BALLYMENA 1914-1918

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Second World War Names - Panel 2

Panel 2

Cairns, 14416962 Lance Corporal John James, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers, died aged 18 on the 8 October 1944 and he is buried in Santerno Valley War Cemetery. He was the son of William and Mary Cairns, of 37 Castle Street, Ballymena, Co. Antrim.
The couple, tailor William, aged 25 years and from Castle Street, Ballymena and his bride Mary Wallace (23) of 2, Queen Street, Ballymena, had married in St Patrick’s Parish Church, Ballyclug, Ballymena on the 12th June 1919. Their son John’s death is recorded on the family headstone in Ballymena New Cemetery, Cushendall Road, Ballymena.
His death is also recorded in the Battalion’s War Diary.

8 October
0130: Line of Communications established to ‘D’ Company.
0245: Lost mules returned from ‘D’ Company
0550: ‘A’ Company patrol to Macerato 022204 - encountered no enemy.
1400: Line to ‘D’ Company out. Considerable shelling on battalion area. Throughout the day, an artillery plan laid on by the CO and Major lan Lawrie. Applied “suppressive treatment” to 382, ranging one gun at a time, one round every five minutes, each round a direct hot, 3” and 4.2” mortars employed on likely targets.
1750 Rum issue authorised. ‘A’ Company reports SP (Self-propelled)  gun firing on them from ‘D’ Company area. ‘D’ Company substantiates.
1900: Line to ‘D’ Company OK again. Laying duplicate and sending out spare wireless.
2000: Artillery and Vickers open. Two lines to ‘D’ Company but no phone connection. Line party out. Wireless messages being relayed by ‘A’, Company.
2003: 3” mortar concentration.
2020: (Relayed by ‘A’ Company) minor casualties.
2032: ‘A’ still in contact. NTR (Nothing to Report).
2038: 2 SBs (Stretcher Bearers) to report to ‘D’ Company.
2121: Line established to ‘D’ again. Eight casualties - 1 fatal (Lance Corporal Cairns). (sic)
2322: No contact except with ‘D’ Company base.
2400: On objective, No opposition except mortar and shelling. Two prisoners.

It would seem likely that the self-propelled artillery piece was responsible for the casualties sustained and that Lance Corporal Cairns was killed by it.

Carlisle, 6984668 Lance Corporal Alexander, 70th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers died a ‘boy soldier’ on the 16 April 1941 and is remembered on Panel 11. Column 2 of the Brookwood Memorial.
He died alongside twelve other soldiers from the 70th Battalion, young soldiers, too young for active service, who acted as guards at Newtownards Airfield. All were on duty when the Luftwaffe attacked RAF 231 Squadron on Easter Tuesday 1941.
It was a light raid at Newtownards, many of the incendiary bombs and a few high explosive bombs that were probably meant for Belfast, which was heavily bombed, falling on Scrabo Hill and on Green Road and Comber Road. Regrettably, one bomb did all the damage, as the War Diary of the 70th (YS) Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers makes clear.  It says, ‘One H.E. bomb fell in the hutments of ‘A’ Company Headquarters. Casualties were 10 killed and 15 wounded.’ Some of the wounded died later. Carlisle was among the 13 dead. To add to the disaster, Flight Lieutenant Wilfred Mark Hamilton Brookes, one of the Commanders of 231 Squadron Royal Air Force based at Newtownards, was on the night of the bombing in Belfast and was killed in the bombing there.  

Cathcart, 7018987 Rifleman William, Royal Ulster Rifles was serving with the 2nd Bn. London Irish Rifles, when he died in Sicily on the 5 August 1943. He is buried in Catania War Cemetery. He was the son of late William (died 1935) and Margaret Stewart Cathcart, nee McIlwaine, of Tannybrake, Kells, Co Antrim. The couple, both of farming stock, had married in 2nd Antrim Presbyterian Church on the 15 February 1917. His brother David (born 1 December 1917), was employed, as was William, in Templemoyle Dye Works, Kells prior to the war, also served in the Royal Irish Rifles.  Their sister was a nurse.
The family headstone is in Kirkhill Cemetery, Connor and reads as follows: ‘1935, Cathcart, erected in memory of William Cathcart, died 22nd July 1935. Also his wife Margaret S. Cathcart, died 13th October 1981. His son William Hugh, killed in enemy action 5th Aug 1943, aged 22, interred in Catania War Cemetery, Sicily. And his daughter Mary (Molly) died 15th June 1949.’
The 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles, were part of the 38 (Irish) Brigade, and they took part in August 1943 assaults on the stout German defence to the west of Mt Etna. They were acting in support of the 78th Infantry Division, which had planned to cut road contact with Catania.
The 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles was allocated the capture of three strategic hills just to the west of German strong points in Centuripe. Their attack was timed in advance of the direct assaults of the rest of the Irish Brigade, with 6th Inniskilling Fusiliers, and 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers fighting up precipitous cliffs into the village. It was successfully done, a famous achievement, and Churchill referred to it the next day in Parliament.
For the next three days 2nd London Irish and 1st Irish Fusiliers, followed the Germans north, crossing the shallow Salso River and the much more dangerous Simeto River despite strong enemy resistance. Significant levels of casualties were suffered by the battalion during these two successful river crossings, and it was around this time that Cathcart was killed.
The men rested for five days thereafter and then continued their advance, attacking Maletto. 2nd London Irish advanced on the right flank of the attack, their objective being Mt Speina and Mt Maletto. The 1st Irish Fusiliers targeted Mt Capella, and the village of Maletto. This attack on Mt Capella was the last action for the 2nd London Irish battalion in Sicily and they subsequently enjoyed well-earned rest on the north coast of the island.

Cochrane, 6975323 Gunner Robert, 1st Maritime Regiment, Royal Artillery, died aged 37 on the 2 March 1945. His parents were James and Elizabeth Cochrane, Antrim.
Robert Cochrane died when he fell into the harbour from a ship he was boarding on 2nd March 1945 in Seaham, County Durham, England.
He is buried in Ballymena New Cemetery, Cushendall Road, Ballymena.

Coleman, 87490 Lieutenant Robin Benjamin Bunch, 9th A.A. Regiment, Royal Artillery was aged 33 died the 5th March 1943. At the time he was a prisoner of war and he has no known grave. He was born on the 11 March 1916, the son of timber merchant James Coleman and his wife Doris Bunch, of Ballymena, Co. Antrim. He is remembered on the Singapore Memorial, Kranji, Singapore.
Coleman attended Ballymena Academy and Campbell College, and he was a member of the Officer Training Corps at the latter school in Belfast. Prior to the war, Lieutenant Coleman resided at ‘Greystone’, Galgorm Road, Ballymena, and he was a member of West Presbyterian Church in the town.
Colwell, 577324 Sergeant Thomas Bell, 161 Squadron, Royal Air Force died on the 19 March 1943. He was killed whilst flying in a Halifax V, designation DG244, Code MA-Y, of No 161 Squadron, which was lost without a trace on a Special Operations Executive mission to Norway. He is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial.
Squadron 161 reformed at Newmarket on 15 February 1942, from a core supplied by 138 Squadron and the King's Flight and it joined with 138 Squadron in dropping supplies and agents over occupied Europe on behalf of the SOE, Special Operations Executive.
Colwell was killed on Operation SSI Vega 3 that took place on Friday-Saturday 19-20th March 1943.  The Halifax V aircraft was flown by 129105 Flying Officer Herbert Lloyd Wynne, DFM and 1180657 Flight Sergeant Raymond Robert Seppings Rolfe. Also aboard was 125434 Flying Officer William Harry Franklin, DFC, 1265045 Sergeant James Cornelius Insole, 1583333 Sergeant Eric William Foster, 50465 Thomas William Challoner DFC and Sergeant Thomas Bell Colwell, the Flight Engineer.
The plane took off from RAF Tempsford, Bedfordshire at 19.50 hrs on what is believed to have been supply drop to the Norway resistance movement in the area of Nottoden. There was a ‘heavy water’ plant nearby, important for the Nazi atomic bomb programme. It may also have involved an to attempt to drop a special agent in the Larvik area. No word was received from the resistance movement after the loss and it is believed that the mission was intercepted before completing its lone operation.
Cooke, D/SSX 16795 Able Seaman Alexander, Royal Navy, died aged 22 years in the sinking of HMS Glorious on the 8th June 1940. He was the son of Alexander and Lizzie Cooke, of Ballymena. He is remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.
Alexander Cooke (Snr), Larne Street, Ballymena, a tradesman, had married Lizzie Bell (Her name was entered on the marriage record as Lizzie Bell Surgenor, daughter of tradesman John Bell) in Kells Church on the 1st May 1915. Their son Alexander was born at Cross, Glenwhirry, Ballymena on the 4th January 1918. His father is recorded as ‘Private soldier, Irish Rifles’ and dwelling place is marked ‘British Expeditionary Force, France’.
His uncle appears to have been 19441 Lance Corporal Thomas Haslett Cooke, 12th Royal Irish Rifles, who was killed in action on the July 1, 1916. He is named on the Thiepval Memorial. He was aged 19 and had been born at Larne Street, Ballymena 18th August 1896. Local press records him as the son of Alex Cooke, 22 Larne Street, Ballymena and he is commemorated in 1st Ballymena Presbyterian Church. The item reads as follows: Alexander Cooke, Larne Street, Ballymena, received a letter from a Presbyterian Chaplain yesterday to the effect that his son, L/Cpl. T. Cooke, 12th Royal Irish Rifles, was killed on July 1. Lance Corporal Cooke enlisted in September 1914 prior to which he was an employee in the Braidwater Spinning Mill. He was only 19 years of age. He has two brothers with the colours, Rifleman Alex Cooke (confirmed on his son’s record of birth), who is in training with the 18th Royal Irish Rifles at Clandeboye and Private James Cooke, Royal Engineers.’ (No birth record for James can be found but he married Lizzie Griffin/Griffen in Wellington Street in 1902 and Alex Cooke is listed as his father. The 1911 census return shows him and his family living at Ballyloughan with his father in law, John A Griffin. James Cooke, Royal Engineers is listed with Thomas, and Alexander in the 1st Ballymena Presbyterian listing - See Ballymena Churches)
HMS Glorious was stationed at Alexandria with the Mediterranean Fleet at the start of the Second World War. She was in October 1939 part of Force I, her role to support the battleship HMS Malaya as she patrolled the Gulf of Aden in search of German merchant ships and the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee.
Following the invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940, HMS Glorious was recalled to England and left Malta on 11 April 1940 in great haste. She had been remodelled in the 1920s to become one of Britain's largest and fastest aircraft carriers and was used for transporting RAF aircraft to Norway. However, during Operation Alphabet, the evacuation of Allied forces from Norway, HMS Glorious and her escorting destroyers HMS Acasta and HMS Ardent were intercepted by the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. HMS Glorious et al had been given permission to leave the main convoy and proceed to Scapa Flow on their own. Regrettably, and possibly because their deck was crowded with aircraft from the Norwegian debacle, they were unable to fly their own aircraft to give themselves early warning of danger. They were unlucky too; the third German salvo hit HMS Glorious from a distance of about 26,000 yards, almost 5 miles, the longest known hit to that date. All three were sunk and the German battleships, which filmed part of the battle for propaganda purposes, did not stop to pick up survivors. The British were unaware of the ships’ fate until the following day, and when Norwegian ships finally found them nearly three days later, only about 40 survived. The 1,519-death toll exceeded that of any of the other great British naval disasters of the war.
Crawford, 7019461 Rifleman Wilnor, 1st (Airborne) Bn, Royal Ulster Rifles, the glider-borne infantry of that unit. He had enlisted in the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1943 and served in 21 Platoon, ‘D’ Company, and landed at Ranville on LZ (Landing Zone) N on 6 June 1944 (D-Day or Operation Overlord). His force was initially positioned to develop the southern sector of the bridgehead and "D" Company later moved to Breville on the evening of the 14th to strengthen the units holding that village. He was to die aged 21 years on the 14th June 1944 in fighting around Breville and was buried in the field. He is now buried in Ranville War Cemetery and remembered in 1st Ballymena Presbyterian Church.
He was the adopted son of John, usually Johnny, and Elisabeth Crawford, of Ballymena, Co. Antrim. His family name is unknown as is his origin, though the Army Roll of Honour 1939-1945 has Wilnor's birthplace recorded as Fermanagh. He was around 23 years of age at the time of his death. Local press extracts recorded the death thus:
It will be recalled that Rifleman Purdy’s nephew, Private Wilnor Crawford, Moat Road, who was also in an Airborne Division, was killed some time ago. Another nephew, Private William Purdy, Broughshane, is a signaller with the Division, and is serving in France.’
The Ballymena Observer noted: "Mr. John Crawford of 59 Moat Road, Ballymena, has been notified that his son Private Wilnor Crawford (RUR) has been killed in action. Private Crawford who was 22 years of age, had four years' service.… His father served with the Royal Engineers in the last war and his brother Jack is serving with the Irish Guards in the present conflict.”
John Crawford, a 33-year-old a mason from Ballymena and son of Robert, had married Eliza Jane Devlin, 32-year-old daughter of Hugh from Leighinmohr, Ballymena, in 1st Ballymena Presbyterian Church on the 28th May 1898. Their known family is as follows: William McClelland (born 1 June 1898, died 28 Feb. 1899 at Brocklamont, Ballymena), George (born 9 Dec. 1899 at Railway Street, Harryville, died 12 July 1900 at James Street, Harryville), John (born 28 June 1901 at Gilmer/Gilmour Street, Harryville), Henry Devlin (born 28 June 1903 at James Street, Harryville, Robert (born 16 Aug. 1904 at James Street, Harryville), Alexander (born 8 Oct. 1909 at Waring Street, Harryville), Mary (born 28 May 1909 at Waring Street, George (born 29 July 1910 at Waring Street), William (born 24 Nov. 1911at Waring Street), Rosetta (born 12 Jan. 1914 at Waring Street, died 28 Jan 1914, and Elizabeth (born 9 April 1915 at Waring Street).
Eliza Jane John’s wife, died on the 27th October 1938, aged 59 years, at Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. The family address was then given as 59 Moat Road, Ballymena. Her son Robert’s on Robert address was recorded as 65 Glenwood Street, off Shankill Road, Belfast. Son George had by the emigrated to Canada, records showing his passage to Ontario aboard the Cunard Line vessel ‘S.S. Andania’ in April-May 1929.
The Royal Ulster Rifles had been returned from India in 1939 and assigned defensive duties with 31st Independent Brigade Group in 1940. The brigade was in 1941 reorganised as 1st Air Landing Brigade and its battalions, including 1st (Airborne) Battalion RUR, were trained to undertake airborne assault by glider. In May 1943, it was transferred to form part of 6th Airlanding Brigade, 6th Airborne Division, in preparation for D Day.
The 1st Battalion landed in Normandy by glider on the evening of 6 June 1944 at LZ N, near Ranville. They were to remain in Normandy until September and thereafter returned to the UK. They were later used to help halt the German offensive in the Ardennes during the winter of 1944-45 and took part in Operation Varsity, which established a bridgehead across the Rhine into Germany, and they took part in the subsequent advance to the Baltic.
Delaney, 1111498 Sergeant (Wireless Operator & Air Gunner) Thomas, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, served with 12 Squadron.
12 Squadron, RAF were re-equipped with Wellington Bombers just before the fatal incident. The doomed plane, a Vickers Wellington Mark II, number W5611, took off from RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire on the 10 January 1942 and was bound for Wilhelmshaven, Germany. It departed at took off at 18:03 hrs but crashed around 23.30 hrs and one mile east of the village of Brumby. The port engine had failed and caught fire and the aircraft had lost height rapidly, and it crashed killing four of the six crewmen.
Those who died among the international crew were the pilot, Flight Sergeant Carroll Frederick O'Connell, RNZAF, son of Charles Underwood O'Connell and Daisy O'Connell, of Tahunanui, Nelson, New Zealand. He is buried in Binbrook St Mary Churchyard, Lincolnshire; Sergeant (Pilot) David Addamson Laing, RAF, son of John and Mary Adamson Laing, of Beath. He is buried in Beath Old Cemetery, Fifeshire, Scotland; Flight Sergeant (Air Gunner) Ernest Albert Parsons, RCAF, son of Samuel and Lily Parsons, of Montreal, Province of Quebec, Canada. He is buried in Binbrook St Mary Churchyard, Lincolnshire; and Sergeant (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) Thomas Alfred Delaney, RAFVR. The injured, Pilot Officer H. A. Stickings and Sergeant C. C. McAllister, were treated in Scunthorpe Hospital.
Thomas Alfred Delaney was the son of James Patrick and Mary Delaney, 35 Summerfield Street, Ballymena, and he is buried in Ballymena New Cemetery, Cushendall Road.
Dempsey, 2967616 Private Robert, 2nd Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was a career soldier. He was born at Tullygarley, Ballymena on the 29th October 1899, the son of Robert and Margaret Dempsey. Robert Dempsey (Sr.), Lisnagarron, Cullybackey, son of John, had married Margaret Dempsey, Lisnahunchion (or Lisnahunshin) , Cullybackey, daughter of Thomas, in 2nd Ahoghill Presbyterian Church on the 17th November 1887.
The family appear in the census return of 1901 at Tullygarley, and widow Margaret and her children were at nearby Queen Street, Ballymena in 1911. She said at the latter date that she had had six children and that all had survived.
Robert (jr) was living in Ross and Cromarty, Scotland when he enlisted. He was 40 years old at the time of his death on the 3rd December 1939, and though buried in Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore, he was not killed in action. There was a pre-war military camp at Kranji, and he was presumably taken ill when stationed in that area and died as a result of sickness or accident. Kranji, Singapore was not to fall to the Japanese until February 1942.
Erwin, T/160200 Driver Thomas Harold, Royal Army Service Corps, born the  9th May 1915 at Park Street, Ballymena, was aged 26 years when he died at Dingwall, Ross and Cromarty, Scotland on 8th November 1941. He was the son of Andrew and Mary Erwin (née Scott), 37 Park Street, Ballymena. He is buried in Ballymena Cemetery, Cushendall Road.
Andrew Erwin, Road Contractor, married Mary Scott in Wellington Street Presbyterian Church, Ballymena on the 29 May 1899. The 1911 census shows Andrew, born at Frocess, near Ballymena and aged 39 years and his wife Mary (32), nee Scott. They said they had had seven children and that six were still alive at that date.  They listed Andrew (born 24 Feb 1902 at Fountain Place, Ballymena), Mary (born 9 Sept 1903 at Fountain Place), Samuel John (born 4 Sept 1905 at Fountain Place), Edith Caroline (born 28 June 1907, Fountain Place, later died at Park Street 18 Dec 1920), William James (born 15 July 1909 at Park Street), Esther Elizabeth (born 22 Aug 1910 at Park Street).
Later children were Sarah Isabel (born 16 Jan 1914 at Park Street) and Thomas Harold (born 9 May 1915 at Park Street). The child who died prior to 1911 appears to have been Maggie Erwin, born 19th July 1900 at Fountain Place.
The family headstone reads: ‘1901, Erected by Andrew and Mary Erwin, in loving memory of their sons Andrew, died 5th June 1940, aged 38 years. Thomas Harold, died on active service 8th November 1941, aged 26 1/2 years. Also the above Mary Erwin, died 16th August 1951. Her husband Andrew Erwin …’
Esler, 64903 Flying Officer (Pilot) John Acheson, DFC, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 86 Squadron, died aged 27 years on the 17th May 1942. He was the son of Logan and Margaret Esler, of Ballymena, Co. Antrim.
The Esler family came originally from Ballygelly, Rocavan, Broughshane but Logan Esler, son of William, was a grocer in Ballymena when he married Margaret Acheson, Dunaird, Broughshane in Cuningham Memorial Presbyterian Church, Cullybackey on the 5th February 1914. His son John Acheson Esler and his twin sister Ann McCurdy Esler were born at Doury Road, Ballymena on the 5th February 1915.
The events that led to the loss of aircraft AW367 and Pilot Officer J A Esler DFC began on the 21st February 1942 when the heavy cruisers Prinz Eugen and Admiral Scheer and five escort destroyers sailed from Nazi Germany in what was called Operation Sport Palace, the transfer of units to Norway. The British submarine HMS Trident torpedoed the Prinz Eugen off Norway on 23 February 1942, severely damaging her stern. She struggled into Trondheim where she underwent emergency repairs until mid-May 1942. Thereafter she set out for Kiel to undergo permanent repairs, accompanied by two destroyers and some torpedo boats.
This group was attacked on 17 May 1942 off Egersund by British torpedo-carrying Coastal Command Beauforts of 42 and 86 Squadrons, as well as by Hudson bombers and Beaufighters. The German ships and their four Bf 109 fighter escorts shot down at least eight British aircraft and suffered no damage themselves, eventually reaching port on the 18th May 1942. The Germans called the events Operation Magic Flute.
The Beauforts from 86 Squadron, including AW367, Code BX-W, flown by 64903 Flying Officer (Pilot) John Acheson Esler, DFC, had taken off from Sumburgh Airport, Scotland; Flight Sergeant (Observer) Robert Alec Linford, Sergeant (Wireless Operator and Air Gunner) William Edwin Ackerman and Sergeant Edward Patrick (Wireless Operator and Air Gunner) McDevitt were also on board.
The first part of the intercepting force had been unable to locate the cruiser, but some of the second wave force, which consisted of 52 aircraft, including 27 torpedo-carrying Beauforts, carried out an attack. Considerable enemy fighter opposition was encountered, and several aircraft failed to return. One of them was Esler’s plane and it was reported later that At 20.23 hours, Flight Sergeant Atkinson saw Beaufort BX-W, flown by Pilot Officer Esler, get shot to pieces by a Bf 109, and crash into the sea with its left engine in flames’.
John Acheson Esler is buried in Bergen (Mollendal) Church Cemetery, Norway. This cemetery contains the graves of forty-five men killed in various operations around Bergen.
Fiffe (or Fife), 7021381 Corporal William Charles, 2nd Bn. The London Irish Rifles died aged 20 on the 29th November 1943 and he is buried in Sangro River War Cemetery, Italy. His name appears on the Ballymena War Memorial but no definite information about him is currently available which links him to the town. The only known Fifes came from the Ahoghill-Portglenone area.
In November 1943 the 2nd London Irish Rifles were on the Adriatic coast of Italy and, were recovering from a serious rebuff they had received near San Salvo at the end of October. They went into reserve, where they received a number of reinforcements, but after other units of 78th Division, including 6 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, captured San Salvo, the 2nd London Irish followed up by crossing the Sangro River in the middle of the month.
CQMS E. O’Sullivan recalled that ‘at dawn on the 29th the 6th Royal Inniskillings and the City of London Yeomanry advanced on San Maria and Li Colli. The opposition was formidable and tank progress was slow. It was nearly dark before they had successfully completed their tasks. Meanwhile, the London Irish and the 44th Royal Tank Regiment had left the comforting shelter of the escarpment and moved forward a mile. Their object was to reach the San Maria-Fossacesia road and to smash the German defences up to and in Fossacesia.’
It was probably during these operations on the 29th November that Fife was killed.