Australian soldiers at Eaucourt L’Abbaye on the Somme, February 1917. The soldier on the right has donned sandbags in an attempt to combat the mud and damp. Image courtesy Australian War Memorial.
A son of a Belfast veteran recalled today became Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.
Representing their comrades who died on this day
+DAVIS, John Henry
RAMC. Lieutenant. Died 21/02/1916. Belfast Model School. QCB 1886, MB 1899. BCh BAO. Son of Robert Davis, Duncairn St., Belfast. Died from head and leg injuries after his motorcycle collided with a tram. Belfast City Cemetery.
RN. Seaman. J21769. HMS Princess Alberta. Died 21/02/1917. Born Ayrshire 09/03/1897. Son of Samuel and Elizabeth Hill and brother of James, Samuel (Killed in action 1915), Mary, David and Elizabeth. His father was originally from Carrickfergus but his mother of Scottish and it was here that all of the Hill children were born. Between 1906 and 1910 the family moved to Carrickfergus and by 1911 were living in the North East Division of Eden. Alexander was by now 14 and had left school to work in the Barn Mills Flax Mill along with his brother Samuel and sister Mary.
In January 1913 Alexander left a job as a farm labourer and joined the Royal Navy as a boy sailor on board Impregnable from 18/01/1913 to 15/09/1913, then Crescent 16/09/1913 to 13/01/1914, Vivid 14/01/1914 to 30/01/1914 and Foresight 31/01/1914 to 20/02/1917. On 09/03/1915, his 18th birthday, he was officially enlisted for a 12-year service at which time his service papers list him as 5 foot 3 inches, brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. It was also around the time of his 18th birthday that Alexander joined the Carrickfergus Total Abstinence Loyal Orange Lodge 1537.
Throughout his time in the Navy his reports are of a high standard and listed as being of very good character. On 31/12/1916 he is promoted to the rank of Able seaman while onboard HMS Foresight. It is also while serving onboard Foresight in the Aegean Sea that he is transferred for service onboard HMS Princess Alberta. Alberta was a 1586 gross tonne steamer owned by M Langlands & Sons and built in Dundee in 1905. During the war, she acted as a fleet messenger carrying messages between ships, fleets bases, and commanders. While on a voyage from Styros to Mudros in the Aegean Sea she hit a mine laid by German Sub UC23 (Captained by Johannes Kirchner) and was sunk with the loss of 33 including Alexander. His body was never recovered. Green Sq., Whiteabbey. Joymount – PCI RH. Carrickfergus WM. Plymouth Naval Memorial
+BELL, William John Albert
Otago Regiment, 1st Btn. N.Z.E.F. Lance Corporal. 32499. Died 21/02/1918. Aged 29. Previously wounded three times. Born on 20/11/ 1888 in the Moneymore area. His mother was a hotel keeper in Hanover Square in Coagh. His father was a Sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary. Like his father, William joined the Royal Irish Constabulary about 1907. He served for 5 years in Fermanagh and at Brown Square Barracks in Belfast. He resigned and emigrated to New Zealand. He enlisted on 25/07/1916. Son of John and Margaret Arm Bell, of Ballygoney, Coagh, Co. Tyrone. Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. Coagh WM
+BARR, William G.
Royal Artillery. Gunner. 1679353. Died 21/02/1942. Aged 34. 49 Bty., 48 Lt. A.A. Regt. Son of William and Mary Barr of Londonderry. Jakarta (Ancol) Netherlands Field of Honour, Indonesia
RAFVR. Aircraftman 2nd Class.1057964. Died 21/02/1942. Aged 19. Son of William John and Mary Bustard of Lambeg. Lambeg Parish churchyard
Royal Artillery. Bombardier. 1463105. Died 21/02/1942. Aged 36. 21 Battery, 8th (Belfast) HAA Regt. Son of William John and Mary Ann Grant of Belfast; Husband to Elizabeth Grant of Belfast. Dundonald Cemetery
+McCLEAN, Eric Thomas Harold
RAFVR. Flight Sergeant. 1058008. Died 21/02/1943. Age 24. 14 Sqd. Son of Richard McClean, and Elizabeth McClean, Dunmurry, Co. Antrim. Alamein Memorial, Egypt
RAFVR. Flight Sergeant. 1063768. Died 21/02/1943. Aged 20. 14 Sqdn. Son of Samuel and Elizabeth Walker, of Belfast. Alamein Memorial, Column 207, Egypt
+DUNCAN, William Garfield
RAFVR. Flight Sergeant. 1105973. 97 Sqdn. Died 21/02/1944. Aged 26. Son of Samuel Adam Duncan and Maud Duncan of Lisburn. Derriaghy (Christ Church) Church of Ireland Churchyard
CAIRNS, James John
Lieutenant, 31st Batt., Australian Imperial Force. Died: 21/02/1926. Age: 48. James John Cairns was born in Blackfriars, Glasgow, in 1878, the eldest son of James Cairns, a police constable (later an inspector) and his wife Mary Cairns nee McKeown, who came from Belfast.
After school, he became a law clerk for the Glasgow Corporation. Sometime between 1911 and 1913, he emigrated to Australia where he met his wife Letitia Ford. They married in 1914 and their son James Ford Cairns was born later that year.
He enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force on 5th July 1915. Rising through the ranks he was transferred to the Officer Cadet School in England in April 1917 gaining the rank of Lieutenant by the end of that year.
His relatively respectable career started to go into decline when the war ended being arrested for drunkenness in Belfast in January 1919 and came to an abrupt end when he was cashiered latter that year for misappropriating funds.
He left France and turned up in Kenya where he died on 21/02/1926. Aged 48.
His son James Ford Cairns became a well-known Australian politician who was for a while, Deputy Prime Minister. In his biography, there is an overview of his father’s life and career. Family Memorial, Bangor cemetery
21/02/1915 – The Plymouth Battalion RMLI, plus the headquarters of the Royal Marine Brigade on HMHS Braemar Castle and the Chatham Battalion sailing on Cawdor Castle, arrive at Lemnos in the Aegean.
21/02/1916 – The Battle of Verdun commenced The battle was fought from 21 February to 18/12/1916 and was the largest and longest battle of the First World War on the Western Front between the German and French armies. Lasing for 303 days, it was one of the most costly in human history. In 2000, experts calculated 377,231 French and 337,000 German casualties, a total of 714,231, an average of 70,000 a month.
21/02/1941 – The first flight took place over the ‘Donegal Corridor,’ a strip of land in the Irish state used by Royal Air Force planes during the Second World War. Though Ireland was officially neutral, the airspace was secretly allowed to be used.
21/02/1945 – 2 LIR in Italy. 0830 CO, IO, RSM, and coy representatives proceeded on lecture & demonstration of Control of Kangaroos (Troop carrying tanks). 1800 CO’s O Group held on Kangaroo & details arranged for the 4 rifle coys to do an exercise on morning of the 22nd.
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