Local historian Trevor Temple chronicles the individuals associated with Londonderry who lost their lives in WWI.
Casey, Private Samuel, 3157
Samuel Casey, 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was born at Derry circa 1886/87.
He enlisted at Glasgow, Scotland, and died of wounds in France on Wednesday, March 10, 1915. Aged 28, he was the son of Hugh and Margaret Casey, St Columb’s Wells, Derry. He was in addition brother of Hugh; Mary; James; Patrick; Joseph; Maggie; and Elizabeth.
Samuel Casey’s remains are interred in Bethune Town Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France, and his name is recorded on the Diamond War Memorial.
Private Casey left a wife, Margaret, who resided at 46, St Columb’s Wells, and three children to mourn his loss. At the time of his death, a brother, Private James Casey, was serving in the 2nd Inniskillings with the British Expeditionary Force.
Writing to Samuel Casey’s wife, Sergeant W. Mapother, who was in charge of Private Casey’s platoon, said that Samuel was greatly devoted to the duty of both God and King, that he did his duty in the trenches perfectly, and was looked upon by all his comrades as a brave soldier.
One could not but admire his devotion to his religion, having attended to all his duties in this respect with strict regularity.
Sergeant Mapother added that Casey was wounded beside him, and taken with the utmost despatch to hospital, where he peacefully passed away, after receiving the last rites of his Church. Sergeant Mapother expressed the deepest sympathy of himself and all his comrades.
Accompanying this letter there was a brief note from Second Lieutenant Moore, Private Casey’s platoon officer, who, in a few appreciative lines, said Private Casey would be much missed and would be continually in the men’s thoughts. He was very popular with his platoon, and always wore a cheery face.
McGowan, Private John, 7555
John McGowan, 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, was born at Londonderry and died in France on March 12, 1915.
Aged 33, he was the son of James and Sarah McGowan, 11, Berking Terrace, York Road, Leeds, and his name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
The Second Yorkshire Regiment was stationed at Guernsey when the Great War began on August 4, 1914.
They moved to Southampton, on August 28, and then to Lyndhurst as part of the 21st Brigade of the 7th Division. Mobilised for war, on October 6, 1914, they landed at Zeebrugge and, on October 14, they arrived in Ypres and participated in the first battle fought there.
Three weeks later the remnants of the battalion marched into Locre. Only a small number of the 1,000 plus officers and men who took part in the battle survived.
Private McGowan died the following March at Neuve Chapelle. On the day of his death, Corporal William Anderson, also 2nd Yorkshire Regiment, won the Victoria Cross.
His citation read: ‘For conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty at Neuve Chapelle on 12th March 1915, when he led three men with bombs against a large party of the enemy who had entered our trenches, and by his prompt and determined action saved what might have otherwise become a serious situation. Corporal Anderson first threw his own bombs, then those in possession of his three men (who had been wounded) among the Germans; after which he opened rapid fire upon them with great effect, notwithstanding that he was at the time quite alone.’
Apart from Private John McGowan, some of the many other soldiers from the 2nd Yorkshire Regiment who died on March 12, 1915, and are commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, include: Private Michael Gilleney, 3/5358; Private George Gibson, 6802; Private Thomas Frost, 3/8524; Private William James Fraser, 10346; Private James Fenton, 7130; Private Michael Egan, 7201; Private Alfred Charles Dorsett, 6435; and Private John Richard Donnison, 3/7810.
Sherry, Sergeant Francis Augustine, 8470
Francis Augustine Sherry, Royal Irish Rifles, and a native of Caw, Derry, was wounded in the Neuve Chapelle fighting on March 11, 1915, and died in the No. 2 Stationary Hospital at Boulogne, France, on March 14, 1915.
Aged 24, he was the fifth and youngest son of John and Mary Anne Sherry, Foyleview, Clooney Road, Waterside, Derry. He was the brother of Mr J. B. Sherry, secretary of the Derry Journal, Ltd., and of Mr P. A. Sherry, of Messrs. Spillers and Bakers, Ltd. He was also possibly the brother of Miriam Nora (Daisy) Sherry, who married Michael O’Hare, eldest son of Michael O’Hare, ex-R.I.C., Creggan Road, Derry, on October 7, 1915, at St Columb’s Church, Waterside, Derry, and who died on August 16, 1919, aged 24. Sergeant Sherry’s name is commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial, and his remains are interred in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
Boulogne was one of the three base ports most extensively used by the Commonwealth armies on the Western Front throughout the First World War. The Eastern Cemetery lies in the district of St Martin Boulogne. The cemetery is a large civil cemetery, split in two by the Rue de Dringhem, just south of the main road to St Omer.
Francis Augustine Sherry joined the army eight years before his death, and was in India at the outbreak of the First World War. He was skilled with the pencil, and sent home after he went to the Front several sketches illustrating incidents in the campaign.
He also wrote an interesting descriptive account of his voyage to India, where he remained for four years, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
His mother, Mary Ann Sherry, died on the first anniversary of her son’s death (March 14, 1916).
Her remains were removed for Requiem Mass in St Columb’s Roman Catholic Church, Waterside, on Thursday, March 16, 1916, before interment in Derry City Cemetery.
The Requiem Mass was celebrated by the Reverend P. Kelly, C.C., who made a feeling reference to the exemplary life and estimable qualities of Mary Ann Sherry.
In the course of his remarks Father Kelly alluded to the melancholy coincidence that exactly twelve months before one of Mrs Sherry’s sons, Francis, fell in action, while a few days before Mrs Sherry died she learned that another son, Edward, had been wounded at the Front.
These sad circumstances, no doubt, adversely affected Mrs Sherry’s health, as she was under the doctor’s care for a considerable period before this.
Gray, Private Samuel, 8478
Samuel Gray, 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry, and formerly 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was born at Londonderry, enlisted at Glasgow, and died in France on March 18, 1915.
Aged 30, he was the son of Mr and Mrs A. Gray, Ballysally, Coleraine, County Londonderry. He served in the South African campaign, and his name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry were in Ambala, India, when the Great War began in August 1914. They formed part of the Sirhind Brigade in the 3rd (Lahore) Division. They moved to France via Egypt, landing at Marseilles on December 1, 1914 (some weeks after the other Brigades of the Division). On December 19, they were involved in a little engagement near La Bassee.
In March 1915, the 1st Highland Light Infantry took part in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. On the date of Private Gray’s death, the Liverpool Daily Post published the following letter written by Private Robert Burns Wemyss, also 1st Highland Light Infantry, to his mother in Dumfries, describing the battle: ‘I have arrived at Runcorn Hospital, Cheshire, from the front, suffering from a German bullet wound in my left shoulder. We took part in the fight at Neuve Chapelle.
‘It was one of the biggest battles on record. I never saw anything like it in my life and I hope never to see it again. I reckon my luck was dead in when I only got badly wounded, and it is bad enough. We had to charge the German trenches, and it was in the second charge that I got bowled over. We went into the fighting line after getting a short rest. The German Maxim guns were mowing our men down; but we took their trenches from them, and this is what was wanted of us.’
Around 60 soldiers belonging to the 1st Highland Light Infantry died on March 18, 1915, and have their names inscribed on the Le Touret Memorial. They include Private David Galloway, 7472; Private John Friend, 9208; Private Alex Freer, 7890; Lance Serjeant Peter Fraser, 11442; Private James Foley, 12981; Private Patrick Feely, 1226; Lance Corporal Thomas Doran, 8060; and Private John Huie, 11638.
Haran, Rifleman Robert, 18363
Robert Haran, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, died in France on March 19, 1915.
He was the son of Mrs R. Haran, 13, Meehan’s Row, and brother-in-law of Catherine Haran, 6, Meehan’s Row, Waterside, Derry.
He was also brother of Private Henry Haran, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who was killed in action in France in May 1916. Robert Haran’s name is commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial, and his remains are interred in Merville Communal Cemetery, Nord, France.
Merville is a town fifteen kilometres north of Bethune and about twenty kilometres south-west of Armentieres.
It was the scene of fighting between the Germans and French and British cavalry early in October 1914, but from the ninth of that month, to April 1918, it remained in Allied hands.
Merville Communal Cemetery was used by French troops (chiefly cavalry) in October 1914, and for Commonwealth burials from that date until August 1916 (in the case of officers, to March 1918).
In his book The 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War, James W. Taylor describes the actions of the battalion around the time of Robert Haran’s death: ‘During the 18th [March 1915] the enemy sniping had improved, being very close and accurate. Burial parties worked at night clearing both the German and British dead, but 3 men were killed and 2 wounded in the process. The next day passed uneventfully, there was some shelling but no casualties; more dead were buried and the area was certified clear.’