At the annual service of harvest thanksgiving at Downpatrick on Sunday, 2nd October we also launched a colour leaflet that commemorates the sacrifice of the three members of the congregation who were killed in the First World War. This has been carefully put together by Mary Stewart, the church secretary, and includes pictures of two of the men as well photographs of the various graveyards and memorials in which they are commemorated.
Of the three who were killed one – Captain Craig Nelson – was a professional soldier from long before the war. Craig Nelson was the grandson of the minister of the church, the Rev S.C. Nelson, and had joined the Royal Irish Rifles and served in the Boer War before transferring to the Indian Army. He was an officer of the 3rd Brahman regiment and attached to the 69th Punjabis when he was killed on the western front on 25th September 1915.
Rifleman John Hayes had joined the 1st battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles at the start of the war and was killed at the battle of the Somme on 31st October 1916. Sergeant Francis McMurray served with the 7th battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was killed in France on 9th March 1916.
All three men are recorded on the church war memorial, however, the name only of Captain Nelson is inscribed on the town memorial and it seems very strange that the names of the other two were never added since they were both born and lived in Downpatrick before their war service.
At the harvest service two windows were decorated to commemorate those who served in the First World War with memorabilia being provided by members of the congregation and also including the commemorative certificates issued by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the three members who were killed. Most of the men who joined up in the locality would have served in the 36th (Ulster) Division, but in this case of those who died in the congregation one soldier (John Hayes) was with the Ulster Division, one (Craig Nelson) with the 7th (Meerut) Division of the Indian Expeditionary Force and one (Francis McMurray) was with the 16th (Irish) Division.
John Hayes’s niece Thelma Lowry is a member of the church and she kindly provided the photograph of her uncle for the leaflet and loaned a ceramic poppy which had been part of the notable art installation at the Tower of London in 2014 – Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.
After the service with the leaflets: Rev Dr David Steers (minister), Mrs Thelma Lowry and Mrs Lorna Thompson (nieces of Private John Hayes), Miss Mary Stewart (church secretary) and Rev Dr John Nelson visiting preacher at the church harvest.
We don’t have a picture of Sergeant McMurray and would be very pleased to hear from anyone who is related to him or who has a picture of him.
The Downpatrick leaflet will also be uploaded to the Faith and Freedom Great War Project which can be seen here:
Copies of the leaflet are available in the church.
3 thoughts on “Three Lives Remembered”
Thank you for adding my blog to your follow list. I was particularly interested in your blog about the three members of the Royal Irish Rifles as my grandfather served in WW1 as an RIR rifleman. He also served in the Boer war like Capt Nelson. He was at the Somme and was injured and sent home but he returned to the western front to look after the mules that pulled the guns. My late mother told me many stories as told to her by him. He died in 1936 in the UVF hospital in Holywood and she said it was a result of a lung problem that she thought was as a result of being gassed. His name was William Joyce, I wonder if he knew any of the three you wrote about.
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Thanks, great to hear from you. I agree you can’t help wondering if your own relatives knew any of the people we encounter in other places particularly in accounts of the First World War. My grandfather was also gassed in the war and died at a very young age because of it. He and my grandmother got no help from the government despite this clearly being a war wound.
Congratulations on your excellent blog by the way.
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