Monday, 28 August 2017

SHAW, Thomas Herbert

Lieut. Thomas Herbert Shaw
Lieutenant, 7th Batt., Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
Died: 08/08/1917
Age: 21

Remembered on Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial
Remembered on family memorial in Bangor Cemetery

Thomas Herbert Shaw was born in Strandtown, Belfast, on the 28th February 1895. He was the fifth of seven children of David Shaw and his wife Isabella Graham Shaw (nee Cahoon).

Thomas's father was a successful merchant and the family lived on the Earlswood Road in the east of city where they are recorded in the census of 1901 and also of 1911 by which time Thomas is recorded as working in the linen trade.

Thomas enlisted in the 6th Royal Highlanders (Black Watch Territorials) – apparently under the name of Thomas S. Shaw – with whom he went to France, entering there on 2nd May 1915. He received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on the 12 June 1916 – While his Medal Index Card records his rank as Lance Corporal the London Gazette records it as Private. He was then gazetted as Lieutenant on the 28th December 1916.

According the the Battalion War Diary, they where located at Square Farm on the 7th August when there was an "Intense artillery fire by Germans all along the British front... Our casualties 8 O.R.s wounded, these slight casualties being due to the enemy not having got our front line range accurately. One M/G at H.Q.'s was destroyed and two temporarily put out of action… The situation became normal again about 9.45 p.m."

With regard to Thomas, the Diary records that "2nd Lieut. & A/Lieut. T.H. Shaw and Sgt. Carroll, both of 'B' Coy, during this bombardment in moving forward to their front line of shell holes and old trenches (German) presumably lost their bearings and wandered into the German lines, where presumably they were captured."

Thomas was later recorded as having been killed on the 8th August.

Portrait photo courtesy of Graham Conway

Saturday, 19 August 2017

MATSON, Norman Leslie

Petty Officer, Royal Navy
Service No: DASRI 189504
Died: 01/09/1950
Age: 45

Norman Leslie Matson was born in Belfast on the 17th November 1903. He was the son of Charles Matson, a contable in the RIC, and his wife Jean Matson (nee McIlwrath). The family then living in Ulsterville Gardens moved to Madrid Street where they are recorded in the 1911 census. Norman's father, now a sergeant, later attained the rank of Head Constable.

After school Norman joined the Belfast and County Down Railway working for 14 years in the office of the general manager.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Norman joined the Merchant Navy and later volunteered for the Royal Navy.

In 1940 Norman was serving on board HMS Carnarvon Castle. Built by Harland and Wolff, the Carnarvon Castle was a passenger ship operated by the Union-Castle Mail line. Requisitioned by the Admiralty in September 1939 while in Cape Town, she was converted into an armed merchant cruiser and commissioned in October 1939.

On the 5th December 1940, while off the coast of Brazil, she encountered the German auxiliary cruiser Thor. In a five-hour running battle with her the Carnarvon Castle suffered heavy damage, sustaining 27 hits causing 4 dead and 27 wounded. She put into Montevideo for repairs, and was repaired with steel plate reportedly salvaged from the German cruiser Admiral Graf Spee.

Bellringers of St. Thomas's Church, Belfast, who took part
in the victory peal on Sunday. Mr. David Ireland
(hon. conductor) is in centre foreground, and to the extreme
right is Leading Steward Norman Leslie Matson,
home on leave from the Merchant Navy.
Larne Times, 19th November 1942
For his part in the action Norman was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

Norman was a keen bellringer and was a member of St. Thomas's Bell-Ringers Society. On the morning of Sunday, 15th November 1940, across the United Kingdom a "firing peal" of bells was rung in honour of the first offensive victory by the Allied forces. Norman who was home on leave at the time, was given the honour of the Society by being assigned the biggest bell, the tenor.

MATSON – September 1, 1950, at Hospital (as result of war services, patiently borne), Petty Officer Norman Leslie Matson, D.S.M., loved son of Jeannie and the late Charles Matson. Funeral from his residence, 24, Camden Street, on Monday, at 2-30 p.m., to Bangor New Cemetery. Very deeply regretted. Thy will be done.
Belfast Newsletter, 2nd September 1950

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

CAIRNS, George Ritchie

Second Lieutenant, 52nd Div. Ammunition Col., 
Royal Field Artillery
Died: 04/01/1916
Age: 20

Interred in Lancashire Landing Cemetery, Gallipoli
Remembered on family memorial in Bangor cemetery

George Ritchie Cairns was born in Partick, Glasgow, in 1894, the youngest son of James Cairns, a police constable (later police inspector) and his wife Mary Cairns nee McKeown, who came from Belfast.

He was educated at Hillhead High School in Glasgow University, where he graduated prior to enlisting shortly after the outbreak of war.

A keen athlete he won several prizes for running and was captain of the school's Rugby football team. It was his intention on leaving school to enter the legal profession and was to have entered the office of the Town Clerk on the day he was gazetted.

CAIRNS, James John

Lieutenant, 31st Batt., Australian Imperial Force
Died: 21/02/1926
Age: 48

Remembered on family memorial in Bangor cemetery

James John Cairns was born in Blackfriars, Glasgow, in 1878, the eldest son of James Cairns, a police constable (later an inspector) and his wife Mary Cairns nee McKeown, who came from Belfast.

After school he became a law clerk for the Glasgow corporation. Some time between 1911 and 1913 he emigrated to Australia where he met his wife Letitia Ford. They married in 1914 and their son James Ford Cairns was born later that year.

He enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force on 5th July 1915. Rising through the ranks he was transferred to the Officer Cadet School in England in April 1917 gaining the rank of Lieutenant by the end of that year.

His relatively respectable career started to go into decline when the war ended being arrested for drunkenness in Belfast in January 1919 and came to an abrupt end when he was cashiered latter that year for misappropriating funds.

He left France and turned up in Kenya where he died on 21st February 1926.

His son James Ford Cairns became a well-known Australian politician who was for a while Deputy Prime Minister.

Below is an extract from his biography which gives a more in-depth overview of his father's story.

Extract from "Keeper of the Faith: A biography of Jim Cairns"

THE FUTURE MAN OF PEACE arrived in war. The only child of James John Cairns and Letitia Cairns (nee Ford), James Ford Cairns was born in a terrace house at 22 Drummond Street Carlton on 4 October 1914. Only two months had passed since the commencement of hostilities in Europe — not enough time to diminish the tide of imperial patriotism that had swept up the bulk of Australians. The nation was transfixed by the news of the fighting on the Western Front in Belgium and Northern France. The day before Cairns was born, the Argus commented: 'All men are talking war and hearing war talked, thinking war, and dreaming war, and reading war. The war picture fills the mind to the exclusion of everything else ... [it] has dislocated all the regular annual output of thought and ideas'.

Although Cairns was only four years of age when armistice was declared in November 1918, his life was irrevocably stamped by the events of World War I. His father, James Cairns, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 5 July 1915. He was described in his enlistment papers as having a fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair, physical features that his son inherited. After training with the 59th Depot Company at Seymour, James Cairns was deployed to the 29th Battalion, 8th Infantry Brigade. On 10 November 1915 he embarked for the Middle East aboard the Ascanieus. He never returned.

According to his AIF service record, James Cairns was stationed in Egypt for several months. In March 1916 he was promoted to corporal and transferred to the 5th Divisional headquarters at Tel el Kebir on clerical duties. In June he embarked for France, where the 5th Division was to be committed to the Somme campaign on the Western Front. The following March James Cairns was selected to attend a training course at the Officers' Cadet School at Cambridge in England. While there he received 'special mention' in Sir Douglas Haig's despatches of 9 April 1917. He returned to France in August and was appointed as adjutant to the 31st Battalion, stationed in the field on the Western Front. His star continued to rise, and he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in November 1917. When hostilities ended, James Cairns remained with the 31st Battalion in France. Soon after, the troubles began that were to ruin what up until that point had been a successful, if unspectacular, service record. In January 1919 on leave in Belfast, where he was visiting his sister, he was arrested by military authorities for drunkenness. He was released after several days, officially censured, and sent to rejoin his unit. This was a minor misdemeanour and hardly unusual in the context of the AIFs reputation for unruly behaviour away from the battle front. Nonetheless, for an officer it was probably regarded as an incident of considerable dishonour.

Worse was to come. In May 1919 James Cairns was reported absent without leave in France and declared an illegal absentee. On 5 August 1919 he surrendered himself to military authorities in London and was placed under close arrest. The next month he was tried by General Court Martial on four charges. The first three alleged that he had misapplied regimental money for 'his own use with intent to defraud' on three separate occasions between 20 March and 2 May 1919. The amounts involved totalled 5535 francs and 85 centimes, equivalent to almost two years' pay for an AIF private. The final charge related to his absence without leave between 9 May and 5 August. James Cairns pleaded guilty to all four charges, and was sentenced to be cashiered and his pay stopped until he had made good the money that he had defrauded. He was due to embark for Australia aboard the Aeneas on 22 November 1919. He failed to do so, and an entry in his service record bluntly states that 'no further action will be taken to arrange his passage to Australia'. On 15 March 1920, on the letterhead of the steamship Llanstephan Castle, he wrote to the AIF requesting an official statement of his service record and asking whether he was entitled to any medals in respect of his period of service. In a postscript he added that he was 'not quite sure of my final destination but a letter addressed to me c/o this steamer at Durban [South Africa] should find me sooner or later.'

From there the trail goes cold. As Paul Ormonde discovered when researching his biography of Cairns in the mid-1970s, there was great reticence within the family about James Cairns' fate. Until her death in 1964, Letitia Cairns appears to have maintained the pretence that her husband was killed in the war. Jim Cairns did not learn otherwise until he was middle-aged. He too has often seemed reluctant to acknowledge that his father abandoned both himself and his mother, and is remarkably vague about what happened to him after the war. The most reliable account is that James Cairns was killed in a car crash in Kenya in 1927, although Cairns claims to have heard dozens of other versions.

The reason James Cairns did not return to Australia in 1919 seems less mysterious. His decision to head for Africa was probably motivated by a desire to find a place to start life afresh, where he would not be haunted by the stigma of the events of the preceding twelve months. Yet this may be only part of the explanation. Born in Hillhead in Glasgow in Scotland, James Cairns had been in his early thirties when he arrived in Australia aboard the one-class ship, the Benalla, in May 1913. According to Jim Cairns, his father had been 'part of the establishment for the greater part of his life'. It is true that James Cairns sprang from a conservative and comfortable middle-class family. He was the eldest son of a Glasgow police inspector and had apparently received a public school education. After leaving school, he found secure employment in the Town Clerk's Office in the Glasgow Town Hall. He remained there for some eighteen years and had reached the grade of senior clerk when last listed as an employee of the City of Glasgow in 1912. What prompted him to come to Australia the following year is unclear. Possibly it was a sense of wanderlust and adventure, or perhaps he was escaping something.

The reason behind the Ford family's decision to emigrate to Australia is far more obvious. The Fords were 'poor farmers' from Lancashire. Letitia's father, John Thomas Ford, had started work at a cotton mill when he was nine years old. He and his wife, Elizabeth Ann, and other members of the family later worked as tenant farmers on a small dairy holding not far outside Blackpool. In 1912, weary of the family's continuing economic struggle, John Ford decided to begin a new life in Australia. After sailing from Britain, he spent a brief spell working in Western Australia, then arrived in Victoria, where he found a job as manager of a pig farm in Keilor, 20 kilometres north-west of Melbourne. He sent for his wife and daughters, Eleanor, Letitia (Letty) and Sara. It was on the voyage to Australia aboard the Benalla that 19-year-old Letty met James Cairns.

Despite their disparate social backgrounds and substantial age difference, romance blossomed between James and Letty. Shortly after their arrival in Melbourne the Fords moved into 22 Drummond Street, Carlton, while James Cairns found lodgings nearby in Victoria Parade, East Melbourne. James and Letty continued to see one another, and early in 1914 Letty fell pregnant. Although fundamentally tolerant and generous spirited, John and Elizabeth Ford conscientiously abided by a puritan Methodist ethic; they believed in the virtue of hard work and austerity, and shunned the sins of the flesh. The discovery that their middle daughter had become pregnant out of wedlock must have come as a shock and a source of anguish.

On 30 April 1914 James and Letty were married in a simple ceremony at the home of a Baptist minister in East Melbourne, with John Ford and Letty's elder sister Eleanor as witnesses. James Cairns moved into the Ford home in Carlton, but predictably it was not long before tensions surfaced between the Fords and their new son-in-law. In September James Cairns secured a position in the Melbourne Town Hall Clerk's Office with a handsome starting salary of £200 per annum. Because his duties included the organisation of social functions and official entertainments, as his son later explained, he 'was at dinners, banquets, parties and so forth a great deal'. In effect, James Cairns' job afforded him the opportunity to mix in Melbourne social circles and indulge his taste for the high life. His weakness for alcohol created special consternation at home. Referring to the reticence that had surrounded his father's memory,

Jim Cairns noted one reason was that 'at more than one stage of his life he drank too much. My mother and grandparents didn't drink at all. I think they were more than a little ashamed of it.'

It is conceivable, then, that another factor behind James Cairns' desertion of his family was that once the initial flush of romance between him and Letty faded, and their social differences became more apparent, he no longer saw the marriage as a compelling reason to return to Australia after the war. While there is no evidence that he had actually been coerced into the marriage after Letty became pregnant, it is feasible that the war offered him a way out of a domestic situation he had inadvertently stumbled into.

If this is speculation, the crucial impact of James Cairns' abandonment of his wife and son in determining the nature of Jim Cairns' upbringing is beyond question. The first consequence of his father's absence was that Cairns was not raised in a conventional nuclear family. Not long after James Cairns departed for the war, Letty's parents leased a property known as Victoria Farm on Macedon Road, Sunbury. For the next four years or so the farm was home to John and Elizabeth Ford, Letty Cairns and her baby son, Eleanor and Sara Ford, their cousin Mattie Smith and the Fords' domestic Lizzie Salthouse. Life in this extended family was to be a consistent pattern of Jim Cairns' childhood and adolescence, although he was too young to remember much about the years at Victoria Farm. His mother remained the centre of his universe and his principal recollection of this period was of being physically close with her.

CAIRNS, Percival

Lieutenant, Royal Flying Corps.
Died: 28/06/1926
Age: 36

Remembered on family memorial in Bangor cemetery

Percival Cairns was born in, Glasgow on 22nd August 1889, the third son of James Cairns, a police constable (later police inspector) and his wife Mary Cairns nee McKeown, who came from Belfast. He studied at Glasgow School of Art from 1905 to 1912 and married Christina Elliot McAllister in 1914.

He enlisted in the Royal Artillery and served with the 3rd Lowland Howitzer Brigade and transferred to the Royal Flying Corps at the beginning of 1918. He was discharged in the end of 1919.

After the war he returned to his occupation as an architect and went in to partnership with Neil Campbell Duff. He died on 28th June 1926 of pulmonary tuberculosis.

A biography of his career is given below.

From the Mackintosh Architecture archive in University of Glasgow.

Percival Cairns was born in Springburn, Glasgow in 1889. He attended the Glasgow School of Art from 1906-7 until 1910-11, while also engaged as an apprentice to Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh from April 1909 to April 1910. He is recorded in the 1911 census as an 'architectural draughtsman'.

Cairns became an associate member of the Glasgow Architectural Institute around 1913. The Glasgow Post Office Directory gives his office as 108 Douglas Street (an address shared by architect Robert J. Walker), while another entry lists '136 Wellington Street'; no. 136 was also shared with other practices, including John A. W. Grant. It is thought that Cairns may have been articled to Neil Campbell Duff between 1905 and 1912, but it is not till 1914 that there is firm evidence of him working as Duff's assistant.

Duff had an unusual specialism: the production of scenes of crime, or 'locus' plans, for legal firms and as evidence for courts. Examples from Cairns's time include a murder site at Sheildhall timber wharf (1914), and an arson-damaged shop in Partick (1915). Duff concentrated on the entertainment industry, frequently as part of a syndicate which identified sites for potential development into dance halls or cinemas. The syndicate would form a joint-stock company with a public share issue, thus raising capital to fund the construction. Among Duff's projects on which Cairns was probably employed was the planned Regent Hotel and Picture House in Sauchiehall Street, advertised in December 1913.

After renting a house at Oxford (now Oban) Drive, Kelvinside, in 1915, Cairns vanishes from the records until 1919, possibly due to war service. Around 1919, Duff took Cairns into partnership, and the title of the firm reflects this from 1920. A further share-issue was made in 1921, to fund their jointly-signed design, the 'Palais de Danse' hall at Eglinton Toll, specifically chosen to be near major tram interchanges in southern Glasgow. Cairns died in 1926.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

SMYTH, Irvine Johnston

Second Lieutenant, 6th Batt., Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
Died: 03/09/1915
Age: 23

Interred in Green Hill Cemetery
Remembered on family Memorial Bangor Cemetery

Irvine Johnston Smyth was born in Hill Street, Lurgan, on the 18th December 1891. He was the eldest of three sons of William Henry Smyth, a Methodist Minister and Mary Jemima Ruskell Smyth (nee Johnston).

His parents were married on 11th September 1890 in Donaghadee Methodist Church where Mary’s father, Rev Irvine Johnston, ministered from 1890 until 1893.

He was educated at the Belfast Academy, Methodist College, Belfast (receiving a M'Arthur Scholarship in 1905) and Wesley College, Dublin. He passed the Matriculation examination of Royal University of Ireland in 1908 and went to Trinity College, Dublin.

Irvine was working in the Civil Service on the outbreak of war and enlisted in the 6th Royal Highlanders (Black Watch Territorials)  It wasn't long before he transferred to the Officers Training Corps and was commissioned as Second-Lieutenant on the 16th December 1914 and posted to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Irvine landed in Gallipoli with his battalion on 7th August 1915 in command of a machine gun section. On 28th August, he wrote a letter to the sister of Private David Barras Smith, the section's range finder, telling her of his death and of how David saved the life of Captain Robert Stevenson when he was wounded on the day of landing. "Its a lovely letter," says David's great nephew, "and even more moving after looking at Irvine's story too and learning of his death only weeks later."

In a letter received by his father, a fellow officer wrote – "He was in charge of the machine-guns, and he very soon became known along the line of trenches for his skill. Other officers from other regiments would come along to see how Smyth, of the Inniskillings, had placed his guns, and to check their ranges by his. For coolness under fire and disregard of danger there were few his equal. One day he and I were huddled together under a little cover, and the enemy were picking off anybody who showed himself, from a close range, when a man was hit not far from us. Smyth jumped up immediately to do what he could for the wounded man, regardless of his own danger. It was the same when any of his own men were hit. He never hesitated to expose himself. I have lost a friend, the 6th Inniskillings have lost a skilled and important officer, and the men a splendid leader."


Tribute to a Gallant Officer.

A tribute to the memory of Second-Lieutenant Irvine J. Smyth, 6th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, whose death in the Gallipoli Peninsula was recently reported, is paid in a letter received by his father from a brother officer, who writes – "He was in charge of the machine-guns, and he very soon became known along the line of trenches for his skill. Other officers from other regiments would come along to see how Smyth, of the Inniskillings, had placed his guns, and to check their ranges by his. For coolness under fire and disregard of danger there were few his equal. One day he and I were huddled together under a little cover, and the enemy were picking off anybody who showed himself, from a close range, when a man was hit not far from us. Smyth jumped up immediately to do what he could for the wounded man, regardless of his own danger. It was the same when any of his own men were hit. He never hesitated to expose himself. I have lost a friend, the 6th Inniskillings have lost a skilled and important officer, and the men a splendid leader." 
    This gallant officer was a son of Rev. W. H. Smyth, a Newtownards man, who was formerly minister of University Road and Carlisle Memorial Methodist Churches, Belfast, and who has accepted an invitation to the latter congregation for June, 1916. Deceased, who was a grandson of Rev. Irvine Johnston, Bangor, was born in Lurgan.
Belfast Newsletter, 9th October 1915