With a full century almost upon us since the outbreak of the Great War, the Sentinel today looks at the story of six brothers from Londonderry who all fought bravely in that terrible conflict.
Local man David Jenkins has been researching his family history and in the process has uncovered a fascinating tale of bravery, coincidence and tragedy. The story of Samuel, John James, Albert, Austin, Thomas and William Jenkins’ involvement in the ‘Great War’ is one that shows the devastating scale of the First World War and its impact on families throughout Ireland and Britain.
His grandfather, Samuel and five of Samuel’s brothers fought in different regiments and battalions in the war but all six are likely to have witnessed unthinkable horrors as they fought bravely for their country. One was killed, another injured and a third and fourth were to see out the end of the war in German Prisoner of War camps. Of those who survived, another was to be killed as hostilities resumed during the Second World War.
David’s research began, he explained, with the knowledge that his grandfather had fought in World War One and the discovery of a collection of old postcards and a list of family members. His journey has reconnected him with a long-lost relative who had not even seen a picture of his father, a soldier.
He explained how his family’s military tradition goes back, at least, to the Crimean War and his great-great grandfather. His son, David’s great grandfather, worked as a prison warder in Dublin before moving to Londonderry in the 19th Century.
David tells the story of the six brothers who all fought in the ‘Great War’ which began 100 years ago in July 1914: “Researching your family past can be one of the most exciting, most interesting and emotional journeys you will ever undertake.
“It all started four years ago with a list my father had of his grandparents’ family - all 16 of them. Beside each of their names was their date of birth which was of great help for my investigation. He had also a number of old photograph post cards dating back to the early 1900s but with no names on the back of them.
“My father had very little information about his family. His father Samuel had died during World War Two. My father was 10 years old at the time. So, working with the many online genealogy sites and having a researcher at hand to access records at Kew in London, I was able to find out a lot of information surrounding the lives of my grandparents’ family.”
“What I already knew was that my grandfather Samuel Jenkins had fought in World War One. He had joined the Sixth Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on September 1, 1914, aged 23. His first experience of battle came when he landed at Gallipoli on July 11, 1915. The regiment were shelled by the Turkish forces from the moment they landed on the beach. Samuel suffered a shrapnel wound to his right leg and was transported to a hospital in Alexandria. From there he was transported to Princess Patricia Hospital for injured soldiers in Bray Co. Wicklow. In 1918 he joined the Labour Corps Regiment serving in France until the end of the War. Further investigation revealed that five of Samuels brothers also fought in the war.
“All six of them were in different regiments, I think because the family were moving about. Some of the family stayed in Dublin and married in Dublin. Some of them came here and some of them went to Belfast - one brother worked on the Titanic before joining the Royal Marines. That was Thomas. There was William, Thomas, Austin, Samuel, John James and Albert.”
“Out of the whole lot, I could give you a great story about John James. Not to long after arriving in France in 1914 he was taken Prisoner by the Germans. He would have to endure terrible conditions in Limburg POW Camp in Germany until the war was over. Limberg was mainly used for Irish POWs, housing around 2,500 of them. Disease would be the main killer in the camp. Flu, TB and Typhus caused many casualties. There was little or no medication available. Prisoners could only write two letters home per month but could send a postcard once a week. I came across one of these postcards in my father’s collection.
“I had no idea at that point where it had come from or who the soldiers were in the photograph. Those letters received from home would be censored. Items such as parcels were often never received. John James survived his four years in captivity. He returned home and moved to England, where he married in 1927.
Through birth, marriage and death certificates I was able to get an address for John James’ only surviving son, David Jenkins, who was 83. Unknown to me he had never seen a picture of his father who had died in 1931. David now in his 80s and living just outside London, was only seven months old at the time of his father’s death.
“I got in contact by lifting the phone but he wouldn’t take me seriously at the beginning! It wasn’t until the third phone call. I had to send him a letter detailing the family history and everything else. Eventually, we made the connection and he was able to tell me that he knew about the prisoner of war camp. David was able to tell me he had other postcards sent from Limburg that his father had kept in his possessions. The postcard that I had found had his fathers picture on it from Limburg 1914-18. So after all those years I was able to show him what his father looked like. A great moment in my research. I met up with David last year in England. Once he seen the photo, he was able to pick him out straight away. He just knew.
“Albert was born at Ebrington Barracks Hospital in October 1889. In 1908 he joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery Reserve based at Ebrington Barracks. After one year of service he left to join the Leinster Regiment in April 1909. Albert was discharged from the regiment after 91 days. According to his service record he was ‘not likely to become an efficient soldier’ but he kept up his ambition of a career in the army by joining the Hussars between 1909 and 1914.
“It was in 1915 when I found the next record for Albert. He had joined the Second Battalion Royal Irish Regiment. He had become what was known as a Trench Raider. His unit would cross into no mans land during the night to check on German positions and attack them if ordered to do so. He was congratulated by the Brigadier for his actions on Christmas Day 1915.”
The text of a ‘War Diary’ report uncovered through David’s research from that Christmas, 99 years ago, reads: “At about 6.30pm patrol under Lieutenant Forster and Grant with 16 men endevoured to enter German lines at point Q10 067. They found its first line of enemy wire cut by our artillery. Lieut. Forster and 6 men entered gaps. The remainder forming covering party carrying bombs (grenades). About 8.15pm an alarm was given in the German lines and fire was opened up. Our party remained still for some time, but as the enemy appeared to be reinforced, we decided to bomb their trenches, then about 20 yds distance. away.
Enemy returned fire with very heavy type grenades as action became general and our patrol appeared to be in difficulty. An artillery bombardment on German second line trenches and communications trenches was asked for and complied with. About the same time the Germans sent out a bombing party from their trenches which retired on being bombed and fired on by us. Our patrol drew off without loss and regained our lines at about 10pm.”
David continues: “By 1916 Albert had been promoted to lance corporal. The War Diaries record many heroic missions his patrol made into no mans land. But his luck ran out on the night of June 11, 1916. His Battalion were in trenches at Morlancourt (the Somme). At 10.30pm his patrol went out to check enemy positions. When reaching a position, 90 yards out from their wire, they were ambushed by the enemy who opened up with heavy rifle fire. Albert and three of his patrol were wounded. He was carried back by Albert Shepherd, who was later recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions under enemy fire. Albert died of his wounds later that night. Lieutenant Forster who was in command that night was also severely injured and carried back to the Regiments trenches. Before he died, he stated that the whole patrol behaved with gallantry and coolness in face of very heavy fire and expressed a wish that their conduct should be specially brought to notice. Albert is buried a few miles away from where he died of his wounds, at La Neuville Communal Cemetery Corbie, France. He was aged 27.
“In the end Albert, the unlikely soldier, had become one of the many heros of WW1.”
“In 1906 at the age of 20, Austin Jenkins had joined the Queens Own Hussars. He fought in France from 1914 to 1918. In the early part of World War One his regiment fought on horseback but as the effectiveness of the killing machine of the war - the machine gun - became apparent it was decided that it would be better to give up the horse for a trench. Austin survived the war.”
“Thomas worked in the shipyard in Belfast as a driller between 1911 and 1912. In October 1912, at the age of 18, he joined the Royal Marines, Plymouth Division. His Division served in many operations during 1914 to 1918. He also survived the war.”
Samuel was my grandfather. He was the brother that went to Gallipoli. He was in the Royal Inniskillings. He also fought in the Second World War. I know that he had a leg injury not long after they landed on the beaches and the Turkish were waiting on them with their heavy machine guns. They were bombarded as well. His other brother was with him as well, but with a different regiment - William. He was in the First Batallion Inniskillings whereas my grandfather was in the Sixth. William survived Gallipoli. The interesting thing about William was that he was in the army before the First World War and had served in China in 1909 up until 1911 when the Boxer Revolution kicked off. He had joined the Inniskillings when they were here in the 19th Century and based in Ballyshannon.”
“In 1906, at the age of 18, William joined the 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The interesting thing about William was that he was in the army before the First World War and had served in China in 1909 up until 1911 when the Boxer Revolution kicked off. The Battalion moved to India in 1912 but were returned to England once War was declared in 1914. His first action of the war came on March 17, 1915 when he landed at Gallipoli - where my grandfather sustained his injury. It is unclear if William came out of it unscathed. He was to take part in many of the major battles of World War One - the Somme 1916-17, Arras 1917, Ypres 1917 and Cambrai 1917. He was mentioned in despatches for his gallant and distinguished services in the Field in December 1917. At the battle of Saint Quentin 1918, Willam’s luck ran out. The First Battalion had become surrounded and were being attacked from all sides with the result that their position was overrun. Very few men escaped with their lives. William was taken prisoner and was to sit out the rest of the war in a German POW camp.”