Emma Duff who served as a VAD Nurse in both world wars is remembered in the veterans Roll today. This is also the anniversary of the Battle of May in 1918 when RN submarines collided during an exercise in which three from NI died. In today’s Roll, men from Belfast, Bessbrook, Derry, Dungannon, Newry, and Portstewart.
Representing their comrades who died on this day
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 2nd Btn. Private. 3438. Died 31/01/1917. Aged 38. Husband of Matilda Campbell, of 31, Ottawa St., Belfast. Belfast City Cemetery
Irish Guards, 3rd Btn. Private. 6070. Died 31/01/1917. Aged 26. He volunteered for active service in 1914. He served in France and was injured in the neck in the winter of 1915 and was wounded again in the autumn of 1916. He died of wounds in hospital in Paisley, Scotland. Prior to enlisting he was employed by Mr. Daniel Reid, a contractor. His mother lived at Cromore, Portstewart. He is commemorated on Portstewart’s War Memorial, Portstewart Presbyterian Church’s War Memorial, the Roll of Honour of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Ireland’s Memorial Record. Paisley (Hawkhead) Cemetery
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 1st Btn. Private. 4542. Died 31/01/1917. Aged 20. Son of Robert and Sarah Murphy, of 3, Ernest St., Rosemount, Londonderry. Theipval Memorial, Somme, France
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 1st Btn. Private. 20139. Died 31/01/1917. Aged 23. Born about 1894 in Dungannon. Son of James and Catherine ‘Kate’ Sands. The CWGC records the family names as “Sandes”. This is clearly incorrect. His father worked on a farm and his mother was a linen weaver. The family lived at Mullaghanagh, Derrygortrevy, Tyrone. David was with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers for a time. Son of Kate Sandes, of Park Rd., Dungannon. Grove Town Cemetery, Meaulte, Somme, France. Dungannon WM. St Anne’s C of I Church WM
HM Submarines K17 and K4
K17 and K4 were sunk on 31/01/1918 during the night time fleet exercises later known as the Battle of May Island. (Operation E.C.1) when they were attached to the 13th Submarine Flotilla. HMS Fearless ploughed into K17 at the head of a line of submarines. She sank in about 8 minutes with the loss of all hands.
RN. Chief Engine Room Artificer. 2nd Class. 270632. HM Submarine K.17. Died 31/01/1918. Age 39. Born Downpatrick. 22/03/1879. Before the war he worked as a mechanic with J & TM Greeves, flax spinners – mills in Conway St., and Cupar St. Belfast. Son of Samuel and Charlotte Gibson, Tennent Street, Belfast; husband to Ellen Duncan Gibson, Sidney St., Saltcoats, Ayrshire. Plymouth Naval Memorial. Tennent Street, Argyll Place – PCI RH. ADM 188/434/270632
+McDONALD, John Riddell
RN. Stoker 1st Class. SS114477. Died 31/01/1918 in HM Submarine K.17. Age 24. Enrolled 23/07/1913 for 5 years regular and 7 years reserve. Served in Pembroke, Dominion, Dolphin, Maidstone and Crescent (K17). In HMS Boadicea at Jutland. Born Belfast 05/09/1894. Son of Hugh G. and Sarah J. McDonald, Central Fire Station, Chichester St., Belfast. Chatham Naval Memorial. Rosemary St. – PCI RH. ADM 188/1120/114477
+HAYES, Joseph Charles
RN. Stoker 1st Class. K19004. HM Submarine Fearless K4. Died 31/01/1918. Age 24. Enrolled 18/04/1913 for 12 years. War service in Pembroke II, Blonde, Marshall Ney, Dolphin and Fearless K4. Born Belfast 07/09/1893. Son of Joseph Charles Hayes, Belfast; husband to Minnie Hayes, Shaftesbury St., Belfast. Chatham Naval Memorial. ADM 188/905/19004
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. 2nd Bn. Serjeant. 7789. Died 31/01/1918. Ozinghem Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium
Royal Artillery. Gunner. 1427283. Died 31/01/1944. Aged 24. 16 Defence Regt. Son of Patrick and Bridget Hillen, of Newry. Yokohama War Cemetery, Japan
+WEIR, Samuel Joseph
RAFVR. Sergeant. 1081810. Died 31/01/1944. Age 21. 172 Sqdn. Son of Samuel and Elizabeth Weir, Craigmore, Bessbrook, County Armagh. Runnymede Memorial, Surrey. Bessbrook WM1944
+MURDIE, John Brown
RAFVR. Leading Aircraftman. 1795125. Died 31/01/1946. Age 23, Son of Joseph and Emily Bennett Murdie, of Belfast. Delhi War Cemetery, India
BEATTIE, John William
Rfm John William Beattie. 8622. 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. John was born in 1884 at Barrow-in-Furness where his father was working in the Shipyard. The family relocated to Belfast and initially set up home at Hillman Street before moving to Canning Street. John enlisted on 02/09/1915 and embarked for the front early in 1916. He saw action at Messines and at Passchendaele where he was severely wounded. He was discharged on 31/01/1918 with the Silver War Badge and resumed his occupation as a Plater in the Belfast Shipyards. Remembered with Honour
Emma Sylvia Duffin was born in Belfast on 08/11/1883. Emma and her six sisters were educated at home until age sixteen, when she left home to attend Cheltenham Ladies’ College in Gloucestershire, England. She stayed there until 1903 when she left to go to Churchill College, Shrewsbury.
When she returned to Belfast she attended the Belfast Art College and developed a range of artistic skills. In 1911, she went to Germany as an au pair to develop her understanding of German culture and language.
Following the outbreak of the war, Emma decided to enlist as a VAD nurse at aged 31. She was first sent to Alexandria in Egypt where many of the soldiers wounded at Gallipoli were sent. At the end of her six-month service, she re-enlisted and from the spring of 1916 until the end of the war in November 1918 she was based in the military hospitals of Le Havre and Calais. There she tended the wounded brought straight from the Western Front and who were too seriously injured to be shipped to Southampton.
She wrote about her experiences in a series of journals, which were recently published.
Emma spoke German fluently and her tales of caring for wounded German soldiers add a humanitarian perspective to what is already a story of devotion and selflessness.
On her return to Belfast, Emma worked as an illustrator of cards and books, including children’s stories written by her sister Ruth. On the outbreak of the Second World War, she was invited to be Commandant of the VAD based at Stranmillis Military Hospital in south Belfast.
She resumed her diary-keeping and provided a searing account of the impact of the Easter Tuesday blitz on Belfast, in which over 800 people were killed.
Most gripping is the day she spent in St George’s Market, which was used as a morgue for the many unidentified bodies.
There, she helped stricken families search among the coffins for their loved ones.
Appalled by what she saw, she wrote in her diary: “I had seen many dead [in WWI], but they had died in hospital beds, their eyes had been reverently closed, their hands crossed on their breasts; death had been glossed over, made decent…
“Here it was grotesque, repulsive, horrible … Death should be dignified, peaceful. Hitler had made even death grotesque”.
Emma served as honorary secretary of the Belfast Council of Social Welfare from 1933 to 1953.
In this role, she was involved in ensuring that the comparatively rudimentary but effective social services it had provided between the wars in a city whose poverty had been starkly exposed during the evacuations were incorporated in the new welfare state that was created at the end of the war.
Emma died on 03/01/1979, at age 95. and her remains were buried in Newcastle, Co Down.
Her full diary, along with many other items can be viewed at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.
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