Local historian Trevor Temple chronicles the individuals associated with Londonderry who lost their lives in WWI.
Breslin, Lance Corporal Patrick, S/2748
Patrick Breslin, 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders (Ross-shire Buffs, The Duke of Albany’s), was born at Londonderry, enlisted at Glasgow, Lanarkshire, and died in France on May 9, 1915.
He was the brother of Minnie Breslin, 4, Deanery Street, Derry, and his name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France. His name is also commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
The 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders had been stationed in Agra, India, upon the outbreak of war, and formed part of the Dehra Dun Brigade in Meerut Division.
They mobilised for war in September, 1914, and embarked for France arriving in Marseilles on October 12.
On the day of Lance Corporal Breslin’s death, the battalion suffered badly at the Battle of Aubers Ridge. Private Harry Boneham, 1/4th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders – then also part of Dehra Dun Brigade in 7th (Meerut) Division – gave an account of the fighting at Aubers Ridge on that day, which appeared in the ‘Mansfield Chronicle’ on May 21, 1915.
‘...We were told that the German trenches and positions behind them were to be attacked and taken, and that we were to be in the first line of the attack, after which followed, of course, details as to how we were to proceed in the matter. As was the case at Neuve Chappelle, a huge bombardment was to proceed the attack.
‘Well, we were to move up at 7 o’clock that evening, and so began our preparations for doing so at once, feeling about as excited about it as anyone could do. Our greatcoats were taken from us, and we had to get rid of everything in our packs except our capes, and two days’ rations.
‘Just my luck to get two parcels full of good stuff at such a time, of course. We were also given masks to wear in case the Germans used poisonous gas on us. We were soon ready, and lay down to rest a bit until the time for moving came.
‘A strong wind was blowing, and it was raining steadily as the time drew near. However, 7 o’clock came and we got no order to move. Until midnight, we lay in suspense, and were then told that the attack had been postponed for 24 hours – possibly owing to the strong wind in our direction, and the cloudy sky.
‘Next day passed off quietly, the weather clearing, and in the evening we marched up and took our places in the trenches. This was on the Saturday evening, your busy time as a rule, and as I sat in the trench I was thinking I wouldn’t half mind if I were with you to lend a hand.
‘It’s anything but a treat, I can tell you, waiting through the night for the time for an attack to come.
‘Eventually, however, we saw streams of light in the east, following shortly afterwards by a beautiful sunrise. Skylarks were whistling overhead as gaily as could be, as if there were no such thing as war in the world. What a change in the state of affairs there was a few minutes later though.
‘A single shell came howling through the air from one of our big guns far at the back. This was followed by a regular hurricane of shells from all the guns that had been massed for the attack.
‘The noise was deafening, what with the whizzing overhead and the explosions in front, while the sight behind the German trenches reminded one of a storm at sea, clouds of dust and earth being thrown into the air much as the spray is when waves dash on the rocks.
‘This lasted for the best part of an hour I should say, and then we got the order to fix bayonets and move on from the communications trench in which we had been laying, into the front trench. No. 1, 2 and 3 Companies were to charge, and No. 4 (my Company) were to follow immediately behind carrying ammunition, and picks and shovels.
‘Our guns had scarcely ceased however, when the German artillery opened on us, and shells fairly rained down on us. The order came for our boys to charge, and over the parapet they went, all eager to be first.
‘They were met though by a terrible fire from machine guns and rifles in front, and very soon there was not a man left standing. One or two managed to get back unhurt, but the rest lay where they fell, either dead or badly wounded, and it was not until night came that any of them could be got in.
‘It was evident that the German trenches were still too strongly manned to be taken without terrible sacrifice, and so our attack was suspended for the time being until a further bombardment could take place.
‘Already sadly reduced in numbers, and suffering all the time from the shell fire, the Germans were pouring on us, so it was decided to relieve us a short time afterwards. Of the terrible time we had in getting out while shells fell among us relentlessly, and of the awful sights we saw, I will say little, indeed the horror of it defies description. How anyone could come through it untouched was a marvel, I can tell you...’
Doak, Private Hugh, 10063
Hugh Doak, ‘C’ Company, 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was born at 18, Fulton Place, Londonderry, and was killed by a sniper at the Dardanelles on May 9, 1915.
Aged 20, he was the youngest son of James and Matilda Doak, and brother of Annie Doak, Nailor’s Row, Derry. His name is recorded on the Helles Memorial, Turkey, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
In his book, ‘The Royal Inniskillings in the World War,’ Sir Frank Fox describes the actions of the 1st Inniskillings in the days leading up to the death of Private Doak: ‘On May 4, A and C Companies were detached to support the Lancashire Fusiliers of the 86th Brigade, and B Company was ordered to fill a gap between our Brigade and the 86th Brigade.
‘On May 6 our line was advanced some 600 yards without serious opposition. The next day an advance towards Krithia along a ravine known as Big Nullah was attempted, was met by heavy machine-gun fire and could make little progress.
‘But in the evening a small gain of territory was made and the line consolidated in touch with some New Zealand troops on the left who had been detached from the Anzac Corps.
‘Another advance was attempted on Krithia on May 8 in conjunction with the New Zealanders, the 87th Brigade to move up Big Nullah. Little ground was gained. That night the Inniskillings were relieved by the 69th Punjabis...’
McBride, Corporal John, 7407
John McBride, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, was born at Derry, enlisted at Glasgow, and died in action in Flanders on May 9, 1915.
His name is recorded on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium.
In his book, ‘The 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War,’ James W. Taylor describes the actions of the battalion on the day Corporal McBride met his death: ‘From 5 May the battalion was in billets at Bac St Maur. They departed at 11 p.m. on the 8th and marched to the assembly trenches at La Cordonnerie Farm, arriving three hours later, to take part in an attack against the German trenches at Rouge Banc.
‘The operation was part of another attempt to take Aubers Ridge in concert with the French attack at Souchez. This effort was made in two separate attacks, known respectively as the Battles of Fromelles and Festubert.
‘It was in the former that the battalion was to be destroyed for a second time in as many months. The task of the 8th Division was to break through the enemy’s lines in the area near Rouge Bancs, south of the Des Layes stream, and gain a position from the old line in the neighbourhood of La Cordonnerie Farm through Fromelles and Le Clerq. 1st RIR was to attack with 2nd Rifle Brigade and capture the German front-line system and the road behind them running from Rouges Bancs towards Fromelles.
‘At 5 a.m. the artillery commenced their 40-minute bombardment, 15 of which were devoted to wire cutting with the balance concentrated on the German trenches that were to be assaulted. This was hopelessly inadequate due to the shortage of guns and the time allotted.
‘Indeed, brass mortars dating from 1840 had to be pressed into service. Even at the height of the bombardment, the volume of effective fire was not sufficient to compel the German garrisons to keep under cover and this failure was to prove fatal to the success of the operation.
‘At 5.40 a.m. C (Capt. Newport) and D (Lt. Gartlan) Coys advanced in lines of platoons at about thirty paces distance and rushed the front German trenches, advancing beyond it to a portion of the road beyond. 2nd Rifle Bde was on the right and 13th London Regt (Kensington) on the left. A (Capt. Tee) and B (Capt. O’Sullivan) Coys followed in the same formation immediately behind C and D (less two platoons).
‘They were subjected to very heavy machine gun and rifle fire obliquely from both flanks by Germans who had remained in portions of their trench on either side of the line of the advance. Of the two platoons mentioned above, one section of twenty men advanced to the right under Col. Baker, and another under RSM W. Carroll to the left, to check and stop the crossfire.
‘All of these men were killed except the RSM, who had several bullet holes in his clothing and a slight wound in his hand. The remaining sections of these two platoons spent the day holding part of the British front line in front of the left flank. At 8.30 p.m. they withdrew having received orders to do so.
‘In the meantime the remainder of the battalion was holding the portion of the road, mentioned above, under machine gun and rifle fire and were expecting another battalion to go through them and continue the advance. 7095 Sgt Simner captured a machine gun that was used in repelling several later counter-attacks.
‘The relief battalion failed to appear and, after waiting half an hour beyond the time appointed for its appearance, the order was given at 7 a.m. to retire, as they could make no effective reply to the enemy’s fire and were losing heavily in officers and men. It was at about this time that Brigadier-General Lowry Cole was mortally wounded while trying to reorganise the attack.
‘What was left of this party returned to the captured portion of the German front line trenches and established defences there. It was placed under the command of OC 2nd Rifle Bde, Lt-Col. R.B. Stephens, who was also in the trench, having assumed command of 25th Brigade. The strength remaining at this stage was about 150 men of the Rifle Bde and 50 of the RIR.
‘They remained there all day and, at 7.50 p.m., the enemy made a determined counter-attack which was easily repulsed – the captured machine gun being used very effectively by 2/Lt. Gray of the Rifle Bde. At 8.30 p.m. Col. Stephens, on leaving for the Brigade Report Centre, handed over command of the detachment to Capt. Newport...’
McGeady, Lance Corporal Robert, 8683
Robert McGeady, ‘D’ Company, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, died in action in Flanders on May 9, 1915.
Aged 30, he was the son of James McGeady, 23, William Street, Londonderry. His name is recorded on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
Corporal McGeady had over eight years’ service, seven of which were spent in India. He arrived at the Front at the end of October 1914. At the time of his death a younger brother, Private John McGeady (who later died in September 1915), was in the Scottish Borderers, and was serving at the Front.
Smyth, Rifleman Hugh, 6437
Hugh Smyth, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, was born at Londonderry, enlisted at Belfast, and died in action in Flanders on May 9, 1915.
His name is recorded on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium.