Local historian Trevor Temple chronicles the individuals associated with Londonderry who lost their lives in WWI.
Richardson, Corporal Walter Allen, 8799
Walter Allen Richardson, 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, died of wounds on October 30, 1914.
He was the husband of Mrs L. Richardson, 3, Olive Terrace, Waterside, Londonderry, and his name is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium.
2nd Battalion The Royal Scots Fusiliers was in Gibraltar when war broke out in August 1914. They returned to England, landing in September 1914 and came under orders of the 21st Brigade, 7th Division, who were concentrating in Lyndhurst in the New Forest in Hampshire, 9 miles west-south-west of Southampton. The Division landed at the Belgian coastal town of Zeebrugge on October 6, 1914, to assist in the defence of Antwerp.
Antwerp was being besieged by the Germans. On September 27, 1914, the big German howitzers started to shell the outer forts, which rapidly fell. On October 3, British forces arrived. Their aim was to delay the fall of the city, and so help the retreat of the Belgian army. On October 9, the last troops withdrew and the city surrendered and remained in German occupation until November 1918.
The Fusiliers took up defensive positions at important bridges and junctions to aid in the retreat of the Belgian army. Afterwards they entrenched in front of Ypres, suffering extremely heavy losses and distinguishing themselves in the First Battle fought there during October and November 1914.
The Germans in their onslaught at Ypres pressed back the British, and points of weakness were the angles of the salient at Bixschoote (6 miles north of Ypres and east of the Yser Canal) and Hollebeke (4 miles south-east of Ypres). In the centre another wedge had been driven into the 21st Brigade at Becelaere (6 miles east of Ypres). Here the Fusiliers distinguished themselves in the fierce fighting, for by a counter attack, in which the Yorkshires assisted, the breach was partly repaired.
Corporal Richardson, who had ten years’ service, was stationed for a time in Londonderry. Writing to Walter’s wife, concerning the death of her husband, Major J.H.W. Pollard, commanding 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers in the field, said: ‘I should like to add that Corporal Richardson was a most promising non-commissioned officer, and did well during the present campaign. Prior to the war he had been one of our best pipers, and had been employed as orderly to the commanding officer for two years during training and manoeuvres. I am very sorry to have lost him.’
Jennings, Corporal Albert V., 9481
Albert Jennings, 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, was born at London, enlisted at Dover, and resided at London.
He died on October 31, 1914, and was the father of Mary Maud Jennings, 7, Distillery Lane, Waterside, Londonderry. His name is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium.
Ferguson, Sergeant Andrew Charles Gluver, 327
Sergeant Andrew Ferguson, 1st Battalion Irish Guards, was the son of John and Elizabeth (Eliza) Ferguson and was on the reserves when the Great War broke out.
Although not amongst those selected to go out in the first Expeditionary Force he volunteered to accompany them, and was thus included in the first contingent of the Guards sent to France. Sergeant Ferguson was a very popular instructor of the U.V.F. in the Maiden City prior to the Great War, and he was also gymnastic instructor in the Y.M.C.A. At the time of the Boer War he volunteered for the frontline, but was not in the mounted detachment of the Irish Guards selected for service in South Africa.
Accompanying the letter, notifying Mrs Elizabeth Ferguson of the death of her son was the following communication: ‘The King commands me to assure you of the true sympathy of his Majesty and the Queen in the loss of your son – (Signed,) Kitchener.’
Sergeant Ferguson died during the First Battle of Ypres. H.E.D. Harris, in his book The Irish Regiments in the First World War, gives us a glimpse of the fighting conditions the Irish Guards countenanced at that time: they ‘… gave much at First Ypres in many desperate combats in the improvised trenches. German infantry advancing amid the glare of burning buildings were fought back by everyone – officer, man, cook, orderly, who could hold a rifle to fight back the big spiked-helmeted Prussians swarming into their trenches.’
The regiment suffered severely (especially from heavy artillery fire) on November 1, 1914. A sergeant, who returned home to Londonderry from the Front several months later, told the story of the death of Sergeant Andrew Ferguson on that day.
‘The Guards,’ he said, ‘were in the trenches, and were being hard pressed by a superior force of the enemy, when they ran short of ammunition. Things looked bad, and the German sharpshooters were so busy that to put one’s head above the trenches was risking almost certain death.
The situation was becoming desperate, when Sergeant Ferguson decided to make a dash out of the trenches to bring up the much-needed ammunition. No sooner, however, had he left cover to make his dangerous run to the rear than a German bullet pierced his head and killed him.’
Sergeant Andrew Ferguson’s father, John, who was born in County Donegal around 1850/51, was for a period of twenty-eight years a member of Londonderry Harbour Police, and for more than half that period was sergeant-in-charge. Prior to his connection with the local harbour force, John Ferguson had a rather eventful career. In early life he joined the Royal Irish Constabulary, and saw considerable service, principally in Leitrim and Cork. He was stationed in the latter county during the period of the Fenian rising in the late 1860s, and took part in many exciting incidents. Some time after retiring from the RIC force he was appointed on the house staff of the much-maligned William Clements, 3rd Earl of Leitrim, who was murdered in Cratlagh Wood on April 2, 1878. John Ferguson came to reside in Derry subsequently, and his next employment was as guard on the Great Northern Railway, a position that he worthily filled up to the time he was appointed to the harbour police. He died at the City and County Infirmary, Derry, on March 25, 1908, after a brief but painful illness, and was interred in Londonderry City Cemetery. His wife, Elizabeth, who was born in County Leitrim around 1860/61, was later buried in the same cemetery, following her death on December 4, 1923.
Sergeant Andrew Ferguson’s name is recorded on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial. It is also inscribed on St Columb’s Cathedral (Church of Ireland) Memorial to the men connected with that cathedral who died during the 1914-18 War.
Rankin, Guardsman Thomas, 805
Thomas Rankin, 1st Battalion Irish Guards, was killed in action in Flanders on November 1, 1914.
He was the son of James Rankin, Edenmore Street, Londonderry, and his name is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Ieper, Belgium. It is also recorded on the Diamond War Memorial.
Martin Gilbert in his book, First World War, recounts the actions of the Irish Guards on the day Guardsman Rankin lost his life: “On the evening of November 1, on the right flank of the British force, where it linked with the French, the Irish Guardsmen holding the line were driven back by heavy shelling and machine-gun fire to the fringe of Zillebeke Wood. Officers, orderlies, batmen, even cooks, seized rifles and joined the front-line troops. ‘Twas like a football scrum,’ one man later recalled. ‘Every one was somebody, ye’ll understand. If he dropped there was no one to take his place.’ Of the 400 men in that battalion, more than 130 were killed, 88 of them when their trench was completely blown in by German shellfire.”
McGill, Private James, 7211
James McGill, 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, died in Flanders on November 1, 1914.
Aged 31, he was the son of John McGill, and brother of Edward McGill, Bogside, Derry. His name is recorded on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
On October 29, 1914, the 2nd Inniskillings returned to Ploegsteert (8 miles south of Ypres and 3 miles north of Armentieres). The actions of the battalion – on the day preceding and actual day of Private McGill’s death – can be discovered in Sir Frank Fox’s book The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the World War: ‘On the morning of Oct. 31 the 2nd Inniskillings were called upon to help the 1st Cavalry Division out of a difficult position. An Indian Battalion had been driven from its trenches and the divisional position was in danger. The 2nd Inniskillings succeeded in retaking the lost trenches and restoring the line north of the River Douve. That night another call for help came, the left flank of the 4th Division being in difficulties, and the 2nd Inniskillings again moved forward. They had scarcely done this when it was decided by the High Command that the position north of the Douve was untenable, and that our left should be withdrawn towards Neuve Eglise. The Regiments on the left of the 2nd Inniskillings received their orders and retired. But the order failed to reach A and B Companies of the 2nd Inniskillings, who were holding a disconnected series of trenches facing the Messines Ridge. These Companies, therefore, as in duty bound, held on to their positions during the night and during next day, Nov. 1. By doing so, as already noted, they were able to frustrate, by sustained and skilful rapid fire, the attack of the German storm troops on Douve Farm. Great losses were inflicted on the enemy as they advanced over the open to within 150 yards of our rifles.
‘At nightfall Nov. 1 the 2nd Inniskillings were successfully withdrawn from a position which was tactically untenable, but which they had held with glorious results...”