Local historian Trevor Temple chronicles the individuals associated with Londonderry who lost their lives in WWI.
O’Kane, Sergeant Robert, 12162
Robert O’Kane, 6th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was born at Derry, enlisted at Tonypandy, Wales, and died at the Dardanelles on August 7, 1915.
He was a resident of Bridge Street, Derry, and his remains are interred in Green Hill Cemetery, Turkey.
6th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was raised at Omagh in August 1914, part of Kitchener’s First New Army.
They joined 31st Brigade, 10th (Irish) Division and moved to Dublin for training then on to Kildare by early 1915. In April 1915, they moved to Basingstoke, England for final training.
They departed from Liverpool on July 9 for Lemnos and landed at Suvla Bay on August 7, 1915, and made an attack on Chocolate Hill on the 7th and 8th.
In his book, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the World War, Sir Frank Fox describes the actions of the 6th Inniskillings at Suvla Bay and Chocolate Hill: ‘At Suvla Bay two Service Battalions of the Inniskillings, the 5th and the 6th (with the 31st Brigade of the 10th Division), came for the first time under fire, and a record of their experience will tell the story of the first phase of the battle there.
‘A preliminary explanation is necessary: the 10th Division was split up a great deal during the operations. Part of it on the first landing was under the orders of the 11th Division, and came into action in a different place from the other part.
‘Even Brigades were split up. Thus the 6th Inniskillings landed before the 5th Inniskillings.
‘On Aug. 6 part of the Division landed, and on Aug. 7 part of the 31st Brigade with the 6th Inniskillings.
‘They disembarked at C Beach, a little south of Suvla Bay, and at once advanced towards Lala Baba Hill, the 10th Division having the 11th Division on its left (on its right there were, of course, no troops, the nearest being the left wing of the force at Anzac, some miles away).
‘This portion of the 10th Division was placed under the orders of the 11th Divisional Commander and was directed to cross a narrow spit of sand between Salt Lake and the sea and then to attack, in co-operation with units of the 11th Division, Turkish strong points north of Salt Lake.
‘The passage across this spit of sand was a heavy trial for troops coming into their first battle, as the enemy artillery had the area carefully registered and plastered it assiduously with shrapnel.
‘After the crossing of the spit a frontal attack had to be made on the Turkish entrenchments on the hills, crossing first 500 yards of the flat bed of the lake (a dry sheet of salt at this time).
‘Casualties were heavy: both the O.C. Lt.-Colonel Cliffe, and the second-in-command, Major Musgrave of the 6th Inniskillings, were wounded.
‘But our men pressed on through the heavy scrub, suffering more severely from the enemy snipers than from his shell fire.
‘Land mines, exploding on contact, also caused some losses. By 5 p.m. the foot of Chocolate Hill was reached, and our troops took cover for a spell whilst the naval guns, and some batteries which had been landed, bombarded the enemy’s entrenchments.
‘A stout charge with the bayonet – the 6th Inniskillings, the 7th Dublins, the 6th Irish Fusiliers together – carried the crest of the hill by nightfall.
‘Then came the tasks of defence, consolidation, of collecting the wounded, of establishing lines of supply for water, food and ammunition. The scarcity of water was severely felt.
‘It was not possible – since a counter-attack might be expected at any time – to allow the troops to go back in details to fill their water-bottles at the water-lighters which had been bleached, and for some hours there were no means to carry up water in bulk to the trenches.’
Sergeant O’Kane was an eighteen years’ service man, and had three brothers in the army at the time of his death. He, with one of his brothers, fought throughout the Boer War.
McKeever, Private John Joseph, T4/124423
John Joseph McKeever, 4th Divisional Supply Unit, Army Service Corps, was accidentally drowned, on August 8, 1915, while boating in the Thames.
Aged 50, he was the son of John and Jane McKeever, and brother-in-law of Thomas Logue, 2, Melrose Terrace, Waterside, Londonderry.
His remains are interred in Reading Cemetery, Berkshire, and his name is commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
Private McKeever, who belonged to the Waterside, had for many years been a boatman on the river Foyle between the Waterside and the Great Northern Station.
He commenced his career as a compositor in the Derry Journal, and later joined the Army, where he spent seventeen years, attaining the rank of sergeant.
He took part in many engagements, and went through the South African campaign.
About five weeks before his death he rejoined the colours, and was attached to the Army Service Corps.
Mahon, Private George, 5285
George Mahon, 7th Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers, died at the Dardanelles on August 8, 1915.
He was the son of Roger Mahon, 120, Bishop Street, Londonderry.
7th Battalion, The Royal Munster Fusiliers, were raised at Tralee in August 1914 as part of Kitchener’s First New Army and joined 30th Brigade, 10th (Irish) Division.
They moved to the Curragh for training, and in May 1915 moved to Hackwood Park, Basingstoke, England. On July 9 they sailed from Liverpool for Gallipoli via Mudros.
They landed at Suvla Bay on August 7, 1915, and made an attack on Chocolate Hill on the seventh and eighth.
Private Harold Rydings, 7th Royal Munster Fusiliers, went into action at Suvla.
He left a detailed account of the chaos and confusion, the heat and the lack of water up to his being wounded on August 9 in a letter to his mother back in Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire, England.
Below is his description of the fighting on August 7 and 8:
‘...I must now begin. We went into action on Saturday morning [7th August 1915] and forced a new landing I dare say that you have seen it in the papers about the 10th Division of what good work they did.
‘When we were on the ship, waiting to land, there were shells and shrapnel dropping all round us.
‘The boats had to keep changing their positions to get out of range.
‘The guns that were firing at us were on high hills, and they kept firing and disappearing.
‘Our navy, which came up with us, found some of their guns, but the others kept up a continual fire.
‘We got off the large boats on to some small lighters, and set off for the shore.
‘While we were sailing for the shore a Turkish aeroplane dropped a bomb on the corner of our lighter, only doing little damage, and no one was injured.
‘We went as far as we could, then we had to wade through the water up to our shoulders, some getting killed, others wounded and drowned.
‘When the Dublins got ashore they struck a land mine, and it sent about one hundred of them to their graves – poor fellows.
‘We landed without much loss, and commenced advancing over sand and rocks and low bushes.
‘We advanced without much loss until Saturday night, then our casualties started.
‘We had driven the Turks back about three miles [sic – but it probably felt like that], and they was on Hill 971, and we were on another bit called La-la-baba.
‘There was a big open valley between. We had the order to make a vigorous attack from the right flank, C Company and two platoons from ours, and No. 16, under Major [Godfrey] Drage.
‘We had the order to advance with fixed bayonets, which we did for the first time in real warfare, and kept going down the hill and across the valley, open to their fire the whole time.
‘They were dropping like flies all round me. We then started going up the hill, and it was a hill, my word.
‘We got away from another with it being dark and the way so uncertain, but we had the order to charge, and we did.
‘We were outnumbered by so many, and they were strongly entrenched. The order was given to retire.
‘Some of us heard it – some didn’t. Those that didn’t went off to certain death.
‘We, that did, went down the hill, bullets whizzing all around us, my officer was hit, so Lieut.
‘FitzMorris took command of what few of us were left, and we made our way back to our Company headquarters. George and “Ginger” were missing.
‘I wondered if they had been wounded or killed. As soon as we reached headquarters, we had to start trench digging in solid rock. We got about 2ft. down by 6 o’clock.
‘The next morning (Sunday), we were under continual fire. We dug all day.
‘Mind you, the sun in the day nearly checked us, and we got our water bottles full (they hold a quart), when we left the ship, so you may guess what a state we were in, our tongues out and our eyes getting glassy, still we stuck it.
‘I could not eat for we only had “bully” beef and biscuits, and I had not enough moisture in my mouth to eat.
‘I sent my water bottle with a man who took so many to get them filled at a well at the beach, but he never returned, the snipers got him.
‘Well, late on Sunday night, who should turn up but George and “Ginger,” beat to the world, their clothes and equipment all riddled with bullets, but unhurt themselves.
‘We were all pleased to see each other safe...’
At the time of George’s death a brother, Private James Mahon, 2nd Border Regiment, was lying wounded in hospital in England.
This may have been the serious wound he received in fighting in Flanders, on Saturday, May 15, 1915, the news of which was conveyed, by a Church of England chaplain at the Front, to the injured man’s father on Thursday, May 20, 1915.
George Mahon’s name is recorded on the Helles Memorial, Turkey. It is also commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
Donnelly, Private James, 5106
James Donnelly, ‘C’ Company, 6th Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers (and formerly 17328, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers) was born at Claudy, County Londonderry, enlisted at Londonderry, and died at the Dardanelles on August 9, 1915.
Aged 20, he was the eldest son of James and Annie Donnelly, Ballymaclenaghan, Claudy, County Londonderry, and his name is recorded on the Helles Memorial, Turkey. 6th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers was raised at Naas in August 1914, part of Kitchener’s First New Army.
They joined 30th Brigade, 10th (Irish) Division and moved to the Curragh. In May 1915, they sailed from Holyhead and moved to Basingstoke, England for final training.
On July 11, 1915, they sailed from Devonport for Gallipoli via Mytilene.
They landed at Suvla Bay on August 7, 1915, and made an attack on Chocolate Hill on the 7th and 8th.