Friday, 16 December 2016

More WWI memorials on my list


One of my sons has requested a DNA analysis for his Christmas present: he is interested in optimising his health and diet based on his genetic profile. It’s a bonus for me too, family history-wise. In advance of getting his results I thought it was time to revisit his father’s side of the family tree. This has lain untouched for many a year, as I was daunted by the challenges of genealogical research in Ireland. All those similar names and so many holes in the records (I believe it’s true the archival stacks were used as barriers during the Easter rising)


But time can still be the genealogist’s friend, as more and more records, both public and private become digitised and available through the magic of the internet.


And sure enough, there is a wealth of records available since the last time I looked.
I found one of his father’s great uncles served in the British Army during the so-called Great War. (also erroneously called “the War to End all Wars”) His name was James Greenlee, born in Belfast in 1887. His immediately elder sister, Annie went on to marry Arthur Power, and become my sons’ Great grandparents.
In the 1901 census the Greenlee family were living in Upper Newtonards Rd and James, aged 14 was working as a rope maker, while his father William was a hemp dresser. Ten years later James was newly-wed, living with his wife Mary in Manderson St and working as an iron driller. Belfast was a major centre for ship building, and ropemaking and iron working were part of the industrial package. The Power family later settled in Dee St, which is also in the heart of this shipbuilding area, now named the Titanic quarter, after its most famous ship. Robert Power (Bob) my son’s grandfather worked at Harland and Wolff and was part of the team to build HMS Belfast, now permanently berthed in London.
But back to James. Like so many young men from throughout the Empire, he enlisted to fight in WWI. James was an Irish Guardsman. Irish Guards wear the iconic dress uniform of red tunic and bearskin (never call it a busby, I was once cautioned by a Coldstream Guard.) The uniform is differenced from other Foot Guards by the chest buttons arranged in groups of four, and a blue plume in the bearskin.


You will be familiar with the officer’s dress uniform: Prince William was married in that uniform, as he is Colonel of the Regiment.


One of the coolest things I learned about the Irish Guards was their mascot: a real live Irish Wolfhound!
Now that is a real dog!

And as I am not one to miss the opportunity to show a video of men in uniform playing brass instruments, or men in kilts playing bagpipes, here is a video of the Irish Guards with their pipes and drums. Yes, Irish kilts are a thing!

https://youtu.be/yAP2m5FAVZE?t=1m

The Irish Guards served on the Western Front for the duration of the First World War, suffering heavy losses. One of those men was James. He left behind a young wife, Mary: I am not sure if they had children. He is buried at Bleuet Farm west of Ieper (Ypres) and his name is engraved there and on a memorial tablet in St Patricks Church, Belfast. I don’t know yet the details of his death, but his digitised army will can be viewed online, and shows damage that looks suspiciously like blood stains. The date of his death was 26 July 1917. It gives you pause to think.
In 2017 I will be visiting the battlefields of Northern France and Flanders, and James’ name will be on the list of those I remember.


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