Seven brothers saw action across Europe in WWI – and six survived

editorial image

From Gallipoli to Passchendaele via the Russian Revolution, a Londonderry-based geneaological researcher has uncovered his family’s remarkable story of tragedy and bravery stretched across the major theatres of the First World War.

David Jenkins has spent years researching his family tree and, in the process, has pieced together the story of seven brothers who each fought in the First World War – David’s grandfather Samuel and six great-uncles.

One of the brothers, William, was injured by the shell that claimed the life of celebrated poet Francis Ledwidge during the battle of Passchendaele.

Another, Austin, fought with the Queen’s Own Hussars at the battlefields of France, and in Dublin where his regiment fought to quell the Easter Rising of 1916.

John James spent most of the war in miserable conditions at the Lumberg German prisoner of war camp, where he refused an offer of freedom if he agreed to return to Ireland and fight for the republican movement after the German forces allowed Roger Casement to speak to the Irish prisoners there.

Thomas Jenkins, who joined the Royal Marines, Plymouth, fought bravely as his division carried out numerous operations throughout the years of the First World War.

William Robert Jenkins served with the 1st Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers even before the beginning of the Great War, first in China in 1911 during the Boxer Rebellion, before going to India, Gallipoli and then to France where he was injured by a German shell which had exploded as soldiers were having tea in a mudhole – one of those killed in the attack was the famous poet Francis Ledwidge.

David’s own grandfather, Samuel, was injured in Gallipoli with the 6th Batallion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He was transported back to Bray Hospital in Co Wicklow. Three years later he joined the Labour Corps and was sent to France. He rejoined the Army to fight in the Second World War when he was rescued from Dunkirk, but he fell down a flight of stairs and died.

William Andrew Jenkins served with the Merchant Navy, firstly on the treacherous service between Fishguard and Rosslare where the ships came under frequent attack from German submarines. He later transported supplies to the White Army during the Russian Revolution.

Albert Jenkins, the only one of the seven who did not survive the First World War, was with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. Albert was a trench raider given the dangerous task of crossing no-man’s land to attack the German positions. He took part in the audacious Christmas Day raid of 1915, one year after the famous ‘Christmas truce’. He died in June 1916 at the Somme and was buried at La Neuville cemetery in Corbie.

The story is not yet complete, though, as David explained.

Asked how he had first uncovered the tragic and heroic story of his grandfather’s generation, David said: “I had known some things about my grandfather – but not very much.

“When I delved into it a bit more deeply with my own research, I began to take an interest in the rest of the family history.

“I didn’t know more or less anything about it all at that stage, apart from the fact that my grandfather had died during World War Two.

“He died when my father was 10 at the time so the family history wasn’t really passed down to him. It was a case of starting from scratch and working down through the records.

“That led me on then to finding out the stories and the connections with all the different regiments during World War One.”

Mr Jenkins added: “There are still some gaps. A brother that I am trying to track down at the minute is George. There is a chance that he might have been in the war.”

THE FIGHTING JENKINS BROTHERS

Samuel: fought at Gallipoli

John James: spent four years in German PoW camp, survived

Albert: killed on June 11, 1916 at Morlancourt (the Somme)

Austin: fought both in France in WWI and the 1916 Rising

Thomas: fought with Royal Marines, Plymouth

William: fought at Gallipoli, Ypres, the Somme, Arras, Cambrai, Passchendaele

William Andrew: served in the Merchant Navy during WWI and Russian Revolution