September 1914, Outbreak War, Fleeing Paris for Bellaghy


Quick update.

Apologies, I am three weeks behind in emails and responding to comments.  Thank you all so much for your kindness re Tiger. I don’t believe that I have encountered so many messages, within the first 24 hours, to a previous post here.   Heart-warming to witness such empathy. I also have four people who have approached me via the Contact link on the site, re help on their trees.  Again, apologies for the delay in responding.  I will endeavour to get caught up over the next few days.

bellaghy field, 12th july
Bellaghy field, Twelth July, mid to late 1970’s

I came across an old photo of dad and myself. It was taken over 40 years ago, at Bellaghy, in what I estimate would be the mid to late 1970s.  It was the 12th of July and, after marching behind Eden Band, we were in the field by this point.

Anyone in Eden band recall when the Twelth was held in Bellaghy in the 1970s?

Bellaghy is a village about two and a half miles from where we lived and farmed in the townland of Dreenan (Dreenan borders the townland of Eden).

The village, of about one thousand people, lies north-west of Lough Neagh.  It is some five miles north east of the main regional town of Magherafelt.

The word Bellaghy, prounounced “bala aghee” is derived from the Irish term, Baile Eachaidh, which means ‘Eachaidh’s town’ or townland.

The village of Bellaghy was founded by the Londoners’ Guild of Vintners in the early 1600’s. In those early days it was  sometimes referred to as Vinters Town.

Although it was the closest village to our house, we rarely went there.  Instead Portglenone, where mum worked and I had my initial schooling, was our main focus.

My secondary schooling was at the Rainey Endowed in Magherafelt, so on those occasional days when I took the bus to school from Clady (I normally got a bus from Robert Agnew’s, i.e. at the end of the Eden Road), we would go through Bellaghy.

But it was a place we rarely went to.  Of course in world terms, it is very famous for being the home village of the poet, Seamus Heaney.

Outbreak of War, Bellaghy’s Mina McCrea Flees Paris

The only image that we ever took in Bellaghy, is that 1970s photograph, seen above. That same picture came to mind a few months ago, when I discovered a fascinating old article about a Bellaghy resident trying to leave Paris, just as the first world war was about to break out.

Over 60 years prior to the Mulholland photograph, the Reverend Thomas McCrea, who was the preacher in Bellaghy Presbyterian Church in the early part of the 1900s, had an 18 year old daughter Mina McCrea, studying in Lucerne, Switzerland.  School had broken up for summer, on 2nd July 1914, and she was spending her summer in Asnieres, a suburb of Paris.  But by early September, with events getting uglier, it was time to flee Paris and try to get back home to Bellaghy.

Origins of the Name ‘Mina’ 

The christian name Mina crops up in many languages, such as Spanish, German, Indian, Polish, Japanese, Romanian and Dutch.

But it is found predominantly in English, German, and Italian.

Mina, as a girl’s name, is of German origin. It means ‘love.’ The name can be the short form of various Germanic feminine names ending with ‘-mina’. e.g. Wilhelmina, Hermina or Assimina. Mina is the name of the heroine in Bram Stoker’s famous horror novel Dracula.

The name Mina in Scottish, also means ‘love’. It can be seen, amongst Scottish names, as a shortened version of the name ‘Calumina’.  In English names, it is often used as a the shortened version of Miranda.
Whatever the origins, Mina Porter McCrea was born on the 18th March 1896.  Her father was Thomas McCrea, and her mother was Mina McCrea nee Porter.
mina mccrea bellaghy
Mina McCrea, registration of birth

Anyways, back to the fascinating story at hand. 

Mina had fled Paris as things took a turn for the worse in early September 1914.

On hearing of her return, the local Mid-Ulster Mail newspaper dispatched a reporter, to the manse at Bellaghy, to speak with Mina.

From Paris to Bellaghy

Miss McCrea, daughter of Reverend Thomas McCrea, The Manse, Bellaghy, arrived safely at her home last Sunday morning, 6th September 1914, after an exciting and fatiguing journey from Paris which she had had left at 930am on Thursday morning.

Seen by our representative, Miss McCrea told an interesting story of her adventures en route, and of the conditions existing in the French capital.

From Paris to Bellaghy

Mina begins: “I was at school in Lucerne, Switzerland. A German school where all my girl companions were German, and where nothing but German was spoken. Such nice girls, too.

Little did we think, when our school broke up on the 2nd July, that we might never see each ether again: that our countries would be at each others’ throats in a few weeks; and that their countrymen would be committing brutalities too horrible for description.

I had arranged to spend my vacation in Asnieres, a suburb of Paris.

My host there was M. Le Dore, one of the ministers of finance in the French Cabinet.

Assassination of M. Jean Jaures

The only incident of note that occurred, until the mobilisation of the 2nd August, was the assassination of M. Jean Jaures, the leading socialist of France. I believe no mention of this murder was made in any of your papers at home, I suppose because the war news overshadowed everything else.

M. Jaures was a guest at great banquet in Montmartre on the night of 31st July and was sitting close to an open window. A shadow was thrown across the floor, and a lady next to Jaures whispered jokingly, “There’s someone coming to kill you.”

Scarcely had she spoken, when a man stepped into the room and shot the socialist leader through the head with a revolver. After the war began, when Paris started to expunge all street names that were in German and to substitute French names, the station of Allemagne (which means German) was changed to that of Jean Jaures.

Panic Grips Paris

On the first day of mobilisation, Paris became panic-stricken. I was with some friends boating on the Seine when the news reached that France was mobilising. Asnieres, where I resided, was about half-an-hour’s train journey from where I then was, and I at once made for the railway station.

Train after train left, but so dense was the crowd, I was unable to get a seat and at last I was forced to walk home alone through the streets of Paris, most of which were unlighted — a trying ordeal for a girl even under ordinary circumstances.

On that Sunday, Paris was a city in tears, the laugh had been forced from that gayest of gay cities; and on that day every soldier in it went to church, probably for the first time.

Food Shortages

We immediately felt the effect of immobilisation on our food. No milk could be had, unless for those families where there were children under six years of age: meat went op to half-a-crown per lb., and bakeries and other large consumers of salt were prohibited from buying it; private houses of course might procure salt as usual, but you can Imagine what bread tastes like without salt.

As I have already told you, my host was a member of the government and consequently we, of his household, had early intimation of every phase of the war, and much that I know and that has never been given to the press, I am unable to communicate, being pledged to silence.

I was anxious to help in whatever way I could, and offered myself as a red-cross nurse, but I was informed that only trained nurses could be taken.

After the panic of the first day or two, Paris settled down and calmly awaited events. But what a changed Paris! — not a laugh, hardly a smile, no games, theatres, and even the very shops shut at 6pm. Newspapers were reduced to single sheets and not a word of ordinary news, all war, war.

Will Britain Come to Our Aid?

“Will Britain declare war and help us?” was asked — and Paris generally shook its head sadly and answered “No. Britain’s commercial interests will not allow her to go war with Germany.”

This was the opinion of France at the first, and you can imagine the indescribable delight with which the first British troops wore hailed in Paris. “We’ll win now,” We’ll win now” was the cry on every hand, “The British have come, the British have come.” “It is generally believed in Paris,” continues Miss McCrea, “that the war will last a long time, but that because of the British, Germany will ultimately be beaten.

From what I have heard while there, I believe that the French soldier is a brilliant fighter when opposed by less or equal numbers or in a winning fight, but there is nothing of the dogged bull-dog tenacity of the British soldier in his make up.

I don’t know whether I should tell it or not, because it has never appeared in your papers, but I am in a position to vouch for the truth of this story. A French force in Alsace at the first onslaught of the Germans turned tall and ran almost without firing a single shot. So hotly were they pursued, however, that only one hundred succeeded in escaping alive. When these hundred survivors reached their main body, and the truth became known, they were immediately ordered to be shot by their own general, and the order was carried out.

On another occasion, a British officer could only hold his French allies from similar flight by turning his machine guns on them. Both these stories are perfectly true.

If Paris is besieged it believes that it can hold out for from eight mouths to a year, but of course houses outside the fortifications will remain when the siege is over, and so my friends, M. and Madame Le Dore never expect to see their home furniture again. M. Le Dore had to leave the city for Bordeaux with the rest of the Government, and hence my home-coming, for had my friends remained on at Asnières, I would have remained also.

I was however, advised by the British Consul to leave at once, or I might not have the I opportunity.

Of course I saw the German airships that passed over Paris, and before leaving I went, to see the place where they bad dropped the bombs. I kept a diary of events from when war was declared, but unfortunately it is in a trunk in France. I was not allowed to bring any luggage home save a small portmanteau. I don’t know why, especially, all Americans were allowed to take all their belongings with them.

The Journey Home

Miss McCrea then went on to tell of her journey home. After procuring her passport at the British Consulate, she became one of a crowd of many hundreds waiting for a train for Le Havre on Thursday morning. Representatives of every nation in Europe, save Germany, composed the crowd and they were packed like herrings in a barrel in the long train, which took twelve hours to do what ordinarily is a four hours journey.

During this time her only refreshment was a bottle of lemonade, procured for her by a British soldier, when Le Havre was reached. At Le Havre, she was told that a boat would leave for England about 10 o’clock on Friday night, but that without a certain little white paper from the British Consul at Le Havre she could not be allowed on the boat.

She at once went in search of the Consulate and was directed by some sailors to what turned out to be the Japanese Consulate, luckily the British Consulate was near there, and in a few minutes Miss McCrea was one of a crowd of about four hundred waiting to get in. After being elbowed about for fully two hours she was nearer her objective, but just then an Irish clergyman came along and pushing her in front of him, bored a way into the building.

After an exhaustive catechism as to name, age, nationality, etc, she was handed the precious white paper, which bore that day’s date (the 4th), and the words, “Seen at Le Havre.”

Le Havre Boat to Southampton in England

At 5.30pm, along with some others, she was allowed to board an English hospital ship, which was lying in the harbour.  They were allowed to stop and talk with some of the wounded on board. One man, who had been shot through the arm, near the shoulder, showed her the bullet and explained that after getting separated from his company, he had walked for days from the Belgium frontier, ultimately reaching Le Havre in an exhausted condition.

The boat which was to convey them to England was so small that it was feared that some of the thousand waiting to get on-hoard would be left behind, and when the gangway was lowered there was such a rush that dozens were knocked down, while everyone seemed to be yelling to every one else, “Ne possez pas,” or it’s English equivalent, “keep hack.” Though travelling second class, Miss McCrea had to be satisfied with the bare floor of a little luggage room on board, which

“Don’t be making a mess there.”

she shared with sixteen others. Though the night was extremely rough, she dozed off with her head on her one article of luggage, but was rudely awakened later by a large handbag falling on her head. She arose, and feeling sea-sick, attempted to reach the side of the ship, but was unable to do so by reason of the deck being crowded by sleepers and others too sick to rise. An appeal for help to a stewardess only brought the ungracious reply — “Don’t be making a mess there.”

Southampton was reached about 530am on Saturday morning, and after passports and luggage had been examined, Miss McCrea waa permitted to start for London, and from there via Fleetwood to Belfast and home.

And here I am she concluded, “with only one little bag and the clothes I stand up in. But I am really sorry at having to leave France. You see I still wear my little tricolour,” and she pointed to the piece of French ribbon on her breast.

When questioned with reference to the reported Russian force in France, Miss McCrea said that it was only on arrival here that she had heard of such a force. There was no mention of them in France and neither in Paris or Le Havre or on her way between these two places did she see any Russians. British troops, however, seemed to be everywhere, and the general opinion prevailed that the persistent retreat of the allies was a deep-laid scheme and was not the conquering walk-over that it appeared. Present happenings would bear out this view.

Mid-Ulster Mail, Saturday 12 September 1914

Supplementary Information

Some three months after her return to Bellaghy, Mina’s brother Thomas McCrea successfully completed an examination at Trinity College in Dublin.  On Saturday 5th December 1914, the Mid-Ulster Mail reported that:

Mr. Thomas McCrea, son of Rev. Thomas McCrea, minister of the Presbyterian Church in Bellaghy, has been successful in the examination for the senior moderatorship in history and political science in Trinity College, Dublin.

In mid December 1924, 28 year old Mina married Roy Litton.   The Northern Whig, on Monday 15th December 1924, reported it as such:

MARRIAGES – LITTON McCREA

December 3rd at Bellaghy Presbyterian Church, by the Rev. V. M. Corkey, assisted by the Rev. T. McCrea, Roy Verrailles, younger son of the late Edward de l’E. Litton, B.L., Ardavilling, County Cork, and Mrs. Litton, and grandson of the late Mr. Justice formerly M.P. for County Tyrone, to Mina Porter, only daughter the Rev. T. and Mrs. McCrea, The Manse, Bellaghy, County Derry.

In March 1938, Mina’s father the Reverend Thomas McCrea passed on.  He had retired some ten years earlier. By this point he had left Bellaghy, had spent some time in Yorkshire in England, and was ultimately living in Belfast.

The death occurred at his residence, 58, Marlborough Park Central, Belfast, of the Rev. Thomas McCrea, M.A., senior minister of Bellaghy Presbyterian Church.

Mr. McCrea was educated at Strabane Academy and Magee University College, where he held the Dill Bursary. He pursued his studies in America, and was received in 1876 as a licentiate by the General Assembly. All his active ministry was spent in Bellaghy, and he was Moderator of the Synod of Ballymena and Coleraine in 1894 and 1923.

His ministerial jubilee in Bellaghy was celebrated in May, 1927, and shortly afterwards he retired. He remained in Bellaghy for some years, later removing to Yorkshire and returning to Belfast.

Mr. McCrea was a classical scholar, and was also an authority on Egyptology and psychology.

His closest surviving relatives are a son, Captain T. McCrea, M.C., Marlborough Park South, Belfast, who is in the Ulster Civil Service, and a daughter, Mrs. Litton, of Bellaghy.

The funeral will take place this forenoon (Friday 4th March, 1938) to the City Cemetery.

Various Local Newspapers, March 1938

 

Trudger

"I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

7 thoughts on “September 1914, Outbreak War, Fleeing Paris for Bellaghy

  1. Trudger,
    Thank you for that very interesting story from 1914. It must have taken months of research to confirm facts etc. by you.
    There are so many stories similar if only we knew who the subjects were.
    Regards and appreciation,
    Viola

  2. Thanks Viola for the kind response.

    Yes, such an article as this takes several months to put together. I love these types of real stories from the past. It’s a crime that they get posted only once, maybe a hundred plus years ago, in some old publication, and then NEVER ever get seen again. Thus, when I spot a gem like this, while reading an old newspaper, I make a copy. It’s so much fun then doing the background research. With this old newspaper article, the newspaper didn’t even mention the girl’s name (just referred to her as Miss McCrea). It was only during research that I was able to identify her as Mina.

    An area that would yield so much info, would be old diaries. Mina mentions keeping a diary. I bet so many people, especially back then, kept diaries. There will, sadly, be so many gems of such-like diaries, lost and thrown out, after people pass on. These things should be treated as gold dust. They give a window, a first hand account, to a different era, and moments in time.

    Always a pleasure to read your comments. All my best.

  3. Hi Trudger,

    The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were at the front during the battles of The Somme and Ypes and was reduced to the danger of Losing it’s Name and survivors transferred to other Regiments.

    Men from other Regiments volunteered to transfer to RIFs to save the name. When WW1 ended the RIFs including those Volunteers returned to Fermanagh. Those Fermanagh men returned to their family home. The English men were Billeted in Marlbank House in Florencecourt, until recruits were trained to take their place.

    Some 10-12 wrote or carved their names on doors there. When I worked at Leeds City Station in 1957/8 I spoke to a men called Arthur at Huddersfield. I told him I was taking two weeks holiday to County Fermanagh, he asked if I knew a place called Marlbank House. I said I was born there, and was his Surname Naylor, as that name appeared twice on Doors there. It was him.

    I promised to get a RIF button and Cap badge for him, but should have met him before I went on holiday. He was a KOYLI man who volunteered. Poor Arthur died while I was on holiday. His was the only name I remember on the Doors of the room I was born in. But the RIF Museum in Enniskilling showed no interest in my story and the Letter giving Arthur Naylor’s service records obtained from the KOYLI museum in Doncaster. How I wish I’d made a note of those other names on the Doors and Cupboards before the house was sold by my brother. The new owners painted those names out.

    Regards.
    Viola

    1. Hi Viola.

      What an amazing story.

      Meeting Arthur was a wonderful piece of luck. So sad that he died while you were on holiday to Ulster.

      When you say Leeds City Station, did you work on the trains or inside the railway station?

      I would love to post your story on this website. i.e. if you were agreeable of course.

      Best regards.

  4. I first worked on the Switchboard and Telegraph Office Teleprinters, for about 15 years, then as one of the 4 Station Announcers in the Signal Box for about 22 years. I was voted “The Golden Voice” in 1973, for clarity of Diction. Retired 1990 and returned to Fermanagh in December 1990 with my husband.
    I always regretted not meeting Arthur face to face.the other regret I have is not taking a pen and paper and noting the other names of those Doors. My father, who would not let them be erased, said it would probably be the only memorial they’d get. And he seems to be proven right.

  5. I had Irish cousins over, so just got to read wee snippets of this story. Now looking forward to a proper sit down and read.

    Great work. I do enjoy your stories, especially being able to picture the places of my childhood.

    Thank you.

    1. May, it makes my day reading your comment and the happiness these stories bring you. Thank you so much for your kindness and support.

      I have many more stories in the pipeline, some are very close to being published. But it takes a fair bit of time to put in the research and add meat to the bones of an initial old newspaper story. But keep an eye out, there are some fascinating old stories to come.

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