Last month, East Belfast & The Great War were delighted to host another highly successful Roadshow, this time at the Parish Hall of St. Mark’s Church, Dundela. Once again, we were overwhelmed at the response to our call for stories and artefacts. As I’m sure you will agree, examining material objects, and hearing the stories with which they are imbued, provides a uniquely engaging way to put a human face to a devastating global conflict. These are just some of those very human stories which we were privileged to hear at St. Mark’s.
James Dalgety Black was born in 1896, the youngest of five children. His middle name was for his grandmother, whose maiden name had been Dalgety. His father – John William Black – was born in Cumberland and his mother – Isabella Jane Black – was from Co. Louth. In the 1911 Census, James is listed as living with his parents and two of his siblings at 4 Oakland Avenue. James served as a Sergeant with the 8th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles and was killed in action on 19th August 1916, aged 20. He is buried at the Ration Farm (La Plus Douve) Annexe outside of Hainaut in Belgium.
Before the war, James had been an active member of 10th Belfast Scout Group. In total, seven members of James’ former Scout group lost their lives in the First World War, including one Henry Joy McCracken, a Royal Air Corps pilot named for his famous ancestor,who had been a founding member of the United Irishmen and was hanged for his part in the Rebellion of 1798. The names of James, Henry and the other five members of 10th Belfast Scouts who were killed during the war were inscribed on a memorial cot donated by the Scout Group to the Ulster Hospital for Women and Children on Templemore Avenue. The cot was likely destroyed when the hospital was severely bomb-damaged during the Belfast Blitz in 1941. James and Henry are also commemorated on the Strandtown and District Unionist Club War Memorial. Thanks to Judith Holland for bringing James’ photos and medals to St. Mark’s.
Members of 10th Belfast Scouts killed during the First World War. James Dalgety Black is pictured top-left, Henry Joy McCracken top-centre. Image courtesy of Tenth Belfast Scouts.
Pictured in his uniform in this photograph – brought to us by Jilly Johnston – is Sub-Lieutenant James B. Johnston, of C. Company, Hawke Battalion, the Royal Naval Reserve. Son of Philip Johnston (a stock broker) and Edith Elizabeth Arden Johnston, in 1911, James was recorded as living with his family at 44 King’s Road. According to James’ Commonwealth War Grave record, in 1918, his parents were living at ‘Denarden’, in Strandtown.
When war was declared in 1914, there was not enough room on Britain’s war-ships to accommodate all of the men in the Royal Naval Reserves. A surplus of more than 20,000 men were formed instead into two Naval Brigades and a Brigade of Marines for land-based operations. Sent to Belgium in great haste, this Royal Naval Division was poorly equipped, lacking even rudimentary equipment including packs, mess tins and khaki uniforms. Members of the Naval Reserve saw action on both the Western and Eastern Fronts, including at Gallipoli in 1915, where the Royal Naval Division suffered heavy casualties. In 1916, authority for the Division was transferred from the Admiralty to the War Office. It was moved to France and remained in service on the Western Front for the rest of the War. James Johnston was killed in action, aged 21, on 8th October 1918 during the Battle of Cambrai. He is buried in the Cambrai East Military Cemetery.
Encamped at Seaford with the Ulster Division in 1915, William Anderson sent a number of postcards to his sister – Elizabeth – in Belfast. We are grateful to Elizabeth’s grand-daughter and William’s great-niece, Sylvia Hynes, for bringing them for us to catalogue at St. Mark’s. Among the collection of post-cards was this letter.
“Just a few lines to let you know I am in the best of health, hoping yourself and James, and wee May are in the best also. There is very nice scenery around here and I like the place very well…It is a treat of a camp to the one we left in Ireland!
It is so pleasant that they got a holiday on the Twelfth Day and they enjoyed themselves I tell you. You would have thought you were in Belfast. They had sashes with them which they wore, and they got lilies, from where I don’t know! There was one thing they all kept sober as they had no money. It passed by alright.”
In 1911, William and Elizabeth Anderson are recorded as living with their parents and four other siblings – Charles, Samuel, Ellen and Margaret – at 29 St. Leonard’s Street. In 1912, Elizabeth married James Gillespie of 104 St. Leonard’s Street. The Andersons and Gillespies had long enjoyed a close family-friendship, which began in Barrow-in-Furness, where the fathers of the two families had worked together in the ship-yard. It was also here that William and Elizabeth’s mother and father – Margaret and William John Anderson – had married. ‘Wee May’ referred to in William’s letter was James and Elizabeth’s first child.
William Anderson survived the war. He went on to marry Sarah Love and they lived on the Antrim Road. They had no children.
Many thanks again to all of those who attended the Roadshow at St. Mark’s, and in particular to those who have allowed us to catalogue their artefacts and stories. St. Mark’s, of course, was C. S. Lewis’ church, and we would like to thank Sandy Smith for his excellent talk exporing the connection between C. S. Lewis, the parish and the First World War. Thanks also to St. Mark’s for having us, to Dawn for the home-made buns and as always to our partners at Living Legacies for their support with the digitisation. The stories presented here represent only a snapshot of those we heard on the day, and we are currently looking at ways to makes sure all of the others can be shared too! Watch this space.
As always, if you have anything which you would like to share with the project, please get in touch. We would love to hear from you. And keep your eyes peeled for news and more events coming soon!