In this section, three old Instonians who did not fall in combat are profiled. One was awarded the highest decoration given for valour, one died when the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U Boat, and one saved many thousands of lives in both the First and Second World Wars.


Brigadier John Alexander Sinton VC OBE FRS MB DL



Brigadier John Alexander Sinton VC, OBE, FRS, MB, DL (2 December 1884 – 25 March 1956) was a Northern Irish doctor, malariologist and soldier, being a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Sinton was born in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, the third of the seven children of Walter Lyon Sinton (1860–1930) and his wife, Isabella Mary, née Pringle (1860–1924), a family of Quaker linen manufacturers from north of Ireland. In 1890 they returned to Ulster where he was educated and lived for the rest of his life. He studied at Nicholson Memorial School, Lisburn (now Christ Church Parochial Hall), Inst, from 1899 to 1902, and read medicine at the Queen's University, Belfast, where he graduated in 1908 as first in his year. He went on to attain degrees from the University of Cambridge (1910) and the University of Liverpool (1911).

He joined the Indian Medical Service in 1911, coming first in the entrance examinations, but before being posted to India was seconded as the Queen's University research scholar to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine where his contact with Sir Ronald Ross may have influenced his later career as a malariologist.

He was 31 years old and a captain in the Indian Medical Service (IMS), Indian Army, during the First World War. On 21 January 1916 at the Orah Ruins, Mesopotamia, while serving with an Indian Cavalry regiment, Captain Sinton attended to the wounded under very heavy fire and, although he was shot through both arms and through the side, he refused to go to hospital, remaining on duty as long as daylight lasted. In three previous actions he had also displayed the utmost bravery. The citation to his VC reads

"For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. Although shot through both arms and through the side, he refused to go to hospital, and remained as long as daylight lasted, attending to his duties under very heavy fire. In three previous actions Captain Sinton displayed the utmost bravery."

He later achieved the rank of Brigadier (1943), was awarded the Russian Order of St George and Mentioned in Dispatches six times. Among the other honours bestowed on him was an honorary degree of doctor of medicine from Queen's University "in recognition of his early distinctions and of his valour in the field while engaged in the treatment and succour of the wounded" and, in 1921, the OBE.

In 1921 he transferred from the military to the civil branch of the IMS which he continued to serve with until 1936.

In July 1921 he was put in charge of the quinine and malaria inquiry under the newly formed Central Malaria Bureau. He was appointed the first director of the malaria survey of India at Kasauli in 1925, which was to become one of the chief centres of malaria research.

He became Manson fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and at the malaria laboratory of the Ministry of Health at Horton Hospital, near Epsom. He also became adviser on malaria to the Ministry of Health. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Sinton was recalled as an IMS reservist and commanded a hospital in India. At the age of fifty-five he was again retired, but was appointed consultant malariologist to the east African force and later to Middle East command, retiring with the honorary rank of brigadier in August 1943.

He then worked as consultant malariologist to the War Office, travelling widely to Assam, Australia, Burma, Ceylon, India, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, where his expertise in malaria was invaluable. Further military decorations resulted from this period, after which Sinton returned to Northern Ireland and retired to Cookstown. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1946, with his citation reading: "It is doubtful if any other author during the last thirty years ... has contributed more largely and importantly to scientific knowledge of malaria or has worked more originally and assiduously to advance such knowledge."

He is the only person to have had the letters VC, FRS following their name. In his retirement he served as Deputy Lieutenant for Tyrone, Northern Ireland, Justice of the Peace, High Sheriff for Tyrone, and president of the Cookstown Royal British Legion.

At Kasauli, Sinton met Eadith Seymour Steuart-Martin (1894–1977), daughter of Edwin Steuart-Martin and Ada May Martin (née Martin), whom he married on 19 September 1923. Their daughter, Eleanor Isabel Mary Sinton, was born at Kasauli on 9 December 1924.

Brigadier Sinton was a cousin of physicist Ernest Walton. His name is remembered in Sinton Halls, a student housing block at the Queen's University, Belfast, here he sat on the senate and was a Pro-Chancellor. Others honoured Sinton by naming three mosquito species, Aedes sintoni, Anopheles sintoni, and Anopheles sintonoides, one sandfly species, Sergentomyia sintoni, and one subgenus Sintonius of the genus Phlebotomus, after him.

He died at his home at Slaghtfreedan Lodge, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, on 25 March 1956 and was buried with full military honours on 28 March at Claggan Presbyterian cemetery in Cookstown. Colonel H. W. Mulligan in an obituary in the British Medical Journal described him thus:

"Sinton had an exceptionally quick, receptive, and retentive brain, but his greatness sprang not so much from his unusual intellectual gifts as from the simple qualities of absolute integrity and tremendous industry".

Such was the esteem with which Brigadier Sinton was held, a tradition started in which the old soldiers of Cookstown Royal British Legion gathered at his graveside on the eve of Remembrance Sunday to pay homage. 

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Army Medical Services Museum at Aldershot.

Walter Dawson Mitchell - died 7/5/1915 on the RMS Lusitania

Walter Mitchell was the youngest son of the Rev. George Patton Mitchell Rector of Drumbo Parish between 1890 and 1922 and Elizabeth (Bessie) Dawson. He was educated at RBAI and The Municipal Technical Institute in Belfast. Unlike his father, and older brother, he choose a career in the linen industry rather than the church, though the family joke was that they were all men of the cloth. At the Technical Institute he won a Drapers Company Exhibition an award which, in the view of one of his tutors, “is only obtainable by those who apply themselves with great earnestness to the practice and theory of their special subject”. He served his apprenticeship at the Island Spinning Company, Lisburn and in December 1912 was offered a “highly responsible” position in the firm of Messrs Marshall and Co., New Jersey.

Before his departure though he proposed to Jeanette Elizabeth Moore (Nettie) eldest daughter of William Moore a dairy farmer of Newgrove, Ballylesson, whom he had known since childhood. She accepted and agreed to go with him to America. The wedding had to be hastily arranged and as there was no time for a wedding dress to be made, one had to be purchased from Robinson and Cleaver’s, Belfast’s first department store. They left for America immediately after the wedding, travelling up to Derry in their wedding clothes. It was just before Christmas 1912. Their ship called at Queenstown (now Cobh) on the way to New York and some of Walter’s Dublin relations travelled there to see them off.

The Mitchells seem to have settled in well to their new home in Newark, New Jersey. Walter, a keen photographer took many pictures and sent them home to his family and in August 1914 their son, also called Walter Dawson, was born. But that summer was not an entirely happy time for the family. Bessie Dawson, Walter’s mother, had died on the 14 July aged 56 from an infection resulting from a thorn prick she had received while gardening and on the declaration of war in August, Nettie’s brothers Bobby and Archie (see below) had been amongst the first recruits to enlist.

By the spring of 1915 the Island Spinning Company needed Walter back in Lisburn. Walter and Nettie’s happy sojourn in America had come to an end and they treated themselves to a voyage home on the Lusitania. Nettie’s brother John Moore, who by this time had settled in Connecticut, decided to join them for a trip home.

Walter Mitchell died “of drowning and exposure” on the 7.5.15 when the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk off the south coast of Ireland. According to an interview given by John Moore to the Lisburn Standard, they had just finished lunch and Mrs. Mitchell had gone to the cabin to look after the baby when the ship was torpedoed. “In a moment the passengers were rushing on deck to ascertain what had happened. When he got there the vessel had listed, lifeboats were being swung out from the lower side, and lifebelts handed around. He did not get a life preserver but managed to get into a boat, which on reaching the water, overturned. Luckily he got hold of a rope which was hanging over the ship’s side and held on for a little time, during which the passengers were jumping down in crowds, many of them striking him as they passed and bruising his body. Subsequently he found himself struggling in the water, and just managed to clutch the keel of one of the upturned boats, with which he supported himself until he was rescued by what he thought was a mine sweeper. He could not describe the awfulness of the scene. He had lost sight of his sister and her husband and was despairing of seeing them again, when he observed them being taken out of the sea and brought aboard the trawler. Mrs. Mitchell was in a semi-conscious state and her husband was unconscious. Mrs. Mitchell recovered under the treatment she received, but though everything possible was done to restore Mr. Mitchell it was without success. As for the baby, he did not see it after he left the liner. As to the subsequent search for some trace of the baby and the heart-rending scenes he witnessed Mr. Moore could not trust himself to speak.”

According to Nettie, as the Lusitania sank, she and Walter had found themselves in the water clinging onto a lifeboat with Walter supporting their infant son. However, in the absence of any help the young child soon died of cold. His mother knew that he was dead, “because his skin went a dark bruised colour and he had froth at his mouth”. Then as his father too lost consciousness, the child’s body slipped into the water was never recovered.

Nettie herself was fortunate to survive. When fishermen on a trawler pulled her and Walter out of the water, neither showed any sign of life. “Nettie, however, was still just alive and remembered the sensation of being dragged by her feet with her head bumping along the deck. She and Walter were left with the dead”. According to family tradition, her brother John eventually found her at Queenstown “among the corpses laid out on the harbour steps” and seeing her eyelid move, realised that she was still alive and resuscitated her.

Walter Mitchell’s body was brought home by train by his widow and brother-in–law late on Sunday night the 9 May. They were met at Lisburn station by the Rev. Mitchell, Mr. Moore senior and Miss Pounden, Mrs. Mitchell’s favourite aunt and it was to her that she, “poured out the great agony of her wounded heart.” He was buried beside his mother on Tuesday 11 May 1915 in the family burial plot at Ballylesson Parish Church, “among many manifestations of profound sorrow. The cortege was a large and imposing one, people coming from far and wide.”

The death of his wife, which George Mitchell “had taken very badly”, and then the loss of his son and grandson, left the Rev. Mitchell a “broken man.” He died on Boxing Day 1922 and is buried along with Bessie and Walter at Ballylesson. The death of Walter senior, though not his infant son, is recorded on the family headstone to the right of the main drive leading to the church.

Walter Mitchell’s wife, Nettie Moore, was born 10 July 1886 and after attending school in Lisburn, had helped her mother run the house and dairy at Newgrove, the family home. It was a Georgian building, single storied at the front with the farmyard and outbuildings tucked in behind and was built on a rath above the Lagan. It lay just across the road from Ballylesson (Drumbo Parish) Rectory her future husband’s home.

Nettie would have been 26 at the time of her marriage and still not 29 at the time of her husband’s and son’s deaths in 1915. Following her return to Ballylesson in May 1915, “she could not sleep and really thought that she could loose her mind”. Eventually though she decided to train as a midwife and went to the Rotunda Maternity Hospital in Dublin. She was working there during the Easter Rising when the centre of the city was in flames. “Ypres on the Liffey” she called it. When she had completed her training she returned home to Ballylesson and volunteered for the Red Cross in Belfast. After the war she married William Waters a cattle dealer originally from Co. Tyrone, and settled down with him on his farm on the Ravenhill Road in Belfast. On the 10 July 1925, Nettie’s 39th birthday, their first son Brian was born, followed two years later by a second boy Allen.

Sir Almroth Edward Wright KBE CD

Sir Almroth Edward Wright, KBE, CB was a British bacteriologist and immunologist. He is best known for advancing vaccination through the use of autogenous vaccines (prepared from the bacteria harboured by the patient) and also through typhoid vaccination with typhoid bacilli killed by heat. In the 19th century, he worked with the armed forces of Britain to develop vaccines and promote immunisation.

In 1902 he started a research department at St Mary's Hospital Medical School in London. He developed a system of anti-typhoid inoculation and a method of measuring protective substances (opsonin) in human blood. Citing the example of the Second Boer War, during which many soldiers died from easily preventable diseases, Wright convinced the armed forces that 10 million vaccines for the troops in northern France should be produced during the Great War. He also invented a new wound dressing which made the drssing of wounds simpler for both doctor and patient, and enabled wounds to heal more quickly.

Among the many bacteriologists who followed in Wright's footsteps at St Mary's was Sir Alexander Fleming, who in turn later discovered penicillin.

Wright warned early on that antibiotics would create resistant bacteria, something that has proven an increasing danger. He made his thoughts on preventive medicine influential, stressing preventive measures. Wright's ideas have been re-asserted recently—50 years after his death—by modern researchers in articles in such periodicals as Scientific American.

Wright was immortalised by George Bernard Shaw as Sir Colenso Ridgeon in the play 'The Doctor's Dilemma' written in 1906.