Local historian Trevor Temple chronicles the individuals associated with Londonderry who lost their lives in WWI.
Peers, Lance Corporal George, 25418
George Peers, Home Hospital Reserve, Royal Army Medical Corps, died after a brief illness at Ebrington Barracks, on June 20, 1915, where he had been stationed since the outbreak of the Great War, having come over from Knutsford – a town in Cheshire, situated 14 miles south-west of Manchester – with the first contingent of R.A.M.C. men for service in the Derry garrison.
Lance Corporal Peers was married in Clooney Parish Church only two months before his death.
His coffin was enveloped in the Union Flag and placed on a gun carriage for conveyance to Londonderry City Cemetery, on Thursday, July 1, 1915.
The band and pipers of the Inniskillings attended, the former playing the Dead March and the latter a Highland lament for the dead.
The coffin was borne from the gun carriage to the graveside by Lance Corporal Peers’ Knutsford comrades. The Rector of All Saints, Clooney, the Reverend W. F. H. Garstin, one of the military chaplains, who had only a short time before officiated at the marriage of Peers, read the service at the graveside, over which volleys were fired and the Last Post sounded.
Roulston, Private William George, 20658
William George Roulston, 10th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Alberta Regiment), was born at St Johnston, County Donegal, on September 29, 1890.
He came to live in Derry, worked in Stevenson’s prior to emigrating to Canada, and died in France on June 22, 1915.
He was the son of Mrs Jane Roulston, and brother of Albert Roulston, 24, Bond’s Hill, Waterside, Londonderry.
His name is recorded on the Vimy Memorial, Pas de Calais, France, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
The 10th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was assembled at Valcartier in Quebec, and sailed for the United Kingdom with the first Canadian contingent in late 1914. Their commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel Russ L. Boyle, a veteran of the Boer War.
The unit trained on Salisbury Plain and went into the trenches in France in early 1915 with the rest of the Division.
After brief service in the trenches in February and the early spring, the division first saw major combat at the Second Battle of Ypres in April. A wide scale German attack using chlorine gas routed two entire French Divisions, but the Canadians held firm, at a cost of some 6,000 of its 10,000 men.
The 10th Battalion, with the 16th, actually executed a counter-attack on the night of 21-22 April into the face of the German offensive, at Kitcheners’ Wood during the Battle of St. Julien.
The town of St. Julien was located east of Ypres. The 10th Battalion was called forward on the night of 22-23 April to counter-attack the strong German formation advancing through a large gap in the line created by the rout of two French divisions. Forming up in front of the 16th Battalion, the two units mounted a hasty assault on an oak plantation known as Kitcheners’ Wood.
The assault cost the life of the 10th’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Boyle, and of the 816 men who crossed the start line on 22 April, only some 193 survived. Nevertheless, the German advance was stopped.
Also featuring prominently in the fighting was the Gravenstafel Ridge, a low rise east of Ypres and one of the key features in the German attacks from 24-26 April.
The 10th Battalion by this point, after suffering heavily in its counter-attacks of 22-23 April, mustered only 174 men but still contributed enough to the defence of the position to merit a Battle Honour for their work.
The end result of the fighting was that a major German breakthrough was prevented.
The following month, the 10th Battalion were at Festubert, about twenty kilometres north of Vimy in France. This unsuccessful attempt to capture a small hill known as K5 was stopped short with heavy losses due to wet terrain, strong German defences, and little time to prepare.
On the last day of May the battalion moved to Givenchy and took over the trenches facing La Bassee, south of the Canal, on June 2, roughly three weeks before William Roulston’s death.
On the seventh anniversary of the demise of Private Roulston, the following in memoriam couplet appeared in a Londonderry newspaper:
‘He rose responsive to his country’s call;
Gave her his best – his life, his all.’
Saunders, Rifleman Daniel, 12855
Daniel Saunders, 2nd Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), was born at Donlocher, Scotland, and reared from childhood in Derry.
He was wounded in action in early May 1915, and died from the effect of those wounds, in the East Ham Military Hospital, London, on June 23, 1915.
Aged 22/23, he was the son of Daniel and Jane Saunders, 68, St Columb’s Wells, Derry, and possibly the brother of Joseph Bernard Saunders, who died on March 15, 1917. Rifleman Saunders is interred in Londonderry City Cemetery, and his name is commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
Daniel Saunders was engaged in one of the Clyde shipyards when the Great War broke out, and he at once volunteered for foreign service. He accompanied the Scottish Rifles to the Front some months before his death, and took part in a number of engagements before receiving the wounds to which he succumbed in East Ham Military Hospital, which was originally founded in 1902 as the East Ham Hospital, a voluntary cottage hospital with 20 beds. The Cornish philanthropist, John Passmore Edwards, gave £5,000 towards its cost. In 1904, the Out-Patients department opened.
The Hospital was extended in 1915 and then had 25 beds – it was renamed the Passmore Edwards East Ham Hospital. During World War 1 it became an army hospital.
Daniel Saunders funeral took place, with military honours, on Wednesday, June 30, 1915.
The bands and a firing party of the 3rd Battalion Royal Inniskillings from Ebrington Barracks, and a large number of the general public, attended the funeral.
As the coffin was conveyed from Rifleman Saunders’ father’s residence to the gun carriage, the firing party, composed of men who had all seen active service in Flanders, and who were recovering from wounds received in the firing line, stood at the salute.
The coffin having been placed on the gun carriage and enveloped in the Union Flag, with a beautiful cross-shaped wreath and the dead soldier’s cap on top, the firing party, with arms reversed, headed the cortege, and the pipes played ‘The flowers of the forest.’
As the cortege approached the entrance to Londonderry City Cemetery, the band commenced playing the ‘Dead March.’
Outside the gates the gun carriage passed between two lines of bandsmen, still playing Handel’s impressive music, and of the firing party resting on their arms reversed.
The burial service was read by the Reverend Michael Smyth, and then followed the solemn military procedure at the graveside.
As the sound of the first volley of the firing party tore the air two trumpeters played the opening notes of the salute.
The second volley was accompanied by the second part, while as the sound of the third volley died away the trumpeters played the concluding notes of the salute. Then the firing party got the order to present arms, and as the soldiers stood thus the touching scene concluded with the sounding of the ‘Last Post.’
Holmes, Trimmer George, 1581/TS
George Holmes, R.N.R., H.M. Trawler ‘Helcia’, died on June 26, 1915, in Ebrington Military Hospital, Londonderry. A native of Grimsby, his remains are interred in Londonderry City Cemetery.
Grimsby’s principal industry was fishing, herring being the chief catch. During the Great War the trawlers and fishermen were employed in mine sweeping and the like.
Fifty-eight-year-old Trimmer Holmes was engaged on a minesweeper, and some time before his death met with an accident, pneumonia subsequently setting in. A naval attachment attended his funeral on Monday, June 28, 1915.
Bryson, Private Thomas, 2046
Thomas Bryson, 4th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers (Queen’s Edinburgh Rifles), died at Gully Ravine, Dardanelles, on June 28, 1915.
He was born at Derry, enlisted at Edinburgh, and resided at Portobello, a watering place of Midlothian, on the Firth of Forth, about three miles from Edinburgh proper.
Aged 26, he was the son of James and Annie Bryson, Kilcreen Park, County Londonderry, and his name is recorded on the Helles Memorial, Turkey.
At the outbreak of War, in August 1914, the 4th Royal Scots Fusiliers were in Forrest Hill, Edinburgh, as part of the Lothian Brigade, Scottish Coast Defences, Scottish Command (which became 156 Brigade of the 52nd Division). On May 24, 1915, these men left Liverpool for Gallipoli via Alexandria. They arrived on June 14.
The 4th Royal Scots Fusiliers engaged in a great attack on June 28.
The objective was two lines of Turkish trenches situated on the east side of Gully Ravine.
Ray Westlake, in his book British Regiments at Gallipoli, described the actions of the battalion on that day: ‘Attack on enemy trenches H12A and H12 at 11 a.m. C and D Companies under Captains Rutherford and Ross charged and took H12A.
A Company under Lieutenant Young followed. Major John Ewing M.C. in his war history of the Royal Scots records that the first few yards of the advance was thick with dead and wounded.
Most of the officers were casualties, the men being gallantly led by N.C.O.s. The bravery of Pipe-Major Buchan, who although twice wounded played the men over the top before being killed, is also mentioned.
B Company (Captain MacCrae) moving forward changed direction half right and charged enemy then bringing enfilade fire on leading companies.
Attack under C.S.M. Lowe then moved on to its second objective, the Turks being cleared from H12 at the point of the bayonet.
Heavy enemy counter attacks at 10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m. repulsed. Machine guns under Lieutenant F. B. Mackenzie noted as doing excellent work...’
Among the 4th Royal Scots Fusiliers casualties was the Commanding Officer of the Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Spottiswoode Robert Dunn.
This extract from the unpublished diary of a Private Adam Davidson Smith provides a graphic account of the circumstances of his fatal wounding: ‘28th June.
This is the morning of the great day. We are awakened at 3 a.m. and told to stand to and get any breakfast we can. At 10.45 we advance towards firing line trenches, and on arrival there we are told that C. and D. are doing splendidly.
We all hop over trenches and advance 30 yds. when we are ordered to lie down. We do so and are subjected to terrible gun and maxim fire. How I am here to write this I cannot say. Friends on both sides are wounded.
Dust and stones flying all around. Am hit by stones but nothing worse happens. We lie there for 15 minutes (feels like a life time) and then those of us who are able advance 120 yds to a trench where we find many of our wounded lying, some in pitiable state.
We at once start and make the trench tenable, and then do what we can for the wounded, among whom was the Colonel.
We now hear that we have taken 4 trenches, which we still hold. I and two others are detailed to watch over the Colonel, whom we find has been wounded through the stomach.
He was really splendid, and a great stimulant to us. We carry him down about 3 p.m. to base hospital, and on our way, about 4.30, he for the first time speaks about himself and asks if he is seriously wounded.
We believe it to be hope-less. We deliver him up and return to trenches about 7.30 and reach them about 9. Sleep anywhere that night, feeling very sad and tired.’