A Province-wide challenge to commemorate the centenary of the Great War by researching the histories of ‘local heroes’ has become a labour of love for local teenagers.
Cadets from Newbuildings Army Cadet Force Detachment and Foyle College Combined Cadet Force found themselves increasingly inspired as they unearthed tales of past heroism.
Charles, James, Ernest and Harold Williams grew up at Northland Road, Londonderry where their father was manager of the Londonderry Savings Bank. They all volunteered to serve in what was then known as the Great War, but only Harold survived. In 1915 the Williams family received news that their son, Charles Beasley Williams, had been killed in action near Ypres, almost a year after enlisting. The next year the family received news of the loss of James Alfred, killed in action during the Somme campaign. Then, in 1918, Ernest Joseph was killed in action at Gulleghem.
The youngest boy, Harold Patton Williams who joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Special Reserve, served on the Western Front, was mentioned in despatches and was awarded the Military Cross for showing the “greatest coolness and courage” throughout an attack in which he led his company and subsequent consolidation and, when the officers of two other companies had become casualties, he supervised their organisation.
The information accumulated in the young people’s research will now become an important learning resource for others in the Cadet movement.
Reflecting on the history of the four brothers, Cadet Jamie Bankhead, who is at Foyle College, said: “These were four guys pretty much like ourselves. Charles had managed to get into Trinity and he was a member of the OTC there and a big rugby player and swimmer. James was a medical student at Edinburgh and Ernest had emigrated to Canada to work at a bank. It’s hard to believe that their lives could be cut short so dramatically.”
He was also touched about how the youngest, Harold, became a war hero.
“Our research made us appreciate the Williams brothers as real people and not just as names inscribed on memorials at the Menin Gate, Thiepval and Dadizeele and here at The Diamond memorial in Londonderry. Finding out about them made the deaths of the three boys seem all the more sad and we were filled with admiration for the heroism of Harold,” he said.