The months of September and October 1914 brought the grim realities of war home to the people of Ballymena and District.
And the Ballymena Observer, the weekly newspaper of that time, covered every tragedy for its loyal and information hungry readership.
There were two fatalities involving local men during the September period. Both were killed in the actions which took place on the slopes above the River Aisne in France.
They were both serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles which had taken part in the counterattack ordered by the resurgent French army which has become known as the ‘Battle of the Marne.’
The unit had advanced to the Aisne River but arrived just too late to keep the retreating Germans ‘on the run’. The Germans dug in on the heights and trench warfare on the Western Front became a reality.
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., 2nd 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.
Meanwhile, the citizen soldiers who had rushed to join Kitchener’s army were in training to play their part in the war.
The Observer reported:-
Ballymena boys to the rescue at Finner Camp, Ballyshannon: On Sunday, 4 October,1914, while two of the soldiers of the Donegal Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were bathing, one of them took cramp. His companion swam to his rescue and succeeded in reaching him but the drowning man caught hold of him and they would have both been drowned if it had not been for the gallantry of seven Ballymena men who, seeing the peril of the two men, caught hold of each others hands and made a chain, reached the drowning men and brought them safe to shore and rendered first aid.
The rescue party took them to the hospital where they are progressing favourably.
The names of the rescue party are:- Sergt. William Cairns, Privates T. Coulter, Sandy Moody, Bertie Montgomery, W. Lorimer, B. Smith, James Moody.
And news continued to arrive about those who had been at the sharp end of warfare. Again, the Observer reported:-
Private William Telford, Tullygarley, of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers is reported wounded and a prisoner of war and a comrade of the same regiment, who has been invalided home, pays a high tribute to his bravery. Both were separated from their company in a small French town which was surrounded by Germans. Private Telford was wounded and when he saw capture was inevitable he handed his revolver, belt and bandolier to his companion and advised the latter to escape, which he evidently did though he was shot himself in the attempt. Ballymena Observer Oct. 9 1914
It soon became apparent to both side on the Western Front that the trench warfare which had developed at the Aisne was leading to a bloody stalemate. And thus began the famous ‘race to the sea’ with oppoising armies traying to outflank each other on forced marches which eventually saw a line of trenches develop which would run from the North Sea coast of Belgium to the Swis Frontier.
Most of the Ballymena and district men serving with the decimated regulars of the British Army were to face a further period of bloody torment as they sought to defend the Belgian market town of Ypres, which was virtually surrounded by superior German forces who occupied the high ground overlooking their positions in makeshift, often waterlogged trenches.
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.
The Observer reported (December 4, 1914):- Much regret is felt in the Ahoghill and Broughshane District over the death of Pte. James McNeill of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, which sad event took place at the Battle of the Marne. The deceased was a native of Ahoghill and was for the past four years the faithful servant of Mr. John Martin of Roughan, Broughshane. The deceased was held in high esteem by all who knew him.
McLEAN Alexander Lcpl. 2nd A&SH KIA 21st October 1914. Service no. 6902 Born Ballymena, enlisted Coatbridge, lived Edinburgh. Comm. Ploegsteert Memorial.
BLACK, Robert, 12109, Lce. Cpl. 2 HLI, KIA October 24, 1914. Named Menin Gate Memorial. Born Ballymena, enlisted Paisley, family at Ballygarvey.
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.
The Observer reported (November 20, 1914) :- Pte. Joe Richardson, Alfred Street, of the 2nd Btn. Royal Irish Rifles, was killed in action on the morning of October 23, 1914. Notice of his death was conveyed in a letter by one of his chums to Mrs. Richardson and on Saturday morning his name appeared in the official list. Pte. Richardson, shortly after he joined the army, was drafted to India with his regiment where he served almost 8 years. When his term of service was finished, he came home and since March, 1914 was an employee at the Island in Belfast, where he remained until he was called up with the reserves last August.
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. Comm. Menin Gate and Wellington Street Pres. Church.
The Observer reported (November 27, 1914) - Mr. John Wallace of Railway Cottages, Ballymena, has been notified by the War Office that his son L.cpl. James F. Wallace, 1st Btn Irish Guards, has been killed in action. Mr. Wallace received a letter from a private in the Irish Guards last week informing him of the death of his son which took place on October 26. L.cpl. Wallace was well known in Ballymena and was formerly in the employment of Mr. John Ellis, tailor, Salisbury Square. He was called up as a reservist at the outbreak of war., prior to which he had been residing at Herbert Street, Plaistow, London. Much sympathy is felt with his bereaved widow and little daughter, and with his relatives in Ballymena.
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.
The Observer reported (December 11, 1914) :-MRS. Gettis, James‚ Street, Harryville, has been notified by the War Office of the death of her son, L.cpl. Robert Gettis of the Royal Irish Rifles. The message states that he was killed in the desperate fighting at Neuve Chapelle on October 27,1914 and enclosed with the notification was a message of sympathy from the King and Queen.
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.
The Observer reported (December 14, 1914):-Mr. William John Bell, Suffolk Street, Ballymena, has been notified by the war office that his son, Pte. Joseph Bell of the 2nd Btn. RIR has been killed in action at Neuve Chapelle, France on October 27. Pte. Bell, a reservist, was called up at the outbreak of war and was a plumber employed by Mr. Alexander Clyde, Ballymena. He was a keen follower of football and took a great interest in Summerfield Club.
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.
The Observer reported (December 30, 1914):- It was officially reported to the parents of Pte Wm. Armstrong, Bally, Ballymena, that their son, of the Black Watch, had been killed in action as long ago as October 29, 1914. The deceased, who leaves a wife and two young children residing in Kinhilt Street, worked at his trade as a carpenter to Mr. John Carson, builder and contractor, and prior to rejoining his regiment for active service, he worked on the Queen’s Island, Belfast. It may be mentioned that a brother of the deceased, Pte Robert Armstrong, was wounded at Mons.
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.
The Observer reported (December 11, 1914):- Mrs. L. Houston, Salisbury Square, Harryville, has received a message from the War Office informing her that her husband, Pte Leslie Houston of the Royal Innis. Fus. has died of wounds in the Second Clearing Hospital on October 31. He leaves behind a wife and four children, with whom much sympathy is felt. Pte Houston was an employee of H. Lancashire’s, Church Street, when he was called up in the reserves last August. He was well known in football circles having played for Linfield Swifts and was for many years connected with South-End Rangers.