March 24 – Roll of Honour

On this day in 1918, 94 men of the Royal Irish Rifles, 2nd Battalion, died in action when they fought to the last man at Cugny, south of St Quentin. See Notes below. Kaiserschlacht in Photos: By 27/03/1918 the Germans had taken Albert, which had once sat at the heart of the British line in 1916. This image was taken by a German soldier at that time. See also post this date for RUR Airborne role in Operation Varsity

Representing their comrades who died on this day

+NELSON, James
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 9th Btn. Private.18089. Died 24/03/1915. Born at Lismoney, Cookstown. He was a member of Tamlaghtmore Flute Band and a member of Lissan Company of Ulster Volunteers. He enlisted in Cookstown. James Nelson was at Randalstown with his bothers, Thomas and William, training with their battalion when he fell ill with a severe throat infection. He died from sceptic poisoning. Ballygoney Presbyterian Churchyard, near Drummullan. Cookstown WM, Molesworth Street Presbyterian Church RH


Royal Irish Rifles, 8th Btn. Private.1478. Died 24/03/1916. in No 6 Stationary Hospital, Le Havre. Born 16/07/1896. Son of Duncan Humphreys and Jane nee McLarty or McClarty, farmers of Layde, Cushendall. He was the brother of Canadian soldier Private 413050 John Humphreys, who diedon the 12/05/1916.


Royal Irish Rifles, 9th Btn. Rifleman. 17/709. Died 24/03/1917. Son of Mrs. A. Blackadder, of 34, Tobergill St., Belfast. Pond Farm Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium

Royal Irish Rifles, 9th Btn. Rifleman. 19/603. Died 24/03/1917. Pond Farm Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium


+ARCHER, William
Canadian Infantry, 87th Btn. Private. 438346. Died 24/03/1918. Son of Edward and Emily Archer. Born 25/07/1881 in Caledon, County Tyrone. William Archer emigrated to Canada and was working as a lumberman before enlisting in March 1915. Sucrerie Cemetery, Ablain-St. Nazaire, Pas de Calais, France. Canadian Virtual WM

+BELL, William McNiece
South African Infantry,4th Regiment. Private. 11073. Died 24/03/1918. Pozieres Memorial, Somme. Born 13/11/1880 at Ballylesson, Ballyclug, Ballymena. Son of farmers John  and Mary Bell. The family were later at 68, Queen Street, Ballymena. Husband to Hanna Grace Bell, of 5 Waring Street, Ballymena. William was a farmer. Pozieres Memorial, Somme. Harryville Presbyterian Church RH.

+BEST, John
Royal Irish Rifles, 2nd Btn. Rifleman. 17/1379. Died 24/03/1918. John, from Brussels Street, Belfast followed his elder brother Thomas and enlisted in the Royal Irish Rifles when he was 18 in 1916. Initially posted to the 10th Battalion (South Belfast Volunteers) he was posted to 2nd Battalion early in 1918 when the 10th Battalion was disbanded. Pozieres Memorial to the Missing, Somme, France

+COCHRANE, John Harvey
Royal Irish Rifles, 12th Btn. Sergeant. 18891. Died 24/03/1918 at St. Quentin. Born at Craigs, Cullybackey. wife Jeannie lived at 32, Harperstown, Cullybackey. He was the brother of Thomas and Hugh (Canadian Forces). Pozieres Memorial to the Missing, Somme, France

Scottish Rifles, 2nd. Btn.(Cameronians). Private. 41266. Formerly 3479 Glasgow Yeomanry. Died 24/03/1918. Born 26/06/1887 at Carmegrim, Portglenone. Son of James Gillespie and Agnes (Nancy) Caldwell. He enlisted in Hamilton, Scotland.  Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France , 1st Ahoghill Presbyterian Church RH


Royal Irish Rifles, 2nd Btn. Rifleman. 40881. Formerly 2186 of the North Irish Horse. Died 24/03/1918. Born March 1896 at Ballynamaddy, Dundermot, Glarryford. Son of William James Johnston and his wife Lizzie nee Stewart, both from Ballynamaddy. In 1911 the family were farming at Ballyreagh, Clough and Thomas was woking as a agricultural labourer at Ballybogy, Clough. He was wounded at Third Ypres (Passchendaele) in 1917 and then died in action at Cugny. Pozieres Memorial, Somme and at Clough Presbyterian Church.

+McALEESE, James
Royal Irish Rifles, 2nd Btn. Corporal. 5848. Died 24/03/1918. Born11/09/1886 at Church Tamlaght, Rasharkin . He was the eldest of three surviving children of stonemason Peter McAleese, Dreen, Rasharkin and Catherine nee McMullen, Ballydonnelly, Rasharkin.  His brothers were Patrick and Daniel. The couple had married in Rasharkin RC Church 24/08/1884. Grand Seracourt British Cemetery.

+McCORMICK, Thomas
Royal Irish Fusiliers, 1st Btn. Private. 20909. Died 24/03/1918. Born 20/10/1895 at Drummaul, Randalsworn. Son of John McCormick and Sarah nee Campbell. They were living at Railway Street Place, Harryville at the time of their son’s death. Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France

+NEWELL, Charles
Royal Engineers. Captain. Died 24/03/1918. Aged 37. Son of Joseph and Mary Newell of Dungannon. Charles was born about 1881 in Stewartstown, Co Tyrone. His father was a victualler (butcher) on Perry Street. The family lived there. Charles was living with the family. He was an architect and surveyor. St Hilaire Cemetery, Frevent, Pas de Calais, France. Dungannon WM, Holdfast LOL 1620 RH, St Anne’s C of I Church RH


2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. Rifleman.18/20677. Killed in action 24/03/1918. Aged 26. Son of Hugh and Alice Robinson nee McCullough, of Castle Place, Newtownards. Pozières Memorial, France. 20th October 1918 Northern Whig


+McGURRIN, Michael
Royal Artillery.31 Field Regt. Gunner. 863757. Died 24/03/1941. Aged 26. Son of Thomas and Margaret McGurrin, of Derrylin, Co. Fermanagh. Keren War Cemetery. Eritrea


+SCOTT, Gerald Eagleson

RAFVR. Flight Sergeant. 1023462. Died 24/03/1944. Age 20. 514 Sqd. Avro Lancaster LL625 went down on 24/03/1944 in one of the last major air raids on Berlin. Gerald Scott was a wireless operator and air gunner on Lancaster Bomber LL625 JI-C. The crew was on their 15th operation over Germany. On the homeward leg near Woerlitz, about 12 km east-north-east of Dessau disaster struck. The crew was returning to Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire. Son of David and Elizabeth Scott, of Belfast. Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery, Germany

1945            OP VARSITY – see posting this site.


+GRAY, Robert
RAFVR. Flight Lieutenant. 180030. Died 24/03/1945. Aged 27. attd. 1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment, A.A.C. Son of John and Mary Gray, of Ballymena. Runnymede Memorial, Panel 265. High Kirk Presbyterian Church RH

+McLEAN, James
RAF. Corporal. 647093. Died 24/03/1945. Age 23. Son of John and Jessie Mclean, of Ballyblack, Newtownards. Jakarta War Cemetery, Indonesia

+McWILLIAMS, Francis
RAFVR. Sergeant.1597236. Died 24/03/1924. Aged 21. 156 Sqd .Son of John and Mary Mcwilliams, of Omagh. Runnymede Memorial, Panel 276.


RN. AB. J64993. Enrolled 17/01/1917 for hostilities. In Pembroke and Southampton. Demobbed 17/03/1919. Born Coleraine 24/03/1897. ADM 188/776/64993


The Royal Irish Rifles at Cugny 24/03/1918

An extract from Falls’ book, First Seven Battalions, relates the events of that day:

About 10 a.m. on the 24th a new attack developed on the 2nd Battalion, the enemy making desperate efforts to debouch from Cugny, and also sweeping in on the flanks … the attack was beaten off …

Captain J. C. Bryans now assumed command … to reorganize the line … a new attack began.

Colonel McCarthy-O’Leary sent forward messengers with orders for the 2nd Battalion to withdraw through the 1st. No answer was received, runners being all killed or wounded.

In any case, Captain Bryans had orders to fight to the last, and had, moreover, come to the conclusion that an attempt to retire over open ground, with machine guns on either flank, would mean annihilation. If his little force was to be destroyed it should die to better purpose.

The attack, accompanied by a flight of low-flying aeroplanes, swept in in overwhelming strength from the left, and a desperate hand-to-hand fight ensued …  many men had not a round left to fire. They sprang from their entrenchments and met the enemy with their bayonets. In a few minutes, all was over. The defenders were simply engulfed by superior numbers … There cannot be many instances, even in the late war, of a battalion being blotted out so completely as this.

24/03/1918 – The Germans are held in desperate fighting around Bapaume. They cross the Somme between Peronne and Ham and take Nesle and Peronne, and further south they capture Guiscard and Chauny. It is reported the Germans claim 30,000 prisoners and 600 guns.

24/03/1944 – The Great Escape – On the night of March 24, a total of 220 British and Commonwealth officers were poised to escape by tunnel from North Compound, Stalag Luft III, the main camp for allied aircrew prisoners of war at Sagan in Nazi-occupied Poland.

24/03/1976 – Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, the most famous British soldier of modern times, died early today. He was 88 years old. Lord Montgomery died in his sleep at his country home in the south of England.

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