Captain James Samuel Davidson - died 1/7/1916
13th Royal Irish Rifles attached 108th Company Machine Gun Corps
James was born on 9th March 1877, the only son of Samuel Cleland Davidson of Seacourt, Bangor County Down. His father was founder and owner of the Sirocco Engineering Works in Belfast and an extremely wealthy man. As well as Inst, James attended Campbell College, Belfast, was a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineering, and served as a volunteer with the 1st Battalion North Down Regiment of the Ulster Volunteer Force for two years.
James worked as general manager in his father's business, Davidson and Company Ltd., before becoming a director, and accompanied his father to the 1904 St Louis World Fair to promote the Company. James enjoyed the trappings of wealth and drove smart cars and sailed his own yacht at the Royal Ulster Yacht Club where the tea magnate, and family friend Sir Thomas Lipton, was also a member. From October 1910 to July 1911, James undertook a world trip to evaluate and sell Sirocco Machinery.
Also a keen tennis player and motorist, he was a member of the Ulster Club, Ulster Reform Club and Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club, and a governor of Inst. When war was declared, he was one of the first to offer his services, applying for a commission on 26th September 1914. He was appointed a 2nd Lieutenant with the 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, where he subsequently rose to the rank of Captain. His practical knoweldge of engineering was identified and he was attached to the Machine Gun section. Shortly before his death, James had become engaged to Eileen, a family friend.
James died on 1st July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme, at the age of 39. As Brigade Machine Gun officer, he had been held in reserve when the initial assault began at 7.30am. He and his men were sent out shortly after 8.00am in response to a requerst from Captain Matthew, a fellow director of Davidson and Co. He had sent a report back at 10.20am, reporting "Am in B line and have got up 2 Vickers guns, am consolidating both. Cannot say how many infantry are in line, but in this part, there are only about 30 men of 13th, 11th and 15th Royal Irish Rifles. We cannot possibly advance and reinforcements, ammunition and bombs most urgently needed."
Two hours later, James, now wounded in the knee, sent a further message requesting urgent reinforcements. "I am holding the end of a communication trench in A line with a few bombers and a Lewis Gun. We cannot hold much longer. We are being pressed on all sides and ammunition almost finished." By now the men still in the German trenches were virtually cut off.
James was shot dead by a German sniper as he was helped back across no-mans-land by two of his men. One wrote: "the Germans were keeping up a very hot fire and it was open ground we had to cross, and the Germans could see anyone between our front line and theirs. We just got 20 yards from the wire when the Captain got shot through the head - he just fell and never spoke or moved. He died instantly - there was no hope."
Capt Wilfred Spender, General Staff Officer with the Ulster Division, wrote to James' father: "I am told that your son fell after gallantry which deserved the Victoria Cross and was killed when his men had at last persuaded him to consent to letting them carry him back. Though badly wounded, he had insisted on carrying on. If I may say so, I value the friendship of your son, and hope that I may be worthy to renew it later in another and better life."
On 3rd July, James' family received a letter from him:
"Only a few minutes to tell you that I am well. The dawn of tomorrow will be the critical time for us but I hope good luck will attend us. Mother dearest, I don't want you to be too anxious about me but if I should have bad luck, will you give Eileen any of my little personal things she would like to have. I will send a postcard just as soon as I can if all goes well."
In his will, he left £21,929 2s 11d, a sum equivalent to more than £1 million in today's terms.
James is buried in Serre Road Cemetery No. 2 (ref. XXX E 7), Somme, France. His name is still inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. He is also commemorated on the Bangor War Memorial.
Second Lieutenant Arthur Denman Deane - died 14/7/1916
1st Royal Irish Regiment attached 2nd Battalion
Arthur was the son of Mr and Mrs F Deane, of Knockdene Park, Knock, Belfast. After attending Inst, he had been serving an engineering apprenticeship at the Workman Clark and Company shipyard in Belfast. He was also a member of Knock Rugby Club.
When the war started, he enlisted and several months as a motor despatch rider before being commissioned into the Royal Irish Regiment. In1915, he was wounded by a sniper but returned to duty.
Arthur was killed, at the age of 28, at about 5pm on 14th July 1916, inside the windmill at Bazentin le Petit. In the course of a German counterattack, from the direction of High Wood, he was shot through the mouth and never spoke again. An observer stated that as he left the windmill, he turned round and saw a shell hit it, and believed it to be destroyed. He was certain that Arthur was dead. 3 other ranks also died in the Windmill.
His parents received a letter from him just hours before the War Office telegram arrived telling of his death. A fellow officer later wrote to them:
"He was holding, with his platoon, a strong post which had been captured on the morning of July 14 just outside the village of Bazentin, the battalion having captured the village earlier in the day, when the enemy suddenly counter-attacked in very large numbers with the object of retaking the village, which was a very important strategic point. Your son was surrounded and cut off from the rest of the battalion, and, although he made a very game fight, with his platoon and a machine-gun, he was eventually overwhelmed. It was impossible to send help to him, as we were all in a perilous position and fighting for our lives. Later, however, we retook the strong position he had been holding, and found him dead there. I cannot tell you how much we feel the loss of such a gallant officer and comrade. He was in every sense of the word a credit to his regiment - which sets no small standard of courage and ability."
His body was found and identified when the position was retaken but subsequently lost.
Arthur is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial (pier and face 3A), Somme, France. His brother, F W Deane, also served, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre.
Captain Charles Beauclerk Despard DSO, MC - died 18/4/1918
6th Inniskilling Dragoons attached 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers
Charles was born in Cultra on 31st December 1880, the son of William and Mary Despard of "Sheelagh" Malone Park Belfast (Mary was the daughter of Col Arthur Hunt RA). After attending Inst, he enlisted into The Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry in 1899 and served as a Private and Corporal. He then joined the Imperial Yeomanry (Corporal 9364) for service in the Boer War and served with 46th Company, 13th Battalion. Charles was commissioned into the Imperial Yeomanry on 1 April 1900 and served with 74th Battalion. He was mentioned in dispatched by Col Parris in 1901 - the citation reads -
"For gallantry while serving as a Subaltern with the 74th Imperial Yeomanry during the extraction of a convoy from a difficult situation near Griquatown, Cape Colony on 24 August 1901 during the South African War"
He was also awarded the Queen's and King's Medals during this time.
Charles went to Canada in 1909 and settled at Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, to work as a rancher. Ivan Crossley was an Irish emigrant and a founding member of the community of Lloydminster. In his memoirs he recounted his meeting with Charles Despard in Canada in 1910.
"I had always liked the job of handling horses and stock of all kinds so I was soon up to my neck in the business of buying and selling and doing very well. I had five livery teams and used to drive the police and doctors all over the country. I started a cartage business in town, hauling stores and produce from the railroad depot to the different stores.
Business grew with the town and I soon found myself almost snowed under looking after everything. One evening during the winter I was doing my books at the office when a team drove up and needed stabling for the night. It was about 40 degrees below and the driver was very cold and hungry, having driven down from Edmonton, some 200 miles to the west.
I got him into the warm office after stabling and feeding his horses. We started talking and I soon detected that he was an Irishman like myself. Very soon it developed that he too had come from Belfast and had been out in the woods near Edmonton working at a lumber camp. He had previously been in the Lloydminster district and had taken up a homestead but could not afford to stay at that time. He had come back to "put in his time" as required by the government.
I asked his name and was told it was "Despard." "Not Charlie Despard, surely," I said. "Yes," he said and who was I? I soon told him and we found that we had attended the same school and church many years ago and we knew one another's families.
I took Charlie into partnership with me in the business and we worked together many years and made money for us both. He was a born soldier and had fought in the Boer War. When the First World War broke out he was a reservist in the Enniskillen Dragoons so nothing could stop him from leaving at once to join his old regiment. He said he would go and that I should remain at home and look after his share of the business while he was away.
Charlie had no wife at that time, so was free to go if he thought it his duty. He had married his old sweetheart in the south of Ireland during one of his leaves. Years later when I took my family to Ireland we visited his wife at Killkenny. She was proud to show us his war mementoes and medals. I eventually bought out his share in our business at a satisfactory price to his wife and myself."
Charles returned to England on the outbreak of war in August 1914 and volunteered for active service. He was commissioned into the Service Squadron of the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons as a Lieutenant on 19 October 1914 and served in 36th (Ulster) Division until June 1916 and then in the North Irish Horse in X Corps Cavalry Regiment. He was appointed Captain 30 October 1915.
During this time, as Ivan Crossley mentions, he married Josephine Madden, eldest daughter of the Rev Robert Madden of the Acacias, Portarlington, Queen's County, and the late rector of Kilgomanny, County Kilkenny. The wedding took place on 20th February 1915 and Charles and Josephine moved into Marshfield House, Leixlip, Co Kildare.
Charles was transferred to the 9th (North Irish Horse) Royal Irish Fusiliers on 17th October 1917, being appointed Officer in command of D Company. He took part in the fighting near Cambrai in November 1917 and in the retreat from St Quentin 21-29 March 1918, during this time earning both a Military Cross and Distinguished Order. The citations for these read as follows:
Military Cross - Moeuvres, 23 November 1917
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During the attack he commanded his company with the greatest skill and gallantry, clearing a portion of the village on the flank of the battalion. At dusk, seeing that he was in danger of being cut off, he withdrew his own and two other companies, evacuated all the wounded, and held a line south of the village. During all this time he moved about under very heavy machine-gun fire, regardless of personal danger, and displayed the greatest coolness and courage.
Distinguished Service Order - Withdrawal from St Quentin from 22 - 27 March 1918.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During five days of retirement, while as second-in-command of the battalion, he throughout displayed very high qualities as a leader. While in command of the rearguard the gallantry and determination with which he disputed the ground was largely responsible for the safe withdrawal of the rest of the main body.
The last surviving Captain in 108th Brigade, Charles was killed on Kemmel Hill on 18 April 1918 by shellfire, aged 37. The Battalion suffered heavy casualties, while moving into position from enemy shelling, during which Charles was killed. He was buried in Kemmel Cemetery, but his grave was subsequently lost.
Charles is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial (Panel 3), Flanders, Belgium. He is also commemorated on the Bangor War Memorial and the Lloydminster War Memorial, Saskatchewan - at the unveiling of the Lloydminster Memorial in 1926, a wreath was laid in loving memory of Major C. B. Despard, from Mr. And Mrs. Crossley. Ivan Crossley wrote of Charles death, "I lost the best friend I ever had. My wife and children also loved him and we all felt the loss terribly."