Derry’s links to WWI

From Home to Foreign Fields Book Launc. Pic: Clive Wasson
From Home to Foreign Fields Book Launc. Pic: Clive Wasson

Uncovering the legacy of the First World War in the North West is the focus of a new booklet published as part of a unique cross-border initiative.

“From Home to Foreign Fields” brings to life a number of touching memoirs of local people’s experiences during the Great War.

Hundreds of people from across the North West and Co. Donegal enlisted to fight in World War One.

Hundreds of people from across the North West and Co. Donegal enlisted to fight in World War One.

It includes a contribution from local historian Richard Doherty and features stories about how and why men from across the North West and Donegal joined up to fight.

The booklet, and a series of short films, are part of a PEACE III funded Plantation to Partition programme led by Derry City Council’s Heritage & Museum Service in partnership with Strabane, Omagh and Donegal Councils.

Richard Doherty’s piece for the booklet is particularly interesting as it reveals some little-known and intriguing facts about Derry’s role in the 1914-1918 conflict.

He recounts that when war was declared on Germany in August 1914, locally, enlistment was encouraged from many quarters, including the churches and the newspapers, with the ‘Derry Journal’ urging local people to play their part in the war.

While those in the city’s unionist community felt the desire to fight to prove their loyalty to the United Kingdom, many in the nationalist community felt likewise, believing that such loyalty would help bring Home Rule which had been enacted but suspended for the duration of the war.

Among the individuals who joined up was Sergeant Thomas Robinson, from King Street in the Waterside, who, despite being over 50 years old, went to France with the Royal Irish. Gassed on the Western Front, he returned to serve with the Worcestershire Regiment. He died of the effects of gas poisoning in 1920. Although buried in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) grave in Derry’s City Cemetery, he is not listed on the War Memorial in the Diamond.

Also among Derry’s dead was Sergeant Jimmy Porter, generally known as ‘Fadeaway’ from his habit of dismissing parades with the words, ‘Fade away, boys, fade away”.

A popular NCO, he had been living and working in Canada when war broke out but returned to his native city to enslist in the Inniskillings.

It is difficult to quantify the total of local men who joined up as some did so elsewhere while many who were not natives of the city enlisted here.

However, the 756 names on the city’s war memorial suggest that a very large proportion of the city’s male population volunteered.

The sole female name on the war memorial is Laura Gailey, a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse who died of pneumonia in Merseyside in March 1917. She was buried with full military honours.

Copies of the booklet are available at the Foyle Valley Railway Museum in Derry and the docudramas can be viewed at www.youtube.com/user/alleytheatrestrabane