I trust that you are all keeping well and staying safe in these difficult times.

Apologies to those who I have not had a chance to respond to in email.  I am a little behind.

This year, when the opportunity arose, I started to clean up, enlarge, and enhance (in photoshop) old photos of local people who died in the first world war.

If I can add some value, to the stories of these locals who gave their lives, it will be via these newly enhanced images.  By this point, there must now be close to 200 old world war one images upgraded.  At some point, they will get published on the website.

The initial inspiration was the photograph of Robert McDonald, of Tyanee, who was killed on 1st July 1916, at the Somme.   His family are buried at our local church in Innisrush (Tamlaght Lower).

What struck me in these old images, were the eyes.  They often displayed an innocence, or apprehension, of what was to come.

These were local people, in many cases mere kids, often from local farming communities, who had previously never travelled further than a few miles from their homes.  They were taken from a simple rural life, into the hellish madness of the first world war trenches.

The Late Private William Caldwell

Born in 1878, William Caldwell was the third child (their first son) of James and Eliza Caldwell of Clintonville, Garvagh.

On leaving school, William delivered local mail for the Post Office.

During the First World War, William enlisted in Kilrea (soldier number 19134).    He was a Private in the 10th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.  In October 1915, he was sent to France.

William Caldwell from Garvagh, County Derry. Killed in war.

William Caldwell from Garvagh

In France, he was based near the two small French villages of Mesnil and Martinsart.

William spent most of his war, fighting on, or near, the front lines.

After the initial fighting at the Somme, in France, in early July 1916, William and his colleagues were moved to Belgium.

On the 20th January 1917, he was killed by German shellfire. 

Two colleagues died in the same incident – Private John Ross Cochrane (a son of Mr James and Mrs M. Cochrane, Fawney Fort, Cross, Londonderry); and Lance Corporal A Leacock (son of Mr John Leacock, Strawmore, Draperstown).

The particular type of shell that killed the men, was the one that soldiers feared the most.  It was big, the size of an oil drum. They didn’t stand a chance.

William Caldwell lies in Plot 1, Row K, Grave 11, at Berks Cemetery, in Belgium. The cemetery is located in the village of Ploegsteert, in the Ypres Salient, on the Western Front.

At home, he is remembered on the war memorial at the town clock in Garvagh, as well as on the Roll of Honour, in his local church in the village. 

A point of interest, the rifle that he is holding in the photo, is an Italian 1891 Vetterli. So, the image probably predates the war.

While perusing old newspapers, I encountered the following letter that was sent home to William’s father, James Caldwell.  The sad letter, by a captain in the Battalion, informed James of his son’s death in a dug-out on the Western front.

Captain W. J. K, Moon says:

It happened about 8 o’clock last Saturday morning. Willie and two other men had taken off their boots to put on dry socks. They were sitting in a dugout when a mortar burst on top of it, and all three were killed.

It will be of some comfort to you to know, that your son suffered no pain, and could not have realised that life for him was finished.

Your son was in this company since he joined at first, and a better boy we did not have. He never did anything wrong and was always cheerful, keen on his work, willing and ready for any job he had to do. He was a brave and fearless soldier, and took part in a raid on the enemy trenches and did his duty well. 

He died like the good soldier he was, but his friends are left to mourn his loss. We trust that he is in a better place now, and far from the hardships and perils of this life.

Ballymoney Free Press &
Northern Counties Advertiser
Thursday 15 February 1917