Local historian Trevor Temple chronicles the individuals associated with Londonderry who lost their lives in WWI.
Clarke, Lance Corporal Patrick, 7124
Patrick Clarke, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, was born at Glendermott, County Londonderry, enlisted at Londonderry, and died in France on March 10, 1915.
He was the son of Mrs Ellen Gildea, and his name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
Lance Corporal Clarke died at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. The French village of Neuve Chapelle was situated four miles north of La Bassee and eight and a half miles south west of Armentieres, lying slightly south of the Armentieres-Bethune road. The place gave its name to a battle fought near here between the British and Germans, March 10-12, 1915.
The Germans had taken the village in October 1914, and the British attack was intended to regain it.
The 1st Irish Rifles took part in the battle, and James W. Taylor, in his book The 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War, described their actions on the day Lance Corporal Clarke lost his life:
“At 12.50 a.m., 10 March, the battalion halted for an hour, had a hot meal near Croix Barbee and then moved off after picks and shovels had been allocated. By 3.45 a.m. they had arrived in the support trenches and took up their allotted positions in an orchard just east of Rue Tilleloy, 600 yards north of Pont Logy. The strength for the attack was 22 officers, 890 other ranks, and 2 machine guns. They were also provided with the assistance of a Stokes gun, a 2-inch trench mortar, and one 1.5-inch Trench Mortar Battery that were to be used to keep down flanking fire from the Germans. An intense 35-minute bombardment by the British artillery commenced from 7.30 a.m. QM Edwards remembered: “‘There were 350 guns in action and the bombardment was terrific. It was spoken of by the Infantry long afterwards as the heaviest bombardment experienced; that on the Somme on 1st July 1916 was not considered equal to it. It was most effective too, and when the Brigade advanced at 8 a.m., 2nd Lincolns and 2nd Royal Berkshires forming the first wave, there was practically no opposition, and the enemy’s first and second lines fell at once.’
“2nd Lincoln’s place on the breastwork should have been taken over by 1st RIR but, due to the speed with which the Lincolns advanced and took the trenches, the Irish Rifles filed out at once and moved towards the German line. At 8.35 a.m., 1st RIR advanced through the German trenches and attacked the second objective; A Coy was on the right and B on the left, supported respectively by C and D. Both machine guns and two parties of bombers were with B. The assault was led by Capts A.J. Biscoe, A.M. O’Sullivan, F.R.W. Graham, and Lt. W.A. Burges.
“B Coy advanced successfully but, as D came up, the Germans opened with machine gun fire from the left flank. There were many casualties, including Lt Burges and Barrington killed. Rfn James Scott wrote that in the attack on the German second line they: ‘were met with a murderous fire from a machine gun which for an instant made our men waver. An officer, Lt Burges, leading our platoon, No. 8, B Company, dashed into a stream of water which reached to his neck, and which ran parallel to the second German line wire entanglements. He called out as he plunged into the water: ‘Follow me, No. 8, be quick and we will capture that machine gun.’ Straight away every man followed this gallant officer. Once across the stream, ‘Form up, No. 8’, and away we went towards the machine gun like hounds after the hare. We followed this officer over the German third line of trenches, and away in full cry towards the village of Neuve Chapelle, in our efforts to capture the accursed machine gun, which was playing the deuce with our men. Dashing forward to a wood on our right where the gun was concealed, our gallant officer received a bullet wound in the neck, which ended in his death.’
“Capt. Biscoe was seriously wounded and died two days later. The battalion still continued towards its objective in two lines and, at 8.40 a.m., after advancing with considerable speed, reached the running from the fork in the road, in front of the chateau, and north to the crossroad on the brigade boundary at Sign Post Lane. This was the western side of an area known as the Triangle. As the British 6-inch guns were not due to lift their fire from this road until 9 a.m., the two leading companies had to retire 100 yards and wait. The road was re-taken at 9 a.m. and the advance continued; direction was changed from east to south-east, in fact a right wheel. They pushed on through the Triangle, through orchards and houses and, by 9.40 a.m., had secured the line to the fence east of the chateau garden. Having occupied and improved some old trenches, which had been occupied by 2nd RIR the previous October, they joined with 2nd Rifle Bde on the right. It was here that Captain O’Sullivan rapidly reorganised the leading troops of the battalion that had got slightly mixed during the rapid advance.
“Owing to 23rd Brigade being held up, the left of 1st RIR had to be thrown back to guard their own left flank. Two platoons under Capt. Galwey fortified the left Brigade line facing north-east and got in touch with the Scottish Rifles at that point. This was a precaution well taken as the Germans counter-attacked at 10.50 a.m. but were beaten off. About thirty prisoners were captured passing through the Triangle. Small parties of the enemy were seen to the east, mostly unarmed, and making away towards the Bois de Biez. The Irish Rifles kept firing at these causing many casualties. Patrols were pushed out and a few prisoners were taken, but the bulk of the enemy had gone and the rest of the day was spent in consolidating the line from east of the chateau garden. The battalion remained in its positions throughout the night and a certain amount of sporadic shelling went on. QM Edwards: “‘Some heavy hand-to-hand fighting took place in the village in rooms and cellars, but eventually all the enemy were either killed or captured. At this stage there was not a single German anywhere within sight of the Brigade, and the men walked about on top of the ground without having a shot fired at them. This continued for over two hours when the first sign of the enemy reserves was seen. There would have been nothing to prevent the battalion going forward, but the attack was held up further to the left…’
“The village had been heavily shelled – so much so that even the bodies in the cemetery had been scattered all over the place. A grisly scene met the troops when they found that the bodies of 2nd RIR men, killed the previous October, were mixed among the recent dead of 1st RIR. The battalion was relieved by the West Yorkshire Regt at 9 a.m. the next morning and moved to the old German trenches where they spent the day.”
Gallagher, Rifleman George, 8849
George Gallagher, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, was born at Derry, enlisted at Belfast, and resided at Manchester.
He died in France on March 10, 1915, and his name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
Martin, Lance Corporal Joseph, 9014
Joseph Martin, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, was born at Londonderry, and died in France on March 10, 1915.
He was the son of Mrs Elizabeth Martin, 15, Hope Street, Ballymena, County Antrim, and his name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
McCurry, Private Robert, 7781
Robert McCurry, 2nd Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), was born at Londonderry and died in France on March 10, 1915.
His name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
The 2nd Cameronians were stationed in Malta when the Great War began in August 1914. They returned to England, landing at Southampton on September 22, and came under the orders of 23rd Brigade, 8th Division. The 2nd Cameronians arrived in France in November 1914. As part of the Rifles Brigade at Neuve Chapelle, in March, 1915, they attacked the Germans, suffering terrible losses.
In her book, 1915: the Death Of Innocence, the World War 1 historian, Lyn MacDonald, quotes Lance Corporal E. Hall, 2nd Cameronians, who recounted the battalion’s losses at Neuve Chapelle: ‘We’d taken our positions in the trenches the night before and we put up climbing ladders for jumping over the parapet. We were on tiptoe with excitement because we were fed up with trenches and living in a sea of mud and we just wanted to get the Germans out in the open. We’d seen them off at Messines Ridge when they attacked in November, but this was our offensive, the first our army had made since the trench warfare began.
‘I was company stretcher-bearer and so I had to follow the company as they advanced across No Man’s Land. They got up to the German trench, but the barbed wire wasn’t cut at all and the Germans were shooting like mad while our lads were crouching down in the mud trying to breach it with wire-cutters, and those that didn’t have wire-cutters hacking at it with bayonets. Eventually they did get through and over this high parapet of sandbags – it hadn’t been touched by the shells, mark you! - and in they went with the bayonet. They chased the Germans from traverse to traverse until they were all accounted for – at least in that part of the line.
‘But our losses were appalling during the few minutes it took to cut the wire...’
The appalling losses were also alluded to in an extract from General Sir John French’s address to the 2nd Cameronians after the battle: ‘I come here as Commander-in-Chief of this Army to express to you my heartiest gratitude for the splendid part which you took at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. I know what awful losses you suffered, I know the gallantry you displayed on that occasion has never been surpassed by a British soldier. You came up against the enemy’s wire, and although the artillery was unable to get at it, you showed the utmost bravery and gallantry. I deeply regret the terrible losses you suffered on that occasion. No less than 22 officers were killed or wounded; the officer commanding your splendid Battalion, Colonel Bliss, being included amongst the losses. Everyone in the Regiment will deeply regret this loss. I do not mean to say it was too much - I want you all to realise that, I am sure your officers will always lead you on, it may be to die, but follow them right gallantly, I know you will. I am sure at the same time you will all feel what your officers have done for you, leading you as they have done; but still at the same time the officers on their part felt they had splendid and gallant men who would follow them anywhere and had every confidence in them. That is one great thing, the mutual confidence which exists between leaders and men. I can not say more.’