The role played by members of the medical profession in the Great War has received an unfavourable treatment in some quarters.
Movies, novels and even comics have, more often than not, portrayed the man of medicine as an uncaring, snobbish oaf, all too keen to return men to duty or treat their ailments with a catch-all remedy of dubious worth.
And, of course, there must have been a proportion of bad eggs with a taste for whiskey and a character to match but one simply cannot argue with the volume of gallantry awards received by front-line medical officers, many of whom in this vastly expanded citizen army, were facing the horrors of 20th century warfare for the first time.
So it is fitting that the first man from Ballymena and District to win the Military Cross during the conflict was a member of the medical profession.
Captain William McMeekin Chesney of the Royal Army Medical Corps was gazetted for the MC in mid-1915. Sadly, details of the action for which he received the award have proved untraceable.
But it was not to be his only citation. The Ballymena Observer of September, 29 , 1917 recounted:
Captain William McMeekin Chesney MC, MB, RAMC has been awarded a ‘bar’ to the Military Cross. He is a son of Mr. David Chesney Ahoghill. He received his first award in 1915. The London Gazette stated: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in charge of stretcher bearers. He continually visited the forward aid posts throughout the day and supervised the evacuation of the wounded under very heavy shell and machine gun fire. Though wounded, he refused to quit his post until he had rendered a valuable report on the evacuation of the wounded. He worked with indefatigable energy and great courage throughout.”
After the war, Chesney served with the army of occupation in Germany and later in India, retiring in 1921 with the rank of Major. In 1939, he was recalled to service and was able to wear the same uniform he had discarded in 1921! He died in 1979.