Local historian Trevor Temple chronicles the individuals associated with Londonderry who lost their lives in WWI.
Squibb, Corporal Reginald George, 7877
Corporal Squibb, 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, died in Belgium on November 8, 1914, aged 24.
He was the son of Jeremiah and Mary Squibb, who resided at 2, Mill Bank Cottage, Sandford – a hamlet on the Isle of Wight, near the village of Godshill and the seaside resort of Shanklin, towards the south-eastern part of the island. He was also husband of Elizabeth Squibb, 47, Bond Street, Waterside, Londonderry. His name is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium.
1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment was a Regular Army unit stationed in Colchester, Essex, on the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914. The Regiment was part of III Corps which consisted of the 4th and 6th Divisions. The Battalion was assigned to the 11th Brigade, 4th Division. With the Division, the Battalion joined the British Expeditionary Force and was sent overseas from Southampton to France in August 1914, landing at Le Havre on August 23.
The 1st Battalion saw its first combat against the German army at Le Cateau. The Battalion served on the Western Front for the rest of the War, participating in many battles in 1914 alone such as the First Battle of the Marne, the First Battle of the Aisne, and the Battle of Messines.
Thomas, Private Walter, 4013
Walter Thomas, 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was a native of Drogheda, County Louth, but lived in Derry from he was four years old.
He enlisted at Londonderry, and died in Belgium on November 13, 1914, aged 19. He was the son of Mrs Mary Buchanan, and stepson of Mr Robert Buchanan, 42, Miller Street, Londonderry, and was possibly a member of Clooney Hall Methodist Church. His remains are interred in Strand Military Cemetery, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium, and his name is commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
Private Walter Thomas volunteered for active service, and left the city of Londonderry with a draft at the beginning of November 1914. Initial unofficial reports stated that he had the misfortune to be shot through the head the first night he was in the trenches. Private Walter Thomas was an apprentice to the painting business with Mr Baird, Linenhall Street, Londonderry, and was very popular with his fellow workmen.
A brother of Private Walter Thomas, Drummer John Thomas, Inniskilling Fusiliers, who was only eighteen when he sailed with the original Expeditionary Force, was awarded a parchment certificate for devotion to duty on 10th/11th July 1916. In addition to the parchment certificate, he also held the Mons ribbon and the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.).
The D.C.M. was a British military decoration conferred upon warrant officers, N.C.O.’s and men for ‘individual acts of distinguished conduct in the field.’ The obverse of the medal bore the effigy of the reigning monarch; reverse, inscription, ‘For Distinguished Conduct in the Field.’ The ribbon was three stripes, outside red, centre blue.
Drummer John Thomas was posted as missing during the great German Spring Offensive of March 1918, and was later notified as wounded and a prisoner of war in Germany. Another brother of Private Walter Thomas, Sergeant William Thomas, also of the Inniskillings, served with the forces in the East.
McCurdy, Driver William, 37549
William McCurdy, 116th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, was born at Londonderry, and died in Belgium on Tuesday, November 17, 1914.
His name is recorded on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Ieper, West Vlaanderen, Belgium.
116th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, was part of 26th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, a unit of Britain’s pre-Great War regular army. It originally comprised 116, 117, and 118 Batteries, and was attached to 1st Infantry Division. In August 1914, it mobilised and was sent to the Continent with the British Expeditionary Force.
O’Neill, Private Patrick, 3422
Patrick O’Neill, 6th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, was the son of Charles O’Neill, 46, Graham Street, Londonderry.
He died on Tuesday, December 8, 1914, and his remains are interred in Londonderry City Cemetery.
An inquest into the death of 28-year-old Patrick O’Neill was held on Wednesday, December 9, 1914. Annie O’Neill, 3, Adam Street, Londonderry, stepmother of Patrick O’Neill, stated Patrick was a dock labourer. She went to the police station on the night of Monday, December 7, and secured his release. He had been arrested on the charge of being drunk and disorderly.
Patrick told her that he had received a ‘slogging’ from the police.
At the inquest the police denied this. A Constable Patrick Kelly said that O’Neill was drunk, used ‘filthy expressions’ and threatened to ‘make it sore’ for Kelly.
James Doherty, 47, Fahan Street, with whom Patrick O’Neill had lodged for three years, said that O’Neill came home on Monday night, December 7. He sat in the kitchen, during which he was sick, and said he had been beaten and abused by the constable who had arrested him. Doherty heard O’Neill walking about during the night. The following afternoon, Doherty was called, and O’Neill expired soon after. It did not occur to Doherty to send for a doctor. He thought it was none of his business to go to O’Neill’s room to see him.
Dr J. McMonagle, who was called to see O’Neill, said that when he arrived ‘life was extinct.’ There was a contusion over O’Neill’s cheekbone, and on the second joint of the forefinger of the right hand there was an injury. O’Neill seemed a ‘fairly well nourished man.’ From the evidence McMonagle heard he believed O’Neill ‘died from cardiac failure, brought about by exhaustion and depression, caused by alcohol.’
The Coroner, Dr O’Kane, said while he was convinced that nothing that happened in connection with O’Neill’s arrest had anything to do with his death, he thought it would be more satisfactory to have a post-mortem examination. O’Neill was ‘duly attested for the army’ the previous Saturday, and passed, so that he must have been in good health. It was possible that his death might have been brought about by some other cause than that suggested.
Evidence relating to the post-mortem examination, which was made by McMonagle and Dr James Craig, was given on Thursday, December 10, when the inquest was resumed.
McMonagle stated that no marks of violence were found either externally or internally. The doctors examined the brain and lungs, which were in a healthy condition, but the heart was fatty. All other organs were normal. In the opinion of the doctor, the cause of death was heart failure from exhaustion caused by vomiting, the heart being fatty.
McMonagle said there was a possibility that if O’Neill had received medical treatment sooner his life might have been saved. He further stated that in his opinion O’Neill’s death had nothing to do with his arrest.
Craig corroborated McMonagle’s evidence.
The jury found a verdict in accordance with the medical testimony, adding that no blame was attachable to the police either in connection with the arrest or detention of O’Neill. The jury also added a reference censuring the lodging housekeeper for his inattention to Patrick O’Neill.
McKay, Lance Corporal Henry (Harry B.), 3/5986
Henry McKay, 1st Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, was born at Londonderry, and enlisted at the village of Kinlochleven, Argyllshire, Scotland, which was situated at the head of Loch Leven, seven miles east of Ballachulish.
He died in France, aged 29, on December 22, 1914. He was the son of Mrs McKay, 417, Bronson Avenue, Ottawa, Canada, and Sergeant Major John McKay, Royal Field Artillery. He was also the husband of Margaret McKay, Viola Cottage, Kinlochleven. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission site lists him as James McKay, 6669, who is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
The 1st Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders was in Edinburgh when the Great War broke out in August 1914. They proceeded to France with the British Expeditionary Force, landing at Le Havre on August 14. On September 5, they joined 1st Brigade in 1st Division and saw action in 1914 at Mons, the Marne, the Aisne, and the First Battle of Ypres.
Canning, Private John James, 2301
John James Canning, 6th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, died on Thursday, December 31, 1914, aged 33.
He was the son of Samuel and Annie Canning, and husband of Catherine Hesson (formerly Canning), 49, Walkers Place, Derry. His remains are interred in Londonderry City Cemetery.
On the evening of Friday, January 1, 1915, a Mr Coroner Atkinson held an inquest on the body of Private John James Canning, who died suddenly at Portadown Railway Station on the previous night. Mr H. J. Harris, solicitor, appeared for the Great Northern Railway Company.
Daniel Canning, Derry, stated that John James Canning was his brother, and that he last saw him alive about three weeks before his death. He had been married about two years previously, and was a soldier in the Royal Irish Regiment. He was thirty-six years of age, and had always had good health.
Evidence having been given by John Niceen, of the Royal Irish Regiment, who, with other soldiers, accompanied John James Canning on the railway journey from Fermoy, and by William Topley, ticket collector on the railway, Dr Dougan, J.P., deposed that between five and six o’clock on the previous evening he proceeded to the railway station in answer to an urgent message, and found Canning lying on his back in the gentlemen’s waiting room on the down platform. He was then dead, and blood was oozing from his nose. There were no external marks to account for death, and unless he made a post-mortem examination it would be utterly impossible for him to say what the cause of death was.
The jury directed a post-mortem examination to be made, and the coroner adjourned the inquest.
On the court resuming, Dr Dougan stated that, in conjunction with his son, he had made a post-mortem examination of Canning. He found the skull free from injury and the brain quite healthy. There were extensive adhesions between the pleura and both lungs, evidently of old standing and apparently the result of some former attack of pleurisy. Both lungs were congested. He found the stomach much enlarged and acutely congested. The stomach was filled with almost a pint of what smelt strongly like fresh spirits. He believed the cause of death was alcoholic poisoning.
Dr George Dougan, junior, gave corroborative evidence.
The Coroner, in the course of his address to the jury, said it was a melancholy thing to think that a certain class of people thought they were doing soldiers a kindness by giving them drink. It would be a great blessing indeed if these people could realise that drink was a great curse, and that at such a time as this it ought not to be given to soldiers.
The jury returned a verdict to the effect that Canning died from alcoholic poisoning.