IN simple terms, Ballymena was a rural backwater until the age of steam upset the socio-economic apple cart in the north-east of Ireland.
With the discovery and harnessing of steam power came railways and industrial manufacturing. Manpower for the linen mills on which Ballymena’s future prosperity was founded came from the surrounding countryside.
Agricultural labourers became factory workers and crowded into the red-brick terraced houses which nestled in the shadows of the of the dominating mill buildings.
By the dawn of the 20th century, Ballymena had grown rapidly in size and population. Support and service industries had blossomed to cater for this thriving manufacturing base and its shoal of workers and their families.
It was an overwhelmingly Protestant town – as it remains today – with Presbyterianism being the denomination of the majority. A much smaller Catholic population generally co-existed in harmony with their Protestant neighbours. In fact, household research would indicate that the sectarian polarity of today was much less of an issue in the pre-Great War period.
The district of Ballymena had been ‘planted’ with Scottish Protestant settlers by James I in the 1600s. Many of these had come from the west of Scotland under the leadership of the Adair family. Indeed, until the mid-19th century, Ballymena was still commonly referred to as Kinhiltstown.
The Adairs remained the leading family in the district and their Scottish Baronial style castle surrounded by its forested demesne served as a summer retreat for the family, who now spent most of their time in London.
Ballymena had all the characteristics of any Ulster mill and market town.
The town itself was governed at local level by the Urban District Council with the surrounding farmland and satellite villages coming under the hand of the Rural District Council.
Population at the time was reckoned to be around 12,000 within the confines of the town boundaries with a similar number dwelling in the countryside.
One issue united the Protestant/Unionist farmers, mill hands, shopworkers and solicitors of the area – their outright opposition to the Liberal government’s proposals for the extension of ‘Home Rule’ to Ireland.
On the other side of the fence, Catholics/Nationalists aspired to an Ireland which would be governed from Dublin by an Irish Parliament although still part of the British Imperial family.
In the shadows of the political giants stood the militants who wanted a United Ireland free of any British influence. It was a dangerous time with the threat of civil war ever present … but it was a world war which erupted and men from all sides of the religious and political fence found themselves fighting far away from their homelands. Many never returned.
When war came on August 4, 1914, Britain could only muster a small, but extremely professional army of regular soldiers. In contrast, the European powers called up millions of reservists to bolster their already large conscript forces.
As an island nation, Britain used most of her defence budget to ensure that she ruled the waves through the awesome might of the Royal Navy. The army was widely regarded as an imperial police force, a spearhead which would be ‘launched’ at any threatening point by the ships of the navy and under the protection of their firepower.
In mainland Britain, a Territorial Force had been established for some years but due to the political situation no such organisation was in existence in Ireland.
However, when the call went out for men, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men were recalled to the colours. These reservists had been regular soldiers who had ended their term of service but had to remain ‘on the reserve’ for a number of years.
These men were hurriedly re-quipped and after a brief period of training were used to bring their parent battalions up to fighting strength.
They were to pay a heavy toll during the first nine months of the war when Britain’s ‘contemptible little army’ was decimated.
One of the first to fall was James Templeton, a private with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Although a Ballymena man by birth and upbringing, he had been living in Belfast where he was employed at the city;s famous Sirocco Works. Pte. Templeton’s parents, George and Agnes, endured an agony familiar in many families at the time.
Their son, who had been a boy soldier with his famous regiment in the Boer War, had been ‘at the front since the commencement of the war’ but, according to a report in the Ballymena Observer of May 1915, his family had received no correspondence from him for some time.
In fact, James had been killed in action on August 26, 1914 at the Battle of Le Cateau when the British army, retreating before overwhelming forces after a spirited defence at Mons, made a gritty stand against their powerful German pursuers. His death was not confirmed to the family until later in 1915.
The Observer recorded that James Templeton ‘has two brothers on active service, Pte. Robert Templeton of the 2nd RIR and Private George Templeton of the Royal Engineers.’
Sadly for the family, Robert would fall in 1916. James has no known grave and is commemorated on La Ferte Sous Jouarre Mem. France.
A similar agony was to befall the McClintock family of Parkhead, Ballymena who died on the same day. Their son David, another reservist recalled to the colours, was killed when German shells blasted the makeshift hospital where he was being treated for wounds. It was not until late May of 1915 that the family were officially notified of his death.
The 28-year-old, whose brother Robert was later killed while serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery was another ‘old sweat’ who had spent almost seven years in India with his regiment, the Royal Irish Rifles. Again, he has no known grave and his name appears on La Ferte Sous Jouarre memorial, France.
Aside from official notification, the McClintocks were able to draw on the testimony of another Ballymena man, Dan Lorimer, who gave a vivid account of those early days of war in an interview with a Ballymena Observer journalist.
Such interviews were commonplace in the early months of the war. Allowing for a degree of patriotic journalism which charcterises the period, such articles are often remarkably frank, if not positively graphic in their details.
Private Dan Lorimer Royal Irish Rifles, is presently at home in Ballymena on furlough. He has three brothers and a brother in law on active service and his parents are justly proud of this fine record. At the Aisne he got a bullet wound in the left shoulder and lay in the trenches all day and ultimately decided to make a bolt for safety.
An army reserve man, Pte. Lorimer was called up at the outbreak of war, proceeding to the front with the first BEF. He was through the Battle of Mons and describing his experiences there, he said:
“We busily engaged in firing on the enemy when we got the order to fix swords in order to make a bayonet charge. Just then, the word came down from the aeroplanes scouting over the German lines that the enemy had also fixed swords ready to charge and that they outnumbered us by almost ten to one.
“We then got the order to remain where we were and when the enemy attacked, Cpl. Heggarty, who has since been killed, gave us the order for three rounds of rapid firing which we did with good effect and the Germans were checked here and lost heavily.
“We subsequently retired on the right flank till we came to a little village (le Cateau) on the 26th of the month. We opened out and the word came that the German lancers were in the village. Our artillery opened fire on the village and cleared it as far as possible and then our infantry advanced and unfortunately some considerable damage was done to them by a couple of shells fired by a British gun in the rear.
“We got the word to retire again and were lying in a green field when we were directed to return to the road and all the wounded were put on horseback and removed to a church which had been converted to a temporary hospital.
“Private David McClintock was wounded in this battle, being shot in the back and he was taken to this hospital. The church was afterwards blown up by a German shell and almost all the occupants killed. I looked for Private McClintock afterwards and made inquiries about him but I could find no trace of him and I am afraid he must be dead.
“After the turning movement which led up to the Battle of the Aisne (1) on 14th September we saw some very severe fighting. Across the river, a bridge was blown up by the Germans and there was a single plank left across the river resting on a small pontoon boat on which we had to jump to get to the bank.
“As soon as ‘A’ coy of the Rifles got across, rifle fire was opened on us and we had to run for a plantation and later on we got cover of an embankment. Captain Soutery gave us orders to advance but had not gone 100 yards till he was wounded and we had to retire. Captain Durant, who was next in command, took charge and we were within 300 yards of the Germans when he was wounded on the thigh and Private Clarke who went to bind his wounded was also wounded.
“Captain Durant then gave orders for Colour Sgt. Lynas to take charge and when I was passing along this word I was wounded. The bullet passed through my left shoulder and grazed my lung. I was wounded between three and four o’clock in the morning and lay there till between five and six o’clock at night.
“Captain Durant was also lying wounded and I crawled over to get a drink out of his water bottle. I told Private Clarke that I was going to make a dash for it, but he said I was wrong and to remain where I was.
“However, I made the attempt and I had only gone about fifty yards when I fell as the result of weakness and loss of blood. I had to lie there for a considerable time as the bullets both from our side and the Germans were passing close. All I was able to do was shout out ‘Royal Irish Rifles’ and I saw an officer in the British lines who had a maxim gun, waving me to come on.
“I got up again and the officer, whom I do not know, but belonged to one of the Irish Regiments, and who was a very plucky man, kept the Maxim going till I reached safety.
“All I had by this time was my shirt and my trousers and I was in a bad state, but I was soon removed to a hospital on the outskirts of Paris. Private Abernethy of Harryville(2) who was wounded in the leg and Private T. McCluggage (formerly of Thomas Street, Ballymena) who had one of his fingers shot off were with me and looked after me in the train.
“The French people were very good to us all along the line and my comrades gave me my share of the good things which were offered to us. I also saw Private Joe Richardson of Harryville in the battle and Private Jack Martin of Ballymena too. I am sorry to say that Private Martin was killed and I fear Pte McClintock met the same fate.”
Note 1: The First Battle of the Aisne was the Allied follow-up offensive against the right wing of the German First Army (led by Alexander von Kluck) & Second Army (led by Karl von Bülow) as they retreated after the First Battle of the Marne earlier in September 1914. The offensive began on the evening of 13 September, after a hasty pursuit of the Germans.As the battle developed, increasing use was made of entrenching tools. It was the dawn of the trench warfare which we now most closely associate with the Western Front.
On the high seas, the Royal Navy was facing up to the challenge of new weapons for the first time. German laid mines dotted the sea-lanes and beneath the surface, the U-Boats did not take long to make their mark on modern warfare.
One local victim of the unseen enemy was the delightfully named Stoker Joyce Power (33), who hailed from Broughshane, a satellite village of Ballymena town. Power died when HMS Hawke an elderly, if not obsolete, cruiser was torpedoed on October 15, 1914.
Just five days previously, he had written a letter to his local minister, the Rev. A. Watson of Second Broughshane Presbyterian Church. The Ballymena Observer carried a picture of the now deceased Power along with some contents of his letter under the dramatic headline, ‘A message from the dead’.
“The following is an extract from a letter dated 10th October written by Mr. Power to his minister, Rev. A Watson, Broughshane, and received by him on Tuesday last. After referring to his wife and children, he says: - ‘The more we have lost some ships it is nothing much, if they would only come out until we get at them (he refers to the German High Seas Fleet). We would soon get our own back. “I do not think much of my countrymen in this war for not coming out and showing their loyalty. All the single young men should join now, for this is a just war. Would they like to see their homes ruined and dear ones murdered, while they are content to stop at home? For my part I would not be elsewhere for anything. I cannot tell you anything about what we are doing. Our letters are looked over before they leave and are sent back if we say much.” He was a Raceview man and had been employed as fireman at the Raceview Woolen Mills. Much sympathy is is felt in the neighbourhood with his wife and two young children (twins). Mr. Power was a naval reserve man and was called up at the declaration of war.
Power’s personal call to arms was far from unusual in those days. Poems and epistles urging ‘the lads back home to play the game’ were a regular feature in the weekly newspapers of the time.
Poignantly, Stoker Power’s wife must have been pregnant at the time of his death. Their daughter, Margaret, was christened the middle name ‘Hawke’, in tribute to her father.
Officers died in droves in these murderous early war battles and one the most noteworthy casualties was 38-year-old Arthur O’Neill, the second son of Baron O’Neill of Shane’s Castle and the MP for Mid-Antrim.
O’Neill was the first member of parliament to be killed in the course of the war. He fell while serving with his regiment, the 2nd Life Guards on November 4, 1914. Despite his aristocratic pedigree, O’Neill would have been a familiar figure in the Ballymena area.
An enthusiastic and leading figure in the Ulster Volunteer movement, he had relinquished his post in the North Antrim Regiment of the UVF on the outbreak of war to return to his elite cavalry unit. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate.
The Ballymena Observer reported (November 20, 1914):-
The manner in which Captain the Hon. Arthur O’Neill was killed in action is related in letters received by the family of the late 2nd Lt. W. S. Peterson, 2nd Life Guards, from three of his brother officers. The following are extracts from the letters:- “Yesterday afternoon, November 5, we were ordered to recapture a village out of which the French had been driven. The whole regiment dismounted and advanced under heavy rifle fire on the village, which was charged at the point of the bayonet by us. Your son - Lt. Peterson - was shot through the heart during this charge. I am most profoundly grieved; he was such a splendid fellow and such a great friend. “We cleared the village at the point of the bayonet killing about 30 Germans and capturing about 20. I was the only officer left after this attack as out commanding officer, Major Dawney, a most gallant man was killed sitting next to me in the trench by a shrapnel shell. We also lost Captain O’Neill, killed, and Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hobson wounded, during this attack. “Your brother died with two other officers of the regiment, Major Dawney, commanding and Captain Arthur O’Neill, in driving the Germans back; they accomplished this work and in so doing actually saved most likely a great defeat of our arms; the fact is recognised by the General.”
A measure of the esteem in which O’Neill was held by the unionists of Ballymena district can be gleaned from the fact that his portrait, in full Life Guard’s uniform, was emblazoned on the banner of the newly formed Ulster Division Memorial LOL – despite the fact that he had died many, many months before that formation’s charge into legend at the Battle of the Somme.
Another prominent local casualty, this time from the upper middle class, was Captain Robert Clifford Orr who was serving with the 1st Btn. Somerset Light Infantry. A solicitor living and practising in Ballymena, Orr had immersed himself in the constitutional politics which dominated the pre-war era.
Until the outbreak of war, he had been the adjutant of the North Antrim Regiment of the Ulster Volunteer Force, raised by Sir Edward Carson to oppose the imposition of ‘home rule’.
The Ballymena Observer reported (January 1915):- The late Captain Orr was educated at Rugby and was admitted as a solicitor in 1903 when he became attached to office of R. & H. Orr, High Street, Ballymena.
The late Captain Orr was appointed adjutant of the 1st Battalion North Antrim Regt of the Ulster Volunteers and since the inception of this movement he was most prominently identified with it, as indeed he was with everything pertaining to the cause of Unionism in this district. He was also a very prominent figure at Larne Harbour on the historic occasion of the gun-running and distribution of the rifles to the loyalist volunteers of the county.
The deceased was a devoted member of St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland, Ballymena. His mother resides at Rockside, Newcastle, Co. Down and his brother is practising as a solicitor in Lombard Street, Belfast.
Orr had fallen in the Somerset’s attack on a German trench fortification known as ‘The Birdcage’ just before Christmas 1914. In this sector of the front, one of the reasons behind the famous truce when British and Germans met in no-man’s land was the desire to recover the bodies of Orr and his comrades.
During his time with the UVF, Orr seems to have made a strong impression on the Ballymena men he had trained in basic military skills and one of those men penned a poetic tribute to their ‘gallant officer’.
The vast majority of UVF men from Ballymena district had enlisted in the 36th (Ulster) Division in September 1914. They had been formed into the cumbersomely named 12th (Service) battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (Central Antrim Volunteers).
‘Lines to the memory of the late Capt. R.C. Orr
3rd btn. Somerset Light Infantry’
He was one of our gallant townsmen,
Who gave his life to save
His country’s honour from the hun
Who’d make each one a slave.
Though far away in Belgium
His heart was always here
He thought on Loyal Ulster
He was still a Volunteer.
For in the muddy trenches
Two days before he fell
He penned a message to his lads
To guard old Ulster well.
He was our gallant captain
His commands we did regard;
We’ll never have his like again
To drill us round the yard.
He’s answered roll call up above
His work on earth is done;
He nobly died a soldier’s death,
Fighting the German Hun.
But the day is surely coming
That his blood will be avenged;
By the noble 12th Battalion
His death will be revenged.
He’s gone from us forever
But his spirit will live in
The gallant lads who go to sweep
The Germans to Berlin.
Then buckle on your armour
The call comes near and far;
To go and help our brothers
To end this bloody war.
Mr. A. Lewis, Bryan Street, Ballymena.
1914 - Killed in action
McCONACHY, Charles George, Able Seaman, Royal Navy, H.M.S. Amphion. . Killed as result of mine explosion: 6th August 1914 Service No: 234602. : Aged 25, son of David and MargaretMcConachy, of Strath House, Dungiven, Londonderry. Native of Belfast.Attended Ballymena Academy.
TEMPLETON James Pte. 2nd R Innis. Fus. KIA 26/8/1914. Aged 29 son of George and Agnes, Ballymena. Lived Belfast. Comm. La Ferte Sous Jouarre Mem. France.
McCLINTOCK David Rfn. 1st R I Rifles. KIA 26th August 1914. Service no 7300. Aged 28, born/enlisted Ballymena. Son of Pat and Sarah McClintock, Parkhead. Comm. La Ferte Sous Jouarre memorial, France.
MARTIN Jack Rfn. 2nd R I Rifles. KIA 18 September 1914. Service no. 8490. Aged 31, son of the late John and Kathleen Martin of Kinrkinriola. Enlisted Ballymena. Wife Margaret Martin at 52 Abercorn Road, Londonderry. Comm. La Ferte Sous Jouarre Memorial.
ANDERSON, Edward, 5936, Rfn., 2 R. Irish Rifles, KIA, September 20, 1914. La-Ferte-Sous-Jouarre Memorial, France. Aged 31, born Ballymena, enlisted Belfast. Son of the late Adam and Mary Ann. Wife Janet at 7 Duncan Street, Pollockshaws.
POWER Joyce, Leading Stoker HMS Hawke. Sunk by U-Boat 15th October 1914. Service no. 308879. Aged 33 son of Mr. and Mrs. William Power, Ahoghill. Husband of Maggie Power, Waring Street, Ballymena. Comm. Chatham Naval Mem. and 2nd Broughshane Pres. Church.
MAIRS, Alexander, Stoker 1st Class, Royal Navy, H.M.S. Hawke. Died 15th October 1914. Service No: SS/101872. Aged 29. Son of John and Maggie
Mairs, of Gracehill, Co. Antrim. Comm.. Chatham Naval memorial and Kells Pres. Church.
McNEILL James Pte. 1st R Scots Fus. KIA 18th October 1914. Service no, 6681. Of Ahoghill. Comm. Le Touret Memorial and 2nd Ahoghill Pres. Church.
McLEAN Alexander Lcpl. 2nd A&SH KIA 21st October 1914. Service no. 6902 Born Ballymena, enlisted Coatbridge, lived Edinburgh. Comm. Ploegsteert Memorial.
RICHARDSON, Joseph Rfmn. 2nd R I Rifles (30). KIA 24th October 1914 . Aged 30, born Ahoghill. Son of James and Isabella Richardson of 7, Alfred Street, Ballymena. Comm. On Le Touret Memorial and Harryville Pres. Church.
BLACK, Robert, 12109, Lce. Cpl. 2 HLI, KIA October 24, 1914. Named Menin Gate Memorial. Born Ballymena, enlisted Paisley, family at Ballygarvey.
ROBINSON Daniel Rfn. 2nd R I Rifles. KIA 25th October 1914. Service no. 8262. Born Ballymena, enlisted Belfast. Comm. Le Touret Memorial, Pas De Calais, France.
WALLACE James Lcpl. 1st Irish Guards. KIA 26/10/1914. Service no. 1575. Aged 32, son of John and Isabella , Railway Cottages, Ballymena. Wife Clara in London. Co,,. Menin Gate and Wellington Street Pres. Church.
GETTY (or Gettis) Robert, Rfn. 2nd R.I.Rifles. KIA 27/10/1914. Service no. 6444. Aged 24, Enlisted Ballykinlar, husband of Ellen Sinclair Getty, James Street, Ballymena. Comm. Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais.
BELL, Joseph, 6168, Rfn., 2 R.Irish Rifles, KIA Neuve Chapelle, October 27, 1914. Named Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais. Born and enlisted Ballymena. Kin at Suffolk Street. Comm.on 1st Ballymena Pres.
ARMSTRONG, William, 9196, Private, 1 Black watch, KIA, October 29, 1914. Named on Ypres Memorial. Born Glenwherry, enlisted Edinburgh. Aged 31, wife Agnes at 10 Windsor Terrace, Ballymena.
LUNDY Alexander Rfn. 2nd R I Rifles. Died 27th October 1914. Service no. 8989. Born Ballymena, enlisted and lived Belfast. Buried Rue Petillon Mil. Cem. Fleubaix.
HOUSTON Leslie Pte. 2nd R Innis. Fus. Died of wounds on 31st October 1914. Service no. 7378. Born Ahoghill, enlisted Ballymena, lived Queen Street/Salisbury Square. Buried Bailleul Comm. Cem. Nord, France. Comm. 1st Ahoghill and Harryville Pres. Churches.
PHILLIPS T. McCann Captain, RAMC att. Major Hayes’ Ambulance. Died of wounds 4th November 1914. Aged 24, formerly of Ahoghill. Son of Rev. J.G. and Mrs. Anne Phillips. Buried Poperinge Comm. Cem. Belgium.
O’NEILL Arthur E. B. Captain 2nd Life Guards. KIA 4th November 1914. Aged 38, MP for Mid-Antrim, 2nd son of Baron O’Neill of Shane’s Castle. The first MP to die in the war. Comm. Menin Gate.
MONTGOMERY Charles Gdsmn. 1st Scots Guards. KIA 11th November 1914. Service no. 8608. Born Ballymena enlisted Glasgow. Son of Robert and Agnes Montgomery of Killymoon Street, Cookstown. Comm. Menin Gate.
ALLISON, William, 7864, Private, 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers, died at home, November 14, 1914. Born Ballymena enlisted Belfast and lived Drogheda.
BLACK, William 11302, Cpl. 2 HLI, KIA (brother of above) November 14, 1914. Named Menin Gate. Born Ballymena, enlisted Hamilton, lived Kirkinriola, kin at Ballgarvey.
ALLEN Charles, 1535, Private, 1 Irish Guards, KIA, November 18, 1914, listed on Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. Born Belfast, enlisted Ballymena, 29-year-old son of Elizabeth of Alexander Street, Ballymena. Wife Matilda at Dervock.
McILWAINE Anderson Rfn. 2nd R I Rifles. Died of wounds Ypres 2nd December 1914. Service no. 10261. Aged 17, lived Dunfane, Ballymena. Buried Bailleul Comm. Cem. France. Comm. 1st Ballymena Pres. Church.
HARKNESS, George Rfn. 2nd R I Rifles. Died 3rd December 1914. Service no. 8252. Born Ballymena, enlisted Ballymena. Buried Le Mans West Cem. Sarthe France.
ORR, Robert Clifford Captain Somerset Light Infantry 3rd Bn. KIA 19/12/1914. Aged 34, of Masoe, Ballymena. Son of Robert Harrison Orr and Cassandra Marchaise Orr, of 1, Lombard St., Belfast. Adjutant North Antrim UVF. Buried Ploegsteert Wood Mil. Cem. Belgium. Plaque held in Morrow’s Museum.
NELSON Samuel Rfn. 2nd R I Rifles. KIA 12th december 1914. Service no. 8180. Aged 30, son of Sam and Cathrine Nelson, formerly of Castle Street, Ballymena. Enlisted Belfast, lived 8 North Ann Street. Buried Boulogne Eastern Cem. France.
GRAHAM William, Fireman, Merchant Marine SS Gem of Glasgow. Date of death 25th December 1914. Son of late Francis and Mary, husband of Sarah. Springhill, Glenarm. Born Ballymena. Co.Tower Hill Memorial.