Father and son made ultimate sacrifice
Tuesday, 15 November 2016
OF the many poignant stories associated with WWI, one of the most moving is that of a Newry father and son who made the ultimate sacrifice at two of the conflict's most horrific battles.
Regimental Sergeant Major William Taylor died on July 2, 1916, from wounds he sustained at Thiepval, the morning after the first day of The Somme. Aged 52, he is the oldest known serviceman from the Newry area to be included on the Roll of Honour.
His son John was aged only 22 when he was killed in action at Passchendale, in Belgium, on 4 October 1917. His remains were never recovered.
William was born in Co Armagh, the son of parents who were of the Church of Ireland faith. At some point, he moved to Newry and is believed to have lived in Penguin Place.
It is uncertain when he joined the British Army but he served on India's north-west frontier in 1897. He was promoted to sergeant and then saw action in the Boer War.
When he retired from the army in 1902, he must have believed that his days as a soldier were well and truly behind him. Little did he realise what was to follow.
William was employed in Clanrye Mills, in the town's New Street. It subsequently became Sands Mill.
He had married by 1911 and was living with his wife Bridget, (nee Ferrigan). Bridget was from Queen Street, in Newry, which was later renamed Dominic Street, and was reared as a Catholic.
The family were living in Cowan Street, a short distance from St Patrick's Church. William and Bridget had five children and they also had Bridget's sister Annie and a two-year-old girl, Edith McCombe, residing with them.
William obviously kept abreast of current political events as he was one of the local signatories of the Ulster Covenant, in 1912, which opposed Home Rule. He was subsequently appointed quartermaster in the recently formed Ulster Volunteers.
At the outbreak of the First World War, he enlisted with many of his comrades and became part of the Ulster Division. He became a Regimental Sergeant Major in the Royal Irish Rifles, a prestigious appointment which shows the high esteem in which William was held.
On 1 July 1916, William was engaged in action in no-man's-land, at Thiepval, when he spotted his commanding officer, Major Uprichard, fall under a hail of bullets. William instantly went to his aid and while tending to the dying officer, he was himself shot in the eye. He died the following morning.
Mrs Taylor would have received a telegram confirming the death of her husband. Bridget and her family may have received some comfort in their grief when she received the following letter from the sister-in-law of Major Uprichard, who lived in Emfield, Gilford.
"Dear Mrs Taylor, My husband and I feel we would like to send you a message of most sincere sympathy in the great loss you have sustained.
"Your husband has given his life nobly in a great cause, and Joe, him, and all the other brave lives so willingly sacrificed.
"I feel it is the beginning of something far grander and wider than we can conceive. My brother-in-law, Major Uprichard, often spoke to us of Sergeant Major Taylor, saying what a splendid soldier and noble fellow he was.
"May God comfort and sustain you in your grief. With our sincerest sympathy, truly yours, Nancy Uprichard."
The fact that Major Uprichard had praised William to other people shows how highly he regarded him as a soldier and as a person. His remains were interred in Heath Cemetery.
His death was recorded in the Belfast newspaper, The Northern Whig, on Tuesday, July 25, 1916.
His son John was born on 31 October, 1895. The census of 1911 records him working in a spinning mill, in Newry. He was reared in the Catholic faith.
John joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers in 1914 but was then transferred to the newly created Machine Gun Corps.
After he had completed his training, he was attached once more to the Fusiliers. He operated one of the battalion's machine guns.
When his father was killed, his mother, Bridget, wanted him to return home but he remained with his unit. It is not known why he did not visit the family. Perhaps he believed he was closer to his father by remaining at the Front.
His short life ended on 4 October, 1917, when he was killed by shell fire. He was 22. Although his remains were never recovered, his name is recorded on the Tyne Cot Memorial, in Belgian Flanders. There are almost 35,000 names on the memorial of men whose bodies were never found.
Descendants of the family still reside in Newry. John Taylor, named after his uncle John, who died at Passchendaele, is extremely proud of both his grandfather and his uncle.
John has visited the grave of his illustrious grandfather on several occasions, with his late brother Daniel, and other members of the family. They have also paid their respects to his uncle John at the Tyne Cot Memorial.
“It is an honour to be related to two such great men," said John. "We are very proud of their achievements and it is also an honour to be named after one of them."
An exhibition has been put together by Newry Library Heritage Officer, Chris Cassidy, which charts the lives of this local father and son, from different religious backgrounds, but who fought and died on the same side.
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