NSP Lives of the First World War 05: killed fighting on the first day of the Somme

 

One of the striking features of the Roll of Honour of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland is the large proportion of those who were killed during the First World War who lost their lives on the first day of the battle of the Somme.

The Roll of Honour includes a total of 98 servicemen who died in service. Of these 17 are listed as having been killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme (1st July 1916) and two more are listed as having been killed on 2nd July. In other words 19 out of 98 or just under 20% of all the fatal casualties in the denomination occurred at the start of the battle of the Somme.

Almost all of these men were part of the Ulster Division, mostly serving with the Royal Irish Rifles, eight of them belonging to the 13th Battalion and four of them serving with the 11th Battalion. The two soldiers who were recorded as killed on 2nd July were both members of the 8th Battalion.

The statistics alone indicate the impact the battle of the Somme must have had on the Ulster Division and on those back at home. Of the 19 who were killed five were officers, two were NCOs and the others were private soldiers. Some of the men were quite well-known such as Captain James Samuel Davidson, the son of S.C. Davidson the founder of the Sirocco works in Belfast.

Captain JS Davidson 1916

Captain James Samuel Davidson, 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles attached 108th Coy. Machine Gun Corps

Other deaths indicate the devastating effect the battle of the Somme had on families. So at Templepatrick two brothers were killed on the first day of the Somme, James Harper of the 15th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, aged 23, and his younger brother Joseph, aged just 19, serving with the 11th Battalion of the same regiment, both killed at the start of the battle. At Holywood congregation James Dermot Neill was killed on the first day of the Somme, his younger brother Robert Larmour Neill had been killed in action in May of the previous year. Both brothers are remembered on a family memorial in Holywood Church.

Holywood Memorial Lieut R L Neill

Holywood memorial to James Dermot Neill and Robert Larmour Neill

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400th Anniversary of the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth

 

The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth was built in 1618 during the ministry of the Rev Richard Mather in the former royal deer park of Toxteth by Puritans who desired to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience. Originally situated in a remote rural community the Chapel is now in the midst of a heavily built-up suburb of Liverpool. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Chapel which has been in continuous use since 1618. A special service to celebrate this 400th anniversary of this historic Chapel will be held on Sunday, 25th November at 2.30 pm.

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Please note – if you are thinking of attending this service – that the time has been changed from 3.00 pm to 2.30 pm – as shown above.

Clough Harvest 2018

 

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The annual service of Harvest Thanksgiving was held at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on Sunday, 21st October at 3.00 pm. The visiting preacher was the Rev Dr Heather Walker, minister at Rademon, and special music was provided by the well-known choir, the Clare Chorale, under the musical direction of Sheelagh Greer. The choir sang six pieces which were a wonderful accompaniment to the beautifully decorated church. Clough Harvest corn dolly

Clough Harvest table

Clough Harvest window

Clough Harvest pumpkin

Clough Clare Chorale in Hall 02

The Clare Chorale in the hall after the service

Clough Sheelagh Greer

(left to right) Sheelagh Greer, musical director of the Clare Chorale, Rev Dr Heather Walker, visiting preacher, and Rt Rev Colin Campbell, the father of Dr Walker and the current moderator of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church who was present at the service

Ballee Harvest 2018

Ballee Harvest 04

Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church held their annual service of Harvest Thanksgiving on Sunday, 14th October at 3.00 pm. The church was beautifully decorated by church members with the theme ‘World Harvest’, with special displays depicting harvest from the five continents. The special preacher was the Rev Dr Will Patterson, who led the worship, with special music contributed by local singing group Harmony. It was a wonderful occasion and following the service all the non-perishable produce was distributed to the Downpatrick Foodbank.

Ballee Harvest 05

Ballee Harvest 03

Ballee Harvest Organ

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Window display showing the Harvest of the World by continent

Ballee Harvest

Members of Harmony with the visiting preacher, Rev Dr Will Patterson, outside the church after the service

NSP Lives of the First World War 04: The Harrison family of Newtownards

 

One of the features of the new Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Roll of Honour is how often we see groups of brothers join after the outbreak of war. In many churches there are sets of brothers, sometimes two, sometimes three, sometimes four who respond to the appeal for volunteers. From contemporary newspaper reports we can imagine the effect this had on the families and friends who were left at home.

Newtownards 1909

The First Presbyterian Church, Newtownards in 1909

At the start of the First World War the secretary of the Newtownards congregation was Samuel Harrison, a man widely respected in the town and in the church. Three of the sons of Samuel and Grace Harrison (all members of Newtownards) joined up after war broke out, as well as two of their grandsons. In the July 1916 issue of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian it was announced that his younger son, Thomas James Harrison, had been awarded the Military Medal for bravery. In the Newtownards news of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian it was reported that “What the special act of bravery was that earned him this distinction has not been officially disclosed as yet, but we understand it was connected with acts of great bravery in rescuing wounded comrades. As a Church, we are proud of the fact that one of our number has earned this coveted distinction, and also that he is the first one in the town to receive this medal.”

In fact, as will be seen from the Roll of Honour, Thomas Harrison was himself killed before he could be presented with this medal. He died, along with so many others, on 1st July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme.

I am grateful to Jeffrey Martin and Nigel Henderson for providing me with this picture of him which appeared in the Newtownards Chronicle at the time:

Rifleman Thomas James Harrison

From the ‘Newtownards Chronicle’

Credit: Nigel Henderson (Great War Belfast Clippings)

The extent of the casualties on the first day of the Somme must have had a devastating effect back home. At the time of Thomas’ death Samuel was nearly 72 years old and himself died little over a year later. It was perhaps a measure of how highly he was thought of that quite an unusually full obituary of him appeared on the pages of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian. It detailed his education at the National School at Ballycullen, an education cut short by the need to go out to work as a farm boy, but supplemented by a return to night class “after a hard days’ work begun at daylight”.

He was a man of fine, high principle, and greatly valued by his employer the obituary said. When promoted to the post of land steward he was the youngest man in that capacity in the county, eventually becoming the foreman of the road labourers for the local council. The obituary speaks highly of his ability to get on with all classes of people. The Newtownards Chronicle itself said “there is no individual in this county who is more highly respected by all classes and creeds than everybody’s good friend, Sam Harrison.” The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian detailed the local respect shown to him at his funeral:

Had he been one of the leading citizens or a wealthy manufacturer, the tribute would not have been so very remarkable; but as he died as he had lived – a plain working man – this tribute was the more noteworthy.

He had been a member of the church committee since 1875 and the secretary since 1898, the obituary emphasised his faith commitment:

A staunch Non-Subscriber and liberal Christian, his attachment to his Church was shown in the unselfish devotion of his mind and energies to its welfare.

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Picture from the ‘Non-Subscribing Presbyterian’

All this is part of the background to the experience of those who served in the trenches. In the words of his obituary Samuel Harrison left behind a fine record of faithfulness and a memory that should be an inspiration to those that follow him. For those left at home life continued as normal, at least outwardly. But it must have been hard to express in words the shared sense of loss felt by so many after 1st July 1916.

 

NSPCI Roll of Honour: Awards and Decorations

 

One of the things that people sometimes ask me is: Were any members of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland awarded the Victoria Cross during the war? The highest award for gallantry since its inception in 1856 by Queen Victoria it is synonymous with bravery. However, having compiled this new Roll of Honour it seems clear that none of the recipients in the First World War were Non-Subscribers. This is not surprising since it is quite a rare award, only 615 Victoria Crosses were awarded throughout the whole of the Great War. But it is also clear, when looking at the Roll, that a number of members of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches were given various awards for bravery or conspicuous service in battle.

Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

This was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1886 as an award for officers, usually at the rank of major. In the First World War it could be awarded for “an act of meritorious or distinguished service”, usually when under fire or in the presence of the enemy. Three members of the denomination in Ireland were awarded the DSO.

Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)

Like the Victoria Cross this was a medal that dated back to the time of the Crimean War, in this case it was the first medal to be awarded to a member of the armed forces who was not an officer for gallantry in the field in the face of the enemy. There are three people awarded the DCM on the Roll of Honour.

Distinguished Conduc Medal George V

Distinguished Conduct Medal (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Military Cross (MC)

The Military Cross was instituted by Royal Warrant on 28th December 1914, after the start of the First World War. It was awarded to officers up to the rank of Captain for gallantry during active operations in the presence of the enemy. In the NSPCI Roll there are a total of 19 individuals awarded the Military Cross, including one recipient who was awarded a Bar to his MC.

Military Medal (MM)

The Military Medal was essentially the same as the Military Cross except it was awarded to ‘other ranks’. Instituted on 25th March 1916 its award was backdated to 1914. There are eight recipients of the MM on the Roll, including one person who was awarded a Bar to his first award.

Meritorious Service Medal (MSM)

This was awarded to Non-Commissioned Officers for meritorious service and was often awarded for service in the field during the First World War. Its award was extended to those NCOs below the rank of Sergeant and to private soldiers for acts of gallantry in the performance of military duties or in saving or attempting to save the life of another soldier. There are four instances of the MSM being awarded on the Roll.

Meritorious Service Medal George V

Meritorious Service Medal (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Roll of Honour, when published, will also include all known occasions when a soldier was mentioned in despatches, occasions when a serviceman received a foreign award, and awards and decorations given to those serving with the Red Cross.

 

Downpatrick Harvest 2018

 

Dpk Harvest entrance

The First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Stream Street, Downpatrick held their annual Service of Harvest Thanksgiving on Sunday, 7th October. The Church was beautifully decorated for the occasion at which the congregation welcomed the visiting preacher, Rev Roger McKee from Newtownards and Greyabbey NSP Churches, and the visiting choir, the Lindsay Chorale.

During the service Sunday School member Laura Neill presented a cheque for £450 which was raised by the children and young people of the congregation over the year for Air Ambulance NI. The cheque was received by Colleen Milligan the local Air Ambulance representative who spoke of the important work the charity is doing.

The theme of the decorations was ‘Traditional Harvest’ and the images here show some of the features included.

Dpk Harvest Pulpit

Pulpit and communion table

Dpk Harvest fruit

Dpk Harvest marrow

Dpk Harvest Communion Table

Dpk Harvest cabinet

Dpk Harvest knitted

Crocheted vegetables

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Some of the window displays

Dpk Harvest Air Ambulance Cheque

Laura Neill makes the presentation to Colleen Milligan of Air Ambulance NI. (Photo: Mary Stewart)

Dpk Harvest Lindsay Chorale

The Lindsay Chorale at Downpatrick, including John Dallas, conductor (extreme left), Sheelagh Greer, accompanist (second left), Rev David Steers, minister (extreme right), Rev Roger McKee, visiting preacher (second right). (Photo: Mary Stewart)

 

New St Patrick’s Cross at Down Cathedral

 

Cross long view

I was very pleased to be amongst those present for the Civic reception for the new High Cross erected at Down Cathedral on 24th September. Based on fragments of an ancient cross kept in the Cathedral it is carved from Mourne granite, weighs five tonnes and towers over its immediate surroundings. It is an impressive structure, a work that eloquently reflects the legacy of St Patrick so close to his grave. The fragments that are inside the Cathedral were originally found on the site that is now marked as St Patrick’s grave and are thought to date from the eighth century. The pieces were digitally scanned and the decoration carved onto the new Cross to create a pristine replica of what may once have stood at the entrance to the Benedictine monastery which originally stood on the hill.

Cross reverse view

Cross front view

Cross speeches

Cross hand print

Hand print at the foot of the Cross for pilgrims