Local historian Trevor Temple chronicles the individuals associated with Londonderry who lost their lives in WWI.
McCann, Private William, 4502
William McCann, 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was killed in action at the Dardanelles on April 26, 1915.
He was the husband of Mrs McCann, Long Tower, and the brother of Andrew McCann, 24, Nelson Street, Derry.
His name is recorded on the Helles Memorial, Turkey, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were situated in Trimulgherrey, India, when the Great War began in August 1914.
They were recalled to the United Kingdom and landed at Avonmouth on January 10, 1915. They came under the command of 87th Brigade in 29th Division, and moved to Rugby. In March 1915, they set sail, via Egypt, and landed at Cape Helles, Gallipoli, on April 25, 1915.
In his book, ‘The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the World War,’ Sir Frank Fox describes the landing and actions of the 1st Inniskillings on April 25, and the following day – the day Private McCann lost his life: ‘The 87th Brigade, 29th Division, with which were the Inniskillings, had had X beach, just inside the Gulf of Saros, assigned as its landing-place, the landing to be covered by the guns of Implacable and other ships.
‘It was a singularly fortunate section that day. The Brigade landed without a casualty, the Turkish rifle fire being ill-directed: indeed the most dangerous moment was when a “premature” from Implacable fell on the beach, but fortunately did not explode.
‘The Brigade formed up in parade order under the shelter of a low cliff and officers gave their final instructions, one of which was that if a man were hit he was to empty out his cartridge pouches as he fell, if he had the strength left to do so, in order that his comrades could pick up the precious ammunition.
‘The instruction was remembered: the first casualty, Sgt. Smalls, emptied out his pouches and cartridges were collected.
‘Advancing from the beach along rough goat tracks, the Brigade came under heavy rifle fire, but carried the cliff line about 500 yards inland and entrenched for the night. The enemy counter-attacked but were beaten off. Casualties had been severe, especially among the officers.
‘The next day, April 26, an advance was made about a mile and a half inland to a point known as the Brown House. Touch was gained on the right with the 86th Brigade and the position consolidated for the night. The number of dead enemy seen showed that the naval bombardment had been very efficacious at this point.’
There are other accounts of the landing at X beach. Captain Hughes Lockyer, skipper of the Implacable, whose supporting fire blasted the Turks from their positions, led many, particularly the man himself, to claim that had a similar tactic been adopted elsewhere then the losses at V and W beaches would have been significantly reduced.
One Nottinghamshire man aboard the Implacable was Tom Mason, a private in the Royal Marine Light Infantry: ‘I shall never forget the Sunday, 25th April. On the 24th, we took the Royal and Lancaster [sic] Fusiliers on board and landed them on the 25th. Before doing so, we bombarded for nearly an hour, both with 6-inch and 12-inch shell, and you would have thought it impossible for human beings to live in such a hot fire, but when the poor lads landed it was murderous.’
The Implacable carried men from the Royal Fusiliers and Lancashire Fusiliers. The Royal Fusiliers were the first on the beach. Despite the point-blank fire, Mason felt that the Turkish resistance remained strong: ‘There was still thousands of Turks left, and we saw the poor fellows falling like nine pins, some of them before they left our boats, as we were only about 500 yards from the beach. In fact, the wounded were coming back in the same boats that they went to land in. We lost a fleet surgeon that day. He was shot in the stomach, and poor fellow, he looked dead when I saw him on the stretcher on the upper deck. It was a rifle bullet.’
In support, men from the 1st Inniskillings, including Nottingham man, L/Cpl. Herbert Middleton, took to their boats: ‘We started off for landing about 6 a.m. We had to go off in small boats, and the sailors rowed us ashore. We did not get landing quite as easy as all this, for when we were about 200 yards from the shore bullets and shells started flying around us and we had to keep low I can tell you. We had a few casualties before we reached the shore. The place where we landed was a very high ridge. We advanced up the hill at a charge with fixed bayonets, &c. We made up a firing line and kept up a heavy fire while we landed some stores and hospital kit &c.’
Some have claimed that these accounts have been grossly exaggerated. Others say that the exaggeration is perfectly understandable, given the confusion of heated battle.
Mason’s ‘thousands of Turks’ numbered all of twelve, who were largely stunned by the Implacable’s fire. And Middleton’s account of landing under intense fire has been exposed as almost fictional. The Royal Fusiliers lost many men but only during the attempt to move inland towards Hill 114, trying to link up with the Lancashire Fusiliers whose landing on W Beach was more fierce.
Gilliland, Lieutenant William Millar Major
William Millar Major Gilliland, 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was killed in action at the Dardanelles on April 28, 1915.
He was the son of Mr W. Louis Gilliland (of the firm of solicitors, Messrs. Knox, Gilliland & Babington) and Mrs Gilliland, Eschol, Derry. He was in addition the grandson of Canon W. M. and Mrs Major, and sister of Louise Elizabeth Frances, who married Cyril Bland, only son of Sydney and Mrs Aylward, Bournemouth, on June 6, 1922, at St James’s, Piccadilly.
Lieutenant Gilliland was a member of the Apprentice Boys of Derry. His name is recorded on the All Saints’ Church (Church of Ireland), Clooney Parish, 1914-18 Roll of Honour, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial. His remains are interred in Pink Farm Cemetery, Helles.
Lieutenant Gilliland was gazetted to the 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on February 25, 1914, and accompanied his battalion to France as part of the Expeditionary Force.
He was wounded at the battle of Le Cateau (receiving a bullet in his right wrist, a shattered hand, and a shrapnel wound on the leg) in August 1914, and on his recovery was attached to the 3rd Battalion of his regiment until February 1915, when he joined the 1st Battalion, and proceeded with them as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.
A memorial service for Lieutenant William M. M. Gilliland, and Captains Valentine K. Gilliland, and John Goold Adams was held in All Saints’ Church, Clooney, on Thursday, June 3, 1915. A Reverend W.F.H. Garstin, rector of the church, delivered a short address, in which he paid a tribute to the dead officers.
‘We are met within these sacred walls,’ he said, ‘to honour the memory of men who had given the surest proof of the existence within them of the purest and strongest, the most sacred tie which could bind friend to friend. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” In response to the call of King and country, William Miller Major Gilliland, a son of this parish; Valentine Knox Gilliland, his cousin; and John Goold Adams, son of the Archdeacon of Derry, our late beloved and much respected rector, arose and, with others, their comrades-in-arms, went their way along the path to which duty pointed them with a tread that was firm and full of resolution.
‘Their step was resolute; but who will say the path which they elected to follow was one upon which they entered without pain or suffering? He before Whom we gather together today, the one and only perfect Man, pursued calmly and resolutely the way of service and of suffering, but not without effort. “He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” It is not possible that the men who hold the chief place in our thoughts today could enter upon the same path without suffering similar to that which He endured, Who is far above the best of us.
‘They, too, as they entered upon that way were called upon to brace themselves to steadfastly set their faces. The parting from loved ones, the prospect of suffering and of death, which the step they were taking involved, all acted as chains to hold them back. They were, however, men who could not be holden: the voice of duty called, they arose and forsook all and followed it.
‘How closely they followed the way of service and of sacrifice; how fearlessly they performed their duty – to this the hallowed mounds on foreign shores which mark the last resting places of all that of them is mortal bear undisputed testimony. It seems but yesterday that William Gilliland, bearing upon him the marks of service rendered in the battlefields of Flanders, was amongst us pursuing the daily round of duty with his fellow officers and men in barracks, worshipping his God on Sunday in this church. Now for him and Valentine Gilliland and John Goold Adams, men full of life and hope, the day of service here, service well and faithfully performed, is ended...’
A Latin brass tablet in memory of Lieutenant Gilliland was unveiled in All Saints Church, Clooney, on Sunday, December 5, 1915, by Lieutenant Colonel J.K. McClintock, D.L., officer commanding the 3rd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, in the presence of the officers and men of the battalion, the relatives of the deceased, and a number of the general public. Erected on the wall of the north transept, close to the family seat, the tablet bore the following inscription: ‘To the glory of God, and in loving memory of William Millar Major Gilliland, Lieutenant Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, only son of William Louis Gilliland, of Eschol, and of E. Catherine Major, his wife; wounded at Le Cateau, France, 26th August, 1914, while serving with 2nd Battalion; killed in action near Krithia, Gallipoli Peninsula, 28th April, 1915, while serving with 1st Battalion; aged 20. Brave, debonair, chivalrous, true, greatly beloved, he trusted in God, and was Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.’
On the left hand corner of the tablet was the crest of the 1st Battalion (the old 27th Inniskillings), who had fought so nobly, so gallantly, and so heroically in the Gallipoli Peninsula.
The tablet was unveiled by Lieutenant Colonel McClintock, after the reading of the Lesson for the day, and, in dedicating it, the Reverend Garstin, chaplain to the troops at Ebrington Barracks, said – ‘To the Glory of God, and in loving memory of William Miller Major Gilliland, Lieutenant Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who died upon the field of battle while serving his King and country, we dedicate this memorial brass, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.’