Local historian Trevor Temple chronicles the individuals associated with Londonderry who lost their lives in WWI.
Palmer, Private Benjamin Norman, SS/1462
Dublin born Private Palmer worked as a Record Office Clerk in the Army Service Corps.
Prior to enlisting, which he did on August 5, 1914, he worked as an accountant in Londonderry for two decades. He died in a railway accident in England on September 19, 1914, aged 37.
Private Palmer was the son of Benjamin and Annie Palmer, and husband of Josephine Palmer, 17, High Street, Londonderry. His remains are interred in South Stoke (St Andrew) Churchyard, Oxfordshire, and his name is commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
At the inquest on Private Palmer, whose address was given as 5, Harvey Street, Londonderry, it was proved he opened the door of an express train from Aldershot and stepped out, thinking he was entering the lavatory. Another train severed both his legs. Among his belongings were found a certificate for proficiency in French, English, and shorthand. A verdict of accidental death was returned.
Nelis, Rifleman Daniel, 5319
Thirty-five-year-old Rifleman Nelis, 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, died in France on September 20, 1914.
He was the son of Patrick – who possibly died at the City and County Infirmary on September 3, 1920 – and Catherine Nelis.
He was in addition brother of Patrick Nelis, 62, Long Tower Street, Derry; perhaps the brother of James Nelis, a member of the Irish National Foresters (Branch Aileach, No. 76), who died on October 8, 1924, and was buried in Londonderry City Cemetery; possibly the brother and brother-in-law of Cassie and Edward H. Dennice, 62, Long Tower Street; and perhaps the brother and brother-in-law of Elizabeth and William Quinn, 18, Hogg’s Folly, Derry.
Rifleman Nelis’s name is recorded on the La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial, Seine-et-Marne, France, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial. He had eighteen years’ service at the time of his death.
Daniel Nelis died at the Aisne. During the advance to and crossing of the Aisne, the 2nd Rifles, to which he belonged, had seen little fighting and had suffered only a few casualties in crossing by a footbridge. But in succeeding days they were heavily engaged in repelling the German assaults and suffered considerable losses in the fierce bombardments.
James W. Taylor, in his book The 2nd Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War, described the actions of that battalion on the day of Rifleman Nelis’s death:
“There was a slight bombardment after daylight on the 20th and, at about 10 a.m., a severe attack took place supported by artillery that lasted a little over two hours. Both machine guns of 2nd RIR were put out of action and Capt. Becher was wounded. One company of the South Lancs came up in support. A report was received from the Wiltshires that the Germans had broken through on their right. Many casualties were caused by machine-gun fire from the wood, but a company of Worcesters was brought up by Capt. Goodman against the enemy’s right and the Germans fell back immediately.
“Lt Lowry gave more details: ‘On the following Sunday morning, a lovely day, we heard music from the German lines and thought that ‘Jerry’ was going to church, but within a few minutes he started one of those deadly attacks he had made on our line…We were short of ammunition, with no artillery to speak of, and many rifles were difficult to handle as we had no oil for days and it was impossible to use them for rapid fire. However, we managed to get bayonets fixed, though in many cases this was difficult owing to the dirt, and kept our fire until the enemy were right upon us. We beat them off after four hours of the very best of hard fighting, but at a sad loss to our regiment of 200 officers and men – a company of the Worcesters which had been brought up in support also suffering heavily. It is interesting to state that we found from the officer in charge of the transport in the village of Hervilly that, no matter where the transport moved, the enemy artillery immediately ranged upon it with extreme accuracy. This we knew to be due to our lines being interwoven with spies – four German soldiers in uniform, indeed, being caught about this time on the Paris side of the Aisne; these were found secreted in a well-concealed dugout which was fully equipped with telephonic communications with both their own forces and also spies in this area.’”
Brawley, Private Joseph, 6914
Private Brawley, 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was born at Derry, enlisted at Glasgow, and died in France on September 23, 1914.
He was the husband of Annie Brawley, 47, Cowan Street, Glasgow, and his remains are interred in St Germain-en-Laye New Communal Cemetery, Yvelines, France, seventeen kilometres west of Paris.
Dooley, Corporal Robert (Bobby), 10248
Bobby Dooley, 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, died of wounds – received in action at the battle of the Aisne – in hospital, Glasgow, on September 23, 1914.
Aged in his early twenties’, he was the eldest son of Robert and Annie Dooley, 2, Wells Street Terrace, Derry. His remains are interred in Londonderry City Cemetery, and his name is commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
Corporal Dooley was in action with his regiment from the Battle of Mons and through the engagements at Le Cateau and St Quentin, and, coming through unscathed, took part in the Battle of the Marne and in the subsequent pursuit of the Germans to the Aisne. During the fighting Dooley was wounded in no fewer than five places. Bullets pierced his neck, his thigh, and ankle, and he also sustained two injuries from shrapnel. After treatment in the field hospital he was sent to the 4th Royal Scots Hospital, Glasgow. Despite the best medical skill, however, he succumbed to his injuries. On learning of the serious condition of his son, Corporal Dooley’s father went over to see him, and was present at the bedside when the young soldier took his last breath.
On the arrival of the Glasgow boat at Londonderry, on the morning of Thursday, September 24, 1914, the coffin containing the remains of Robert Dooley was conveyed to the residence of his father, at Wells Street Terrace. He was buried with military honours the following day.
Corporal Dooley was well known in the city of Derry, having been attached to the local postal service for a period. His father served through the Boer War, and took part in the siege of Ladysmith, between November 1899 and February 1900, at Ladysmith, Natal.
On the third anniversary of Robert Dooley’s death, members of his family had the following poignant lines placed in a Derry newspaper:
‘Though lost to sight, to memory dear,
Oh for the touch of a vanished hand,
Or the sound of a voice that is still.’
Belshaw, Corporal James, 2575
Corporal Belshaw, 4th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was born and enlisted at Belfast.
He died on September 24, 1914, aged 21, and was the son of William and Elizabeth Belshaw, 35, Jenny Mount Street, York Road, Belfast. His remains are interred in Londonderry City Cemetery.
Donohoe, Sapper John, 19714
Sapper Donohoe, Royal Engineers (57th Field Company), was born at Londonderry, enlisted at Belfast, and died in France on October 9, 1914.
His name is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, situated in the Pas de Calais area of France. The memorial lists over 13,000 names of British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave who were killed in the region prior to the beginning of the Loos battle in September 1915. The exceptions are Canadian soldiers, whose names are commemorated at the Vimy Memorial, and Indian Army soldiers, whose names appear on the Neuve-Chapelle Memorial. Royal Engineers (57th Field Company) served with 3rd Division during the Great War 1914-1918. The 3rd Division proceeded to France in August 1914. They saw action in The Battle of Mons and the rearguard action at Solesmes, The Battle of Le Cateau, The Battle of the Marne, The Battle of the Aisne, at La Bassee, Messines and the First Battle of Ypres. They took part in the Winter Operations of 1914-15, and on April 7, 1915, 57th Field Coy, transferred to 49th (West Riding) Division.
Rossington, Company Sergeant Major Harry, 7923
Harry Rossington, 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment, was born at St Mark’s, West Gorton, Manchester, enlisted at Stockport, Cheshire, and died, from wounds received at the battle of Mons, on October 11, 1914.
He was the husband of Mrs Rossington, 35, Clooney Terrace, Waterside, Londonderry, and his remains are interred in Mons (Bergen) Communal Cemetery, Belgium.
In the Great War 38 battalions were raised by the Cheshire Regiment. At the outset of the war in 1914 the 1st Battalion was exposed to the brunt of two German Army Corps at the village of Audregnies near Mons. Their heroic stand saved the British Expeditionary Force from a disaster and is celebrated as a second Regimental Day on August 24. This Battalion was in every major action in France throughout the war and won 35 Battle Honours.