March 20 – HMS Lapwing was lost on a convoy to Murmansk in 1945. Billy Jess (photo) from Lisburn survived. WW1 men from Ballymena, Downpatrick, and Enniskillen and a Presbyterian minister from Coleraine serving as a YMCA Chaplain are amongst those remembered today.
Representing their comrades who died on this day
+DARRAGH, Matthew Sloan
Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment, 6th Btn. 2nd Lieutenant. Died 20/03/1917 while leading a patrol. Born 25/07/1892, the youngest son of a farmer, Samuel Darragh, and Jane Sterrat, Ballycraigy, Ballymena.
Matthew attended Ballymena Academy and then served an apprenticeship as a grocer with Mr. T McKeown, Wellington Street, Ballymena. He then emigrated to Canada to follow his trade in Eaton’s store, Toronto.
He returned to Ireland at the start of the war and enlisted with his brother John in the 6th Dragoon Guards (Inniskillings). He then applied for a commission in 1915. He trained at No.4 Officer Cadet Battalion, Oxford, was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on 14/07/ 1916 and subsequently posted to the 6th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment, though he was later attached to the regiment’s 5th Battalion.
On 20/03/1917 he was killed in action near Richebourg l’Avoue, just south of Neuve Chapelle. According to the battalion diary, as reported by Philip Tardif, (author of The North Irish Horse in the Great War, Pen and Sword Books) – A patrol consisting of 2/Lt. Darragh and 6 other ranks of No.3 Company went out … to reconnoitre the German Wire on the Northern side of the Boars Head … at 7.pm. They apparently lost their direction in the maze of shell holes and old trenches and stumbled into a German Post held by 6 or 8 men. They were fired on by rifles and bombs. 2/Lt Darragh was killed and 2 other ranks were Missing believed Killed. The bodies were not recovered although two search patrols were sent out during the night. Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France. 1st Ballymena Presbyterian Church.
Royal Irish Rifles. 2nd. Btn. Rifleman. 9147. Died of wounds in a German Prison Camp 20/03/1918. Son of William and Christina McKinley, of Raholp, Downpatrick. A contemporary newspaper report – “Mr. William McKinley, of Loughmoney, and his wife are to be sympathised with in their losses in the war. Of four sons in the Army, only one, now in India, survives. James a lance-corporal in the City of London Fusiliers was killed in September 1917; Samuel, a corporal in the Royal Field Artillery, in October 1918; and John, a Rifleman in the Royal Irish Rifles, missing since 24th March 1918, is believed to have died of wounds in a German Prison camp.” Grand-Seraucourt British Cemetery, Aisne, France
+WILSON, William Andrew
YMCA Chaplain. Died 20/01/1918 in a motor accident in Paris. Son of the Rev. A. J. Wilson, D.D. He was born in May 1869 in Minterburn Manse in County Tyrone. William Wilson was educated at Queen’s College Belfast. He then went to Assembly’s College, Edinburgh and on to New College, Edinburgh. He obtained the degrees of B.A and M.A. at the Royal University of Ireland and on completion of his course was licensed by the Belfast Presbytery in May 1894. The Rev William Andrew Wilson was the Presbyterian Minister of New Row Presbyterian Church, Coleraine. Ste. Marie Cemetery, Le Harve, Seine-Maritime, 4, France
Royal Artillery. 8 HAA Regiment. 22 Bty. Gunner. 1426106. Died 20/03/1941. Aged 38. Son of William and Ruth Barnhill of Waterside, Londonderry; Husband to Ellen Margery Barnhill of Waterside. Glendermot Church of Ireland Churchyard and New Cemetery
+FOX, Samuel Pritchard
Royal Artillery. 120th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regt. 381 Battery. Gunner. 7009770. Died 20/03/1942 at the UVF Hospital at Craigavon House, Belfast. Aged 37. A member of Donegall Road Temperance Loyal Orange Lodge 731. Son of William and Isabel Fox of 27 Roseland Place, Belfast; Husband to Harriett Fox of 169 Matilda Street, Belfast. His father served as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers in WW1. Belfast City Cemetery, Glenalina
1945 HMS LAPWING
RN. Able Seaman. D/JX 650391. HMS Lapwing. Arctic convoy. Sunk by U968. Died 20/03/1945. Age 20. Son of George and Margaret Bickerstaff, Castlereagh. Plymouth Naval Memorial, Panel 93
RN. AB. D/JX140143. HMS Lapwing. Died 20/03/1945. Age 26. Arctic convoy. Joined RN in 1933, aged 13. Son of Hugh Henry and Anne Close, Golf Terrace, Huntly Rd., Banbridge. Husband to Lillian Close, Liverpool. Report Banbridge Chronicle 21/04/1945. Plymouth Naval Memorial, Panel 93. Seapatrick Parish Church, Banbridge, WM
RN. Able Seaman. D/JX 651185. Date of Death: 20/03/1945. Age: 19. HMS Lapwing. Arctic convoy. Sunk by U968. Son of William and Rachel Gordon, Belfast. Plymouth Naval Memorial, Panel 94
For a feature on survivor Tommy Jess from Lisburn and an account of the final voyage input – HMS Lapwing – in the search facility top RHS of the home page on this site.
GUNNING, George Cecil
Born in 1892, he was the son of Sinclair Gunning and Kathleen Gunning. In 1901, the family was living in 1, Toneystick, Alexandra Terrace, Enniskillen.
Cecil Gunning joined the Belfast Banking Company around 1909. By 1911, he has moved to Belfast and is boarding in house 30, Eia Street, Clifton Ward (Belfast). He is described as a Bank Official Clerk and is one of four Bank Officials boarding there.
The parents and their three other boys and a daughter are living in 21 Willoughby Place, Enniskillen.
On 28th September 1912, Gunning signed the Ulster Covenant at Enniskillen. He served as a Private, 14771, with the 7th Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
In 1938 he was Manager in Tandragee branch before ending up as Manager of Portadown branch. He was a past captain of Tandragee Golf Club (1940). Retirement came in 1953 and he died on 20/03/1974.
The Gunning family was well known in Enniskillen. Their father was the Distributor of Stamps in Enniskillen from 1877 to 1910. He died in 1916.
During the Great War, John (Jack) Sinclair (20 in 1911) worked for the Ulster Bank, George Cecil (19 in 1911) worked for the Belfast Banking Company and Frank Douglas (16 in 1911) worked for the Bank of Ireland. Jack joined the Royal Navy, Cecil and Douglas joined the Army and Willie (13 in 1911) joined the Royal Naval Reserve. Douglas was reported as killed in action on 01/07/1916.
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