Sergeant Augustine Hackett

6th Battalion Connaught Rangers,

Killed in Action, 19th February 1917,

From Dublin aged 21

Augustine Hackett landed in France with the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers on the 17th December 1915, attached to the 47th Brigade in 16th (Irish) Division, for service on the Western Front.

The Battalion was involved in action during operations in Guillemont & Guinchy. In just over a week’s fighting here in September 1916, the 6th Battalion lost 23 officers and 407 other ranks. Augustine coming through this attack unscathed. It was during this battle that he was awarded a Divisional Parchment Certificate for gallantry in action.

February 1917 saw the 6th Connaughts involved in fighting during the Battle of Messines (near the Petit Boise and Maedelstede Farm mines), carrying out numerous trench raids aimed at forcing temporary entry into the enemy’s line in order to kill defenders, destroy fortifications and weapons, gain intelligence by the capture of maps and documents, and return with prisoners.

Augustine was part of large trench raid, near Kemmel, on the 19th February,  when 9 Officers & 190 men went forward under cover of a dense fog The war diary mentions the men ‘cheerfully tucking green miniature Irish flags into their caps or buttonholes’, before moving out at 7.15am.

The Germans however, put up stiff resistance, and at no point did the Rangers succeed in getting past the German wire.

The battalion lost 3 Officers & 8 men killed 2 Officers & 17 men wounded. Augustine tragically, was one of those men killed. The Commanding Officer, Rowland Fielding, mentions his death.

“The first wave of the left party, started off well under 2Lt. Cummins, a very gallant young officer whom I had put in command in place of the original commander. Then Sergeant Hackett, was almost immediately killed”.

The Germans offered a chivalrous local armistice, allowing Augustine & his comrades bodies to be recovered.

He is remembered with honour at Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery





Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis VC

The fourth in my collection of autographs to Irish born holders of the Victoria Cross (VC). James Magennis from Belfast in WW2.

James was a Belfast-born recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the only native of Northern Ireland to receive the Victoria Cross for Second World War service. Magennis was part of several operations involving X-Craft midget submarines in attacks on Axis ships. In July 1945 Magennis was serving on HMS XE3 during Operation Struggle. During an attack on the Japanese cruiser Takao in Singapore, Magennis showed extraordinary valour and bravery by leaving the submarine for a second time in order to free some explosive charges that had got caught. His commanding officer Lieutenant Ian Fraser was also awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 31 July 1945 during the Operation.


In July 1945 Acting Leading Seaman Magennis was serving as the diver on the midget submarine HMS XE3 under the command of Lieutenant Ian Fraser. They were tasked with sinking the 10,000 ton Japanese cruiser Takao, the first of the Takao Class. She was berthed in the Straits of Johor, Singapore acting as an Anti-aircraft battery. The codename for the operation was Operation Struggle.


On 30 July 1945 the XE3 was towed to the area by the submarine Stygian. She slipped her tow at 23:00 for the forty-mile journey through hazardous wrecks, minefields and listening posts to reach the Takao. After arriving at the Takao at 13:00 on 31 July 1945. Magennis slipped out of the wet-and-dry chamber and he attached limpet mines to the Japanese cruiser Takao under particularly difficult circumstances. He had to chip away at barnacles on the bottom of the cruiser for 30 minutes before being able to attach the limpets. During this time his breathing apparatus was leaking and he returned to the submarine after completion of his task very exhausted. On withdrawing, Lieutenant Ian Fraser found that one of the limpet carriers which was being jettisoned would not release itself. Magennis immediately volunteered to free it commenting: “I’ll be all right as soon as I’ve got my wind, Sir”. This he did, after seven minutes of nerve-racking work with a heavy spanner. On completion Magennis returned to XE3 for the second time, allowing the four man midget submarine to make its escape out to open sea to meet the waiting Stygian.


Magennis was the only Victoria Cross winner of the Second World War to hail from Northern Ireland. As a result, Magennis obtained something of a “celebrity status” in his home city. The citizens of Belfast raised more than £3,000 as part of a “Shilling Fund.” The City Fathers of Belfast refused to give Magennis the freedom of the City though. Sources differ as to the reasoning behind this; some claim it was due to religious divisions, others claim it was due to the City Fathers not “…believing that such an honour could not be bestowed on a working-class Catholic from the inner-city slums.” In 1946 Magennis married Edna Skidmore, with whom he had four sons. The money from the Shilling Fund was spent quickly by Magennis and his wife; she remarked: “We are simple people… forced into the limelight. We lived beyond our means because it seemed the right thing to do.” In 1949 he left the Navy and returned to Belfast, where, at some point, he sold his Victoria Cross . In 1955 he moved to Yorkshire, where he worked as an electrician. For the last years of his life, he suffered from chronic ill health, before dying on 11 February 1986 of lung cancer hours before his heroism was honoured by the Royal Navy Philatelic Office with a first-day cover.

James Magennis VC mural, Tullycarnet, Belfast

Magennis has had several memorials erected in his honour. When Magennis first won the VC, he was treated rather shabbily by the Unionist-dominated Belfast City Council because he was from a working class Roman Catholic family. Although the public collected £3,600 in appreciation of his heroism, the council refused to give him the freedom of the city. The only official recognition was a small photograph tucked away in the robing room of the council chamber. The first memorial was only erected in 1999 after a long campaign by his biographer George Fleming and Major S.H. Pollock CD (Canada). The memorial, a bronze and stone statue, was officially unveiled in Belfast on 8 October 1999. The ceremony was conducted in the grounds of Belfast City Hall in the presence of Magennis’s son Paul, by the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Bob Stoker. Magennis’s former commanding officer, Ian Fraser, was reported as saying: “Jim gave me bother from time to time. He liked his tot of rum, but he was a lovely man and a fine diver. I have never met a braver man. It was a privilege to know him and it’s wonderful to see Belfast honour him at last.”[citation needed] A wall mural commemorating James Magennis on the 60th anniversary of VJ day was unveiled on 16 September 2005 by Peter Robinson, the Democratic Unionist Party Member of Parliament representing East Belfast, including Tullycarnet.

Memorial to Leading Seaman Magennis VC

In 1986, there was some publicity in the newspapers that his VC would be up at auction. This attracted the interest of Michael Ashcroft, Baron Ashcroft who bought the VC for £29,000 (plus fees) amidst strong competition from dealers and private collectors. This was the first Victoria Cross bought by Lord Ashcroft, who, as of 2006, owned 142 medals.

James McGennis VC medals






Private John McFarlane

1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers,

Killed in Action, 20th November 1917,

From Belfast.












John from the Shankill Road area in Belfast, left with the 1st Battalion the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers for Gallipoli on the 18th March 1915, going via Egypt, and landed at Cape Helles, Gallipoli, on 25 April 1915.

During the initial landings around Cape Helles on 25 April 1915, the 1st Inniskillings went ashore at X Beach. They then fought almost continuously throughout the nine month campaign. They took part in successive battles at Helles to capture the village of Krithia and the heights of Achi Baba, all of which ended in hard-fought failure. In August, they moved to the Suvla Bay sector and suffered heavily on Scimitar Hill in the last major attack made by the British. They spent the remainder of the campaign at Suvla and back at Helles, engaged in mainly defensive trench warfare.

The Inniskillings landed here: X Beach today, looking north. The track was constructed later in the campaign.


The Battalion left Gallipoli on 8 January 1916, as part of the general allied withdrawal from the peninsula, and subsequently moved to France along with the rest of the 29th Division. During the campaign, 267 men of the battalion were killed in action, or died from wounds or disease, 79 were posted missing, and some 1001 were wounded or evacuated sick (some of whom returned to duty). Their initial strength had been 990, and they received 1205 replacements. Only 2 officers and 118 other ranks survived the entire campaign unscathed, John being one of these lucky few.

We next pick John up, still fighting with the 1st Innniskillings in November 1917 at Cambrai on the 20th. The battle began at 0620 hours on 20 November 1917. It was an historic battle because the British used tanks en masse for the first time; some 381 tanks achieved surprise and gave great impetus to the infantry assault.

Men of the 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in a captured German communications trench near Havrincourt during the Battle of Cambrai.

During savage fighting near the village of Marcoing, the 1st Inniskillings suffered many casualties. 45 men were killed with scores wounded, one of the dead being John McFarlane.

Incidentally, The Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, John Sherwood Kelly was the awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry leading his men on the this day. His citation reads..

“On 20 November 1917 during the Battle of Cambrai at Marcoing, France, when a party of men were held upon the near side of a canal by heavy rifle fire, Lieutenant Colonel Sherwood Kelly at once ordered covering fire, personally led his leading company across the canal and then reconnoitered, under heavy fire, the high ground held by the enemy. He took a Lewis gun team, forced his way through obstacles and covered the advance of his battalion, enabling them to capture the position. Later he led a charge against some pits from which heavy fire was coming, capturing five machine-guns and 46 prisoners.”

Most probably John fell whilst following his gallant commander.

Lieutenant Colonel John Sherwood Kelly (HU 127794) Lieutenant Colonel John Sherwood Kelly. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:










John’s body was never found, after the fighting and he has no known grave. He is remembered with honour at the Cambrai Memorial to the missing.

Cambrai Memorial















2nd Lieutenant Douglas Dawson

16th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (2nd Co. Down Pioneers)

Wounded in France, July 1916

From Belfast, Aged 20









Douglas from Ulsterville Avenue in Belfast, attested for the 16th Royal Irish Rifles in late 1914. They proceeded to France 0n the 13th February 1916. As part of the 36th (Ulster) Division, they were  concentrated near Flesselles, north of Arras. With training and familiarisation, including periods in the trenches with 4th Division in the front line north of the River Ancre near Albert. 36th (Ulster) Division took over the front line in early Spring.

During unseasonably polar conditions,through March & April, the Pioneers were often engaged in the construction and repair of military railways, in preparation for the upcoming ‘big push’ on the Somme.












Prior to the eventual attack on the 1st July, the 16th were responsible for constructing new assembly trenches, fixing damaged wiring, deepening certain trenches and building bomb-proof dugouts along the whole front line of the 36th Ulster Division.

The Battalion was billeted in defensive positions in Aveluy Wood, which was only about 1500 yards from the front line and well within enemy artillery range. Indeed the battalion settled down for the first night on arrival, only to suffer an enemy bombardment around 0230 so slit trenches had to be dug hurriedly for their own protection.

All work was to be completed by the 19th June but the commencement of the bombardment was delayed for various reasons with the attack eventually set for the 1st July 1916 – a day to become a source of great sorrow and pride for the people of Ulster when the outcome was eventually disclosed.

16 RIR Trench Railway – trolleys








The major decisions regarding the Somme offensive were made in March 1916 and all units now had new planned objectives. For the Pioneers it was a return to defensive work reinforcing existing wiring and trenches together with the construction of several lines of additional assembly trenches.

During the actual attack on the 1st July, the Battalion was in active support positions to move supplies forward, cut new connecting forward trenches to the German front line trenches and generally help the advancing troops. In some areas this was successful, but lack of committed fresh troops limited success whilst in other areas enemy troops were still in possession of targets and the men had to hold defensive positions against enemy counter attacks. The Ulster Division, having suffered about 5,500 casualties including killed and wounded, were withdrawn at 1800 that evening, but the 16th Pioneers had to work on supporting the replacement division until their eventual withdrawal on the 8th July 1916.

Prior to this month the war diaries had not reported monthly casualties but were now going to have to do so for many months to come. Casualties at the point of relief from the Somme sector were: 2 officers killed, 3 wounded and 5 broke down (later termed shell shocked). Douglas being one of these officers wounded at this time. Among the men 22 were killed and 159 wounded of which over 100 were invalided.

At the close of the first 9 months since arrival in France, the Battalion had fully earned their distinctive emblem of the crossed rifle and pick-axe.

We don’t know the extent of Douglas’s wounding. What we do know is that he recovered and went on to serve throughout the rest of the war. Finally being demobbed in April 1919.

Douglas Dawson's, Great War I.D. Bracelot
Douglas Dawson’s Great War I.D. Bracelet



Private William Bonnar M.M.

1/5th Battalion SeaforBonnar5th Highlanders

Killed in Action, 23rd July 1918

From Belfast, Aged 19




William Bonnar was born in Belfast Co. Antrim. He joined the army in Belfast and was posted to the 1/5th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.

In July 1918 the 1/5th were fighting alongside the French near Chalons in the final battles of the war. At 0800hrs on the 21st July, the 5th Seaforth Highlanders and the 6th Gordon’s advanced into the Bois de Coutron which was strongly held by the enemy. An advance of 400yards was achieved and the line consolidated.

At 0630hrs on the 23rd, in the open ground near Bullin Farm, with its right flank on the River, the 1/5th attacked again with the 6th Seaforth’s on their left. As they moved across the river they were met with enfilade machine gun fire, but this was overcome using the bayonet. Six machine guns were captured and their crews destroyed.

Bonnar3On the 23rd July, during this battle, William Bonnar, aged nineteen was killed and later buried in Marfaux Cemetery. This Cemetery had been captured by the Germans in May 1918, but was retaken after severe fighting on the day William Bonnar was killed.


On the 28th July the battalion was relieved and moved back to Bullin Farm. During the eight days of the heaviest fighting ever experienced by the 1/5th Seaforth Highlanders, the casualties had been;

OFFICERS: 7 Killed, 8 Wounded

OTHER RANKS: 67 Killed, 275 Wounded

William was one of the 67 dead soldiers listed

During this attack, two soldiers earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and on the 28th September 1918, William Bonnar was posthumously awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in the action at which he fell.

The Military Medal (MM) posthumously awarded to William Bonnar
The Military Medal (MM) posthumously awarded to William Bonnar















His next of kin were listed as his parents, George & Helen Bonnar, who lived at 2 Oldpark Village, Belfast.