Local historian Trevor Temple chronicles the individuals associated with Londonderry who lost their lives in WWI.
Gentle, Lance Corporal Andrew, 10349
Andrew Gentle, 2nd Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers, was born at Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland, and lived in Londonderry for sixteen years before enlisting at Glasgow.
He was killed in action on October 13, 1914, aged 23. He resided at 117, Foyle Road, Londonderry, and was the son of Neil and Christina Gentle, and nephew of Elizabeth Culley, 13, Westland Avenue, Londonderry.
He was a member of Second Derry (Strand Road) Presbyterian Church, 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 2nd Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers was stationed in Dublin at the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914.
The previous month the Borderers opened fire on a group of people on the day of the Howth Gun Running, July 26.
The gun running involved the delivery of rifles to the Irish Volunteers at Howth harbour.
The unloading of guns during daylight hours attracted a crowd and the authorities ordered military intervention. The Volunteers evaded the military. As the Borderers returned to barracks, they were accosted by a hostile crowd at Bachelor’s Walk, who threw stones and shouted insults. The soldiers shot into the crowd and bayoneted one man, resulting in the death of four civilians and the wounding of 38 others.
The Battalion joined the 13th Brigade of the 5th Division and proceeded to France with the British Expeditionary Force, landing at Le Havre on August 15, 1914.
In the battle of Mons the Borderers lay along the Conde canal. It was there when the army got the order to retreat, and with the other regiments of the division the Borderers fell back some miles on the morning of Monday, August 24.
In the retreat it suffered badly. Of the six brigades in General Smith-Dorrien’s II Corps, the 13th was in the rear, and felt the force of the German attack. At Fromieres on the Monday, and again at Le Cateau on the Wednesday, it was in the thick of the fighting, and on those days the battalion was almost destroyed.
Altogether, the Borderers lost 15 officers – or just about half their total – during the first days of the retreat.
The Borderers soon recovered, and at the Aisne were again placed in danger. They were ordered to cross the river opposite Missy, and all through Sunday, September 13, struggled on, but the ground over which they had to move was quite open, and when night came they were still on the wrong side of the Aisne.
Their efforts, however, had assisted the other brigades of the 5th Division to cross, who, in their turn, helped the Borderers and their comrades in the Thirteenth, who crossed on September 14.
The following month, the Borderers were in the region of Guinchy, where the Second Corps was fighting hard to drive the Germans from Lille.
On Tuesday, October 13 – the day Andrew Gentle lost his life – the 5th Division struck against the small industrial town of La Bassee, lying on a line of canals some sixteen miles south-west of Lille.
The canals formed a system of moats in front of the German trenches, and to the south of the town there was some high ground on which the defending artillery was placed. The German guns swept all the flat country around for miles, and there was no site from which the British artillery could effectively operate in response.
Tribute was paid to Lance Corporal Gentle at the Second Derry Boys’ Brigade Annual Display, held on Thursday, April 1, 1915, by the then Mayor of Londonderry, Robert Newton Anderson, who remarked that twenty-five of the old boys of the company were at present serving their King and country, while one, Andrew Gentle, had died on the battlefield.
Cotrell, Private Benjamin, L/9329
Benjamin Cotrell, 4th Battalion Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment), was born at Bethnal Green, Middlesex, England, enlisted at Stratford, Essex, and was killed in action on October 14, 1914.
He was a member of Second Derry (Strand Road) Presbyterian Church, and resided at 8, Northland Terrace, Londonderry. He worked in the Rock Mills prior to the Great War, and his name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France. His name is also commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
In the First World War, the Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) formed a total of 49 battalions (mainly due to a surplus of volunteers seeking to enlist). The Regiment received a total of 81 battle honours, 5 Victoria Crosses, and lost approximately 12,270 casualties during the course of the war.
The 4th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) was based in Devenport with 8th Brigade, 3rd Division, when war broke out in August 1914. They proceeded to France on August 14, landing at Boulogne. They saw action in 1914 at the battles of Mons and the rearguard action at Solesmes, Le Cateau, Marne, Aisne, La Bassee, Messines and the First Battle of Ypres.
Benjamin Cotrell almost certainly died at the Battle of La Bassee. On the same day as his death, Major-General Hubert Hamilton, who commanded the 3rd Division, was struck down. According to one account, this happened whilst he was riding along the front. According to another, he was standing in a covered place when he was hit by a shrapnel bullet, all those around him escaping unhurt.
Benjamin Cotrell’s name was read aloud during a special memorial service held in First Derry Presbyterian Church, on Friday, August 4, 1916, to pay tribute to the Presbyterian soldiers of the city of Londonderry, who had died during the first two years of the Great War.
Dillon, Private Dennis, 8064
The 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers arrived at Hazebrouck (a town of France, situated on the canalised river Bourre, 32 miles west-north-west of Lille) by the morning of October 13, 1914.
They moved forward east along the Hazebrouck-Meteren Road, and came into contact with the Germans early that afternoon, having the Royal Lancaster Regiment on their right. During the night the village of Meteren was seized by the combined force, and in the morning the 2nd Inniskillings moved on to the French town of Bailleul (situated near the Belgian frontier, 46 miles south east of Calais).
The following evening, October 15, the 2nd Inniskillings, with the remainder of the 12th Infantry Brigade, continued to advance, not being disturbed by the Germans, and camped for the night on the main road leading from the Belgian town of Ypres (36 miles south west of Bruges) to the French town of Armentieres (on the river Lys, 20 miles north of Lens), and the next morning crossed the Belgian frontier and marched to Ploegsteert (eight miles south of Ypres and three miles north of Armentieres), which was then occupied by the Allied cavalry.
On October 17, they advanced toward Le Gheer, and took up a position east of that village, supporting the following day a successful assault made by the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers. On this day also they were able to provide material assistance to B Squadron of the 9th Lancers, who had been held up by machine-gun fire in an attack they had made from Ploegsteert Wood. The Lancers were in a position from which they could neither advance nor withdraw. The 2nd Inniskillings, who were resting as a reserve in the wood, went to their aid, and under their covering fire the Lancers were extricated.
Among the 2nd Battalion Inniskilling fatalities, on October 18, was Private Dennis Dillon, son of Catherine Dillon, 5, Herbert Street, Waterside, and Patrick (who possibly died on October 29, 1920, and was interred at Ardmore Burying Ground). He was also husband of Mrs Elizabeth Dillon, 84, Fountain Hill, Waterside.
Dennis Dillon’s name is recorded on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Comines Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium.
The Memorial commemorates more than 11,000 servicemen of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in this sector during the First World War and have no known grave.
Most of those commemorated by the memorial did not die in major offensives, such as those that took place around Ypres to the north, or Loos to the south.
Most were killed in the course of the day-to-day trench warfare which characterised this part of the line, or in small scale engagements, usually carried out in support of the major attacks taking place elsewhere.
Dennis Dillon’s name is also on the Diamond War Memorial. His brother, Private Thomas Dillon, 2658, 6th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, was killed in action in Flanders on February 19, 1917, and a cousin, Private John Dillon, 4527, 2nd Inniskilling Fusiliers, was killed in action on November 8, 1916.