of Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Jackson Hezlet (or Heslet) of Bovagh House, Aghadowey, Co Londonderry and brother-in-law of then Lt Col Robert Knox Hezlet, DSO of the RFA.

Bishop Arthur Edwin Ross, MC and Bar, died in Dublin on 24 May 1923.

(Major-General Robert Knox Hezlet CB CBE DSO DL (1879-1963) lived at Bovagh House.


His father's grave is in Aghadowey Parish Church, Co. Derry, NI. The family headstone reads:

In memory of Richard Jackson Heslet, Lt. Col, Royal Artillery, of Bovagh, Aghadowey, born 31 October 1840, entered into rest 15 April 1925 and his wife, Emily Mary Linzee, born 12 December 1852, died 19 January 1944’

Robert Knox Hezlet's son was Vice-Admiral Sir Arthur Richard Hezlet KBE CB DSO DSC, Legion of Merit (United States) (1914-2007), a distinguished Royal Navy officer and submariner, and he also retired to Bovagh House.)