Local historian Trevor Temple chronicles the individuals associated with Londonderry who lost their lives in WWI.
Gray, Private James, 9499
James Gray (real name Stewart), 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers, was born at Londonderry, enlisted at Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, Scotland, and resided at Kilrea, County Londonderry.
He died of wounds in France on April 15, 1915, aged 30. His remains are interred in Chocques Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France, situated four kilometres north-west of Bethune on the road to Lillers.
The 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers were stationed in the Indian continent at Ferozepore, when the Great War began in August 1914. They formed part of the 7th (Ferozepore) Brigade in 3rd (Lahore) Division, and sailed for France from the port of Karachi on August 28, 1914, as part of the Indian Corps. It was a month before they landed at the port of Marseilles, on September 26, 1914, due to the activities of German raiders in the Indian Ocean.
In 1914, they took part in the First Battle of Messines, in October, and the The Battle of Festubert in November. On December 5, 1914, they absorbed the survivors of the 2nd Battalion Connaught Rangers, and participated in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, in March 1915, a month prior to the death of Private Gray (Stewart).
O’Neill, Rifleman Joseph, 8951
Joseph O’Neill, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, was born at Derry, enlisted at Belfast, and died in France on April 15, 1915.
His remains are interred in Sailly-sur-la-Lys Churchyard, Pas de Calais, France.
Sailly-sur-la-Lys is a village on the main road between Merville and Armentieres, five kilometres south-west of Armentieres. The church is 100 metres from the centre of this small town. Sailly Church was burnt during open fighting in October 1914, when French cavalry and British and German infantry fought on the Lys.
In his book, The 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War, James W. Taylor, recounts the activities of the battalion in the two weeks before Joseph O’Neill’s death: ‘April was a relatively quiet month for the battalion. On the 1st it moved from Divisional to Brigade reserve on Rue du Quesnes and relieved 2nd Rifle Bde in the trenches near La Cordonnerie Farm on the evening of the 4th. The next morning Capt. W.M. Lanyon was killed, sniped over the parapet, and on the 6th, Capt. Cinnamond was wounded at dawn putting up barbed wire in front of his company. The routine of moving in and out of the trenches continued...’
Lavery, Private John, 6276
John Lavery, 2nd Battalion Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers), was born at Londonderry, enlisted at Dumbarton, Scotland, and died of wounds in France on April 16, 1915.
His remains are interred in Bailleul Communal Cemetery, Nord, France. Bailleul was a large town in France, in the department of Nord, near the Belgian frontier, 46 miles south-east of Calais. Before the Great War, during which it suffered much damage, it had woollen, cloth, and leather manufactures.
The 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers were stationed at Quetta, India, when the Great War began in August 1914. On November 20, they returned to England, arriving at Winchester to join the 82nd Brigade of the 27th Division. Mobilised for war, the battalion proceeded to France, landing at Le Havre on December 19, 1914, as a much needed reinforcement.
In his book, The Royal Irish Fusiliers, Henry Harris writes about the activities of the 2nd Battalion in the three months following their arrival in France, which preceded the death of Private Lavery: ‘At Christmas, the 2nd Battalion, as part of the 27th Division joined the 1st Battalion in the British Second Army. Their introduction to the Western Front was comfortless in the extreme, the newcomers, most of whom were fresh from India, being neither equipped for nor acclimatised to a European winter. They had to march seventeen miles to the front in old foreign-service boots, as they had not been issued with new footwear. Many cases of trench-foot resulted; and the trenches they took over from the French were crudely constructed and half under water. Moreover, the Division had even less than the normal inadequate allotment of artillery to support it.
‘At St Eloi on 15th March the Germans launched a local but intense attack against 82 Brigade which they knew to be inexperienced in trench-fighting.
‘The attack began at five p.m. with the explosion of two mines. The enemy then quickly overran the British trench-system, capturing the village of St Eloi and a hump of earth to the south that had been christened The Mound.
One of the mines exploded behind a trench held by C Company of the 2nd Battalion. Large numbers of the enemy then appeared in front of C Company, which disposed of many of them before falling back. The next night the village and trenches were retaken but the Mound remained in German hands...’
Trainor, Able Seaman Charles, 177805 (RFR CHB 1353)
Forty-four year old Able Seaman Charles Trainor, Royal Navy, died at Londonderry City Infirmary on Sunday, April 18, 1915.
He was the son of George and Mary Trainor, Nelson Street, and husband of Catherine Trainor, 9, North Street, Rosemount, Londonderry. His name is commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
Trainor was an AB on board HMS ‘Crescent’ and had been home on a few days leave from the Mediterranean, where he had been in active service with his ship. He was one of the reservists called up on the outbreak of the Great War, and joined the crew of HMS ‘Hawke’ at Queenstown. Previously he had served on HMS ‘Hogue’. After joining the ‘Hawke’ at Queenstown that ship immediately commenced patrol duty, in which she was constantly engaged till she met her doom on Thursday, October 15, 1914, being sunk by a German submarine in the North Sea.
Trainor, who was one of the few survivors of the ill-fated vessel, gave an excellent account of the sinking of the ‘Hawke’. ‘I was on duty on the mess deck,’ he said, ‘at eleven o’clock in the morning. Our ship had stopped to pick up mails from the sister ship Endymion. This work having been completed, immediately afterwards the Hawke was shook from stem to stern by a violent explosion. In a moment every man was at his post. It was instantly seen that the ship had sustained irreparable damage. She took on a heavy list, and in seven minutes turned. The catastrophe was so sudden and she went down so rapidly that any efforts to get out the boats were futile. One boat was launched, but it was capsized. Captain Williams held on to the rail of the bridge to the last. When it was recognised that the launching of the boats was impossible “Every man for himself” was the order.’
At the time of the disaster Trainor was suffering from a fracture of the ribs, two of which were broken. These injuries were, he said, sustained by him some days before during coaling operations, when he was badly crushed through an accident. Heavily handicapped as he was with his injury Trainor made a jump for life, and being a good swimmer was able to keep himself afloat until he was picked up by a small boat. While in the small boat Trainor saw the periscope of the German submarine. About four o’clock in the afternoon they were taken aboard a Norwegian steamer.
Trainor was asked why the submarine remained in the vicinity. ‘Because she was evidently waiting to see whether the Endymion would return to our assistance, so that another torpedo could be launched at her.’
Trainor then gave some interesting information in regard to the respective methods of operation of the British and German submarines, stating that in his opinion the British boat was decidedly superior. The Germans could not hit a cruiser unless she was halted, whereas the British gunners were able to sight and strike a moving ship.
Trainor was asked what complement did the ‘Hawke’ carry.
‘About six hundred, of whom seventy were saved.’
‘Were there many Irishmen among the crew?’
‘A good number.’
‘Were there many from the North West?’
‘No, not many. There was one chap I knew named McGinley, from Inch, but I believe the poor fellow went down with the ship. Of course, a lot were killed by the explosion, and I am afraid he was among them. The ship’s doctor was, I believe, from the Derry district. His name was Ross, and he often talked to me about Derry.’
Trainor was afterwards transferred to HMS ‘Crescent.’ It was believed that the shock of the experience in the North Sea hastened his demise. His funeral took place on Tuesday, April 20, 1915. A detachment of the Royal Naval Reserve under Lieutenant WJ Bibby, HMS ‘Corantes,’ and a Company of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, with their Brass and Pipe Bands, under Lieutenant Kelly, marched immediately in front of the gun carriage, which bore the remains, in a solid oak coffin, covered with the Union Flag. Trainor’s cap was placed on the coffin. There was a very large attendance of the general public, embracing all creeds and classes. Large numbers also lined the thoroughfares through which the procession passed, and in most houses the blinds were drawn as a tribute of respect. On the way to Londonderry City Cemetery the bands played the Dead March, and after the service at the grave, which was conducted by the Reverend L Hegarty, CC, a party of the Inniskillings, under the command of Sergeant Fullerton, fired three volleys. The Last Post was then sounded. After the grave was filled in a number of beautiful wreaths were placed on it by Trainor’s comrades in the Navy. The chief mourners were – Mr George Trainor (father); Messrs James and Alexander Trainor (brothers); Mr James Trainor (uncle); Messrs Edward, Charles and Alexander Hillen, and William and John Quigley (cousins). The clergy present were – Reverend L Hegarty, CC, St Eugene’s; Reverend JL McGettigan, CC, St Eugene’s; and Reverend W O’Neill, CC, Long Tower.
The chaplain of HMS ‘Crescent,’ Reverend CH Payton, wrote a sympathetic letter to the widow of Charles Trainor, dated April 20, 1915. It read as follows: ‘Dear Mrs Trainor – I am just writing a short letter to you to say how deeply the ship’s company sympathises with you in your recent great loss. I have not joined up with this ship very long, but am safe in saying that like the rest of our gallant navy, your husband was doing his best, and no man can do more. At a time like the present, when so many of our gallant fellows are paying the price for their country, it is very hard to try and condole with their relatives; but your husband’s case was exceptionally sad, and we all feel it to be so. All we can do is to pray that his soul, together with the souls of all whom we have lost in the present struggle, is at peace for ever with his Maker. We have the promise that “the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and there shall no torment touch them.” This promise has been of great help to me wherever I see that some friend or relation has been suddenly called from his work here. May I, in bringing this brief note to a close, once more offer you our heartfelt sympathy.’
Besides being a competent seaman, Trainor was known as a capable boxer and footballer, being a member of Derry Rangers FC.