April 15 – Roll of Honour and liberation of Bergen-Belsen

On 15/04/1945 British forces liberated Bergen-Belsen. Thousands of bodies lay unburied around the camp and some 60,000 starving and mortally ill people were packed together without food, water or basic sanitation. Many were suffering from typhus, dysentery, and starvation. Medics played a key role in coping with the massive challenge of coping with and responding to the suffering. In the Roll today we remember a former student at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen who died as an MO in Salonika in WW1 and a Surgeon Lieutenant Commander educated at Campbell College who served in WW2.

Representing their comrades who died on this day

1915

+LANYON, William Mortimer
Royal Irish Rifles. 5th Btn. Captain. Died 15/04/1915. He entered the Rifles’ trench about midnight on Easter Sunday and early the following morning, as he was standing against the parapet, he was hit in the head by a sniper’s bullet and killed instantly. Shortly before his death, he was Adjutant of the 5th R.I.R. Son of Mr. and Mrs. H. O. Lanyon; husband of Helen Baird (formerly Lanyon, nee Blizard), c/o The Westminster Bank, Canterbury. His wife and their two young children lived at The Villas, Downpatrick.

+O’NEILL, Joseph
Royal Irish Rifles, 1st Btn. Rifleman. 8951. Died 15/04/1915. Joseph O’Neill was born in Derry. He lived for a time in Maghera. Joseph enlisted at Belfast. Joseph’s wife and child lived at 47 Trafalgar Street, Belfast, There is also another address listed in Belfast, 11 Wansbeck Street. Joseph O’Neill’s sister lived at 23 Jamaica Street, Belfast. Sailly-Sur-La-Lys Churchyard, Pas de Calais, France

+STEWART, James
Connaught Rangers, 1st Btn. Private. 9499. Died 15/04/1915. Aged 30. Son of William and Anne Stewart, of Pontna, Kilrea, Co. Derry. James Stewart enlisted at Coatbridge in Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was living in Kilrea at the time. He enlisted under the name James Gray. No 9499. Chocques Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France

1917

+THOMPSON, James
Royal Irish Regiment, 1st Garrison Btn. Private. 5576. Died 15/04/1917. James Thompson was born about 1881 in Kilrea. He was serving with the 1st Garrison Battalion of the RIR when he died at sea. His unit was traveling to the eastern theatres of war, Salonika, and Palestine, and was on board the troopship SS Arcadian in the Mediterranean. It had left Salonika headed for Egypt when it encountered an enemy submarine. It was torpedoed and the ship sank. In his will, he left all to his grandmother, Mrs. Jane McCotter, who was living at Castle Street in Ballymoney. Son of Mrs. Jamieson (formerly Thompson), of Craghuller, Cloyfin, Coleraine. Mikra Memorial, Greece

1918

+BROWNE, Bernard Score
Royal Army Medical Corps, attd. 2nd Bn. Cheshire Regiment. Captain. M C. MiD. Died 15/04/1918. Aged 32. Second son of Col. A. Walker Browne (late R.A.M.C.) and Mrs. Browne. Bernard was born about 1884. His father was the principal medical officer of the North Irish Coast Defences. Bernard was educated at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen. He then moved on to Edinburgh University, where he qualified M.B., Ch.B. in 1908. Shortly afterward he took up medical missionary work in China. Bernard Browne returned home as soon as he could and took a temporary commission as lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps on 02/04/1915. Bernard then became the medical officer of the 2nd Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment in France. Bernard Browne was promoted to captain after a year’s service. Bernard was awarded the Military Cross. He was mentioned in dispatches by Lord French. He was subsequently stationed at Salonika in Greece where he was killed in action. Doiran Memorial stands near Doiran Military Cemetery, Greece. Dungannon War Memorial

+McCLEAN, William
Royal Irish Rifles, 12th Btn. Rifleman. 19654. Died 15/04/1918. He was born at Ballycowan, Kells on 17 October 1891 and he lived in Kells village. He was the son of Samuel McClean and Matilda Swan, Kells.  The couple had married in 1st Ballymena Presbyterian Church on the 12/07/1890. Members of the family were involved in the factory production of woolen cloth. There were two children of the marriage, William and Rachel. Sometimes the surname is spelt McLean, birth recorded as McClain. Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium. Kells Presbyterian Church RH.

+McVEIGH, John
Royal Garrison Artillery. Gunner. 139483. Died 15/04/1918. Aged 23. Son of Hugh and May McVeigh, 56 Curran Street, Portadown. St Pierre Cemetery, Amiens, France.

1941

+BROWNE, William Thomas
RAF. Sergeant. 527866. Died 15/04/1941. Aged 25. Died during a German air raid on Belfast whilst he was home on leave. The bombs destroyed most of the street. Son of William Thomas and Annie Elizabeth Browne of 22 Walton Street, Belfast. Belfast City Cemetery, Glenalina

1943

+HENRY, Isaac
Royal Irish Fusiliers, 1st Btn.Fusilier. 7047221. Died 16/04/1943. Aged 32. He was born on 05/07/1910 at Magheraglass, Cookstown. He was one of at least nine children. Prior to joining the army he was a steel erector. He went to live in Coventry with his wife, Margaret. Isaac Henry was conscripted in 1940. Son of Robert and Annie Henry, of Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland; husband of Margaret Henry, of Cookstown. Medjez-el-Bab War Cemetery, Tunisia. Cookstown WM

+MASON, Francis Joseph
RAFVR. Aircraftman 2nd Class. 1099357. Died 15/04/1943. Aged 22. Son of William and Isabella Mason of Londonderry. Londonderry City cemetery

VETERANS

CALDWELL, Matthew Fitzjames
Surgeon Lieutenant Commander. MB BCh BAO, QUB 1907. B 15/04/1883. Son of James Caldwell, Mont Cecil, Bloomfield, Belfast. D. Campbell College 547

LEISHMAN, John McMillan

John was born in Falkirk in 1920 and served in the 153rd Infantry Brigade, 51st Highland Division. He later made his home in Belfast where he died on 15/04/2015.

On 03/09/1939, he joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at Sterling Castle.
During World War Two, he spent time based throughout Co. Down.
• Moira: July 1940 to November 1940.
• Lisburn: November 1940 to May 1941.
• Waringstown and Donacloney: May 1941 to 1942.

While based in Moira, his regiment attended services at St. John’s Parish Church. There, he met a local woman Florence Lennon who sang in the church choir.
John remembered thinking “that would be the perfect wife for me”.
The couple became engaged in October 1940 and married in July 1941. On his release from the army in 1946, they settled in the Co. Down village. John and Florence remained together for almost 67 years having two children, Yvette and John.

D-Day, 6th June 1944
On 06/06/1944, Leishman landed on Sword Beach. His division was part of the support group for the front line troops. By D-Day, he had survived other battles and escaped the horror of Dunkirk on board a small fishing boat in 1940.
In the following four years, he fought in many battles including the Battle of El Alamein. In October 1942, he fought alongside Montgomery and the 8th Army ‘Desert Rats’.
Sergeant Leishman returns to Normandy

“When I visited last year, I saw a long stretch of golden sand with a promenade alongside; a perfect holiday destination far removed from what it was on D-Day.” -John Leishman on visiting Sword Beach in 2013

Leishman was lucky to even make it to the beachhead on D-Day. As a troop who couldn’t swim, he had to rely on support from two of his comrades in the water as they left the landing craft.

Many veterans do not like to dwell on their experiences. Belfast’s John Leishman was not one of them. At the age of 90, he visited Lisburn joining Rev Paul Dundas and Rev John Pickering at Christ Church. Over a coffee, he reminisced that he was once billeted in the Nicholson Memorial Hall adjoining the church.

Two years later, he met Queen Elizabeth II during her historic visit to Belfast. John reminded her that she had once changed the spark plugs in his car. The young princess had worked in the auxiliary territorial service at the time.

In 2013, he revisited Normandy on a battlefield tour with Omagh District Orange Cultural Association. John Leishman and George Thompson accompanied the group of ten on their visit. They first traveled from Paris and onto Caen.

They stopped at the British landing zones by the River Orne, the Merville Battery, and Ranville Cemetery. The two veterans also visited Pegasus Bridge, calling into Café Gondrée and regaling customers with stories and songs. There, they were given a warm welcome by Madame Gondrée who had been a little girl when France was liberated in 1944.

The following year, John also attended the D-Day 70th-anniversary commemorations in Normandy in 2014 at the age of 94.

After his wife’s death in 2008, John Leishman lived in Dundonald, East Belfast. There, he attended St. Mary’s Church on the Ballybeen Estate.

John passed away in hospital on Wednesday 15th April 2015. His funeral took place at St. Mary’s Parish Church, Craigleith Drive, Dundonald at 1100hrs on Friday 17th April. The service was followed by burial in Moira Parish Churchyard. First Minister at the time, Peter Robinson, described John as “a true hero and gentleman”.

NOTES

The liberation of Bergen-Belsen 15/04/1945

On 15/04/1945 British forces liberated Bergen-Belsen. Thousands of bodies lay unburied around the camp and some 60,000 starving and mortally ill people were packed together without food, water or basic sanitation.

Many were suffering from typhus, dysentery, and starvation.

Bergen-Belsen was first established in 1940 as a prisoner of war camp. From 1943, Jewish civilians with foreign passports were held as ‘leverage’ in possible exchanges for Germans interned in Allied countries or for money. It later became a concentration camp and was used as a collection centre for survivors of the death marches. The camp became exceptionally overcrowded and, as a result of the Germans’ neglect, conditions were allowed to deteriorate further in the last months of the war, causing many more deaths.

As a result of overcrowded and horrific living conditions, where disease and starvation flourished, tens of thousands of people imprisoned there died. Anne Frank was one of the people deported to Bergen-Belsen.

Soon after liberation, Bergen-Belsen gained international notoriety as a site of Nazi mass murder.

THE FIRST LIBERATORS

Major Dick Williams was one of the first British soldiers to enter Bergen-Belsen. In April 1945, he was a staff captain in the Supplies and Transport branch of VIII Corps Headquarters and was part of a small force sent forward to assess conditions in the camp.

Gilbert King was a gunner attached to 249 (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Battery of the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery, which was the first British military unit to go into Bergen-Belsen on 15 April.

MEDICAL TREATMENT

32nd Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) and 11th Light Field Ambulance were among the first medical units to arrive at Bergen-Belsen after its liberation. William Arthur Wood, a medical assistant with 32nd CCS, describes the appalling conditions in the barracks and the process of separating the dead from the living.

“Outside the huts were piles and piles of dead bodies’

Many of the soldiers who first entered the camp were desperate to try and alleviate the prisoners’ starvation by giving them army rations.

This first intake of food was fatal for many prisoners, who were too weak to digest it. One of the British Army’s most important tasks, as Major Dick Williams explains, was to find a safer and more appropriate way of providing food for the starving prisoners.

Nearly 100 British medical students arrived at Bergen-Belsen in May 1945 to assist with the relief effort. They worked directly in the huts to supervise the distribution of food and provide whatever medical care possible. Dr. Roger Dixey, one of the students who volunteered at the camp, describes his work and the condition of the prisoners in the barracks. ‘We were dealing with the killer, the main killer, which was typhus.’

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