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One Shot More.. Part 10
Sunday 19th April 2020
Pictured James G Allen
"They all knew how splendidly Ulster did in the war; what a magnificent response she made to the appeal of King and country, and it could be said, without the slightest fear of contradiction, that no town of its size or population did better than and few did as well as the town of Comber.’
The Northern Whig 1919
Comber at the outbreak of the Great War
Comber’s population had increased in the period 1900 to 1914 from just over 2,000 to around 2,700 and from their midst 426 men answered the call, 79 of whom were destined to make the supreme sacrifice. It says little for the general quality of life in Ulster at the time that many young men and women saw war as a break from the drudgery of everyday life and enlisted. The call to arms was spontaneously received throughout the Province and the response from towns and villages was huge. Within weeks young soldiers were being drilled and trained and almost as quickly they were on the trains and boats to the green fields of France, where they faced horror and death on a scale they could never have imagined.
Comber was a sombre place after 1914. The fairs and the markets stopped, there was virtually no organized recreation and families hid behind closed doors, dreading the delivery of a telegram from the War Office. The tragedy of the Titanic had barely sunk in before the Great War started, and although the Andrews Memorial Hall was officially opened in 1915, it was some time before it became functional as a social and community centre for the town. Work was scarce, a development that had been happening for some years as the agricultural industry declined and local people sought work in Belfast at either the shipyard or the Ropeworks factory.
War took precedence over everything. Comber Distillery general manager and well-known cricketer George Bruce had been training his UVF recruits for civil action, but after war broke out they were drafted into the British Army as the 36th (Ulster) Division. Local ministers, the Reverend Manning of St. Mary’s Parish Church and the Reverend McConnell of 2nd Comber Presbyterian Church enlisted, and they were joined by hundreds of others, including over 60 members of the cricket club.
The War Memorials erected in many towns and villages throughout the Province are witness to how disastrous this war was for local communities and Comber was no exception.
Donald Reed Wheeler
Cricket in Ireland closes down.
When war broke out in early August 1914 the cricket season was almost finished, but it still took a strong letter from the great WG Grace to ‘The Sportsman’ several weeks later to bring a complete cessation of games. It took some time for the reality of this war to sink in, as many so-called experts felt it would be over by Christmas, but when news of the heavy losses became known, sport gradually closed down. The NCU senior committee met in September and Captain William Andrews suggested that a charity match should be arranged for the War Fund and it was immediately passed. However, all competitions were dropped for the duration of the hostilities and NCU president Fred Warden praised the patriotism of Ulster cricketers on active service. Only two committee meetings were held at North Down in 1915 as virtually all local cricket had ceased, although Captain Andrews still found time to take the Ulster Schools team to Dublin to play Leinster Schools. It was a similar situation for the next three years although special charity matches continued to be played for the War Fund and wounded soldiers were invited to the games. When news of the horrific losses at the Somme was received back home, even the charity matches were cancelled. Ulster was at war and cricket seemed a long way from home for those brave young North Down men at ‘the Front.’
Few towns were spared and clubs like Holywood, Muckamore, Downpatrick, Lisburn, Waringstown, North, North Down and others suffered badly as their members were either killed or wounded in action.
The Belfast Cricket League was more directly affected, as many of the players were employed at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Queen’s Island, and with their workload increased considerably, their matches were scrapped.
North Down goes to War
An idyllic afternoon’s cricket at The Green was enjoyed by many of our young men before the call to war and the green fields of France became the venue for horrendous war games. How often would the thoughts of those in the trenches have returned to home, family, friends and the pastimes enjoyed at The Green or elsewhere?
David Smyth, who served with the Auckland New Zealand Reserve, played for the 2nd XI against North of Ireland 2nd XI under the captaincy of John Miller Andrews.
Wallace B Gilmour, 2nd Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment, played for the 1st XI against Instonians and W Coulter, Honourable Artillery Company, played against the Royal Academical Institution. Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence A. Hind of the 7th territorial Battalion Sherwood Forresters, who was wounded twice, mentioned in despatches and killed in action, played against Woodvale, and scored a ‘duck’.
David Gold was the club’s only Prisoner of War and was held in Kriegefenenlagar near Minden. He was club secretary from 1908 until 1912 and played against Queen’s College as a middle order batsman.
Tom McRoberts bowled for the 2nd XI against Oakleigh and a year later died in action with the 17th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles.
In 1913 the 3rd XI team that played against Harland & Wolff in June and lost by 42 runs had the following batting order:-
TJ Macdonald, J Spence, (13th Service Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, killed in action), W Morrow, G Murray, (13th Service Battalion Royal Irish Rifles), RF Kerr, (18th Reserve Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, killed in action), W Galbraith, T Morrow, (North Irish Horse), J Patton, D Young (Military Medal), W Savage, S Geddis, (1st Service Battalion Leicestershire Regiment & Army Cycling Corps, killed in action).
Stanley Culverwell Age 10 ish
The 3rd XI that lost by two runs to UPS had JR Wheeler, (Royal Field Artillery), in the side and when they played Campbell College later in the season, included was HB Cinnamond, (13th Service Battalion West Yorks Regiment), who distinguished himself on the field with runs and wickets, was wounded three times and received the Military Cross.
Matches played during the war were often against Forces teams based at Thiepval or Palace Barracks, or against sides based at Ballykinler when many enduring friendships were established.
The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 caused a temporary curtailment of the league, and when it was resumed in 1919 the ‘Big Two’ of North Down and North of Ireland finished at the top of the table, the former being awarded the title on the most slender of margins to complete the ‘double’ for the third time. The focus wasn’t always on senior cricket, and for many years after the war, the Northern Ireland District Army Cup Final was played at ‘The Green’, yet another of the many military matches played in Comber that preserved and strengthened a tradition that lasted into the Seventies.
North Down had seventy members or ex-members who served with the Colours, sixteen of them making the supreme sacrifice. There was no organized recruitment as everyone was left to do what they felt was the right thing. It is amazing where each member eventually took up service and a miracle that so many of them returned home alive after the horrors of this war. We should never forget the sacrifices these brave members made and their place in the history of North Down Cricket Club is, rightfully, at the top of our tributes to those who have gone to a greater calling.
North Down Cricket Club members who were killed in action during the Great War 1914-1918
MJ Alexander North Irish Horse. Trooper.
AE Baxter 3rd South Lancashire Regiment. Lieutenant.
JE Drake 79th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Private.
Lieut. Col. LA Hind 7th Territorial Battalion (Robin Hood) of the Sherwood Forresters, wounded, twice mentioned in despatches and awarded the Military Cross.
W Carruthers Royal Engineers. 2nd Lieutenant. 3rd Reserve Battalion RIR
RD Niblock 8th Battalion Australian Contingent. Private
JS Culverwell 59th Royal Scinde Rifles FF. Captain. Mentioned in Despatches.
HD Ritchie 2nd Scottish South West African Infantry Force. Private.
AS Taylor MD Royal Army Medical Corp.
E de Wind 31st Service Battalion, 2nd Canadian Contingent and 17th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles. 2nd Lieutenant. Victoria Cross.
T McRoberts 15th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles. 2nd Lieutenant.
JM Spence 13th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles. Lance Corporal.
GJ Bruce 13th Service Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles and Staff at the 107th Brigade. DSO. Military Cross and Bar. Captain.
SM Geddis 1st Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment and Army Cyclist Corp. Lieutenant.
JL Galway Jnr 31st Battalion Canadian Infantry died of wounds received in battle. Private.
RF Kerr 18th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.
North Down Cricket Club Members who served with the Colours during the Great War 1914-1918
Chief PO James G Allen Royal Naval Yacht Patrol, ML Section who became a Justice of the Peace and a prominent citizen of Comber.
James John Cullamore Allen, RASC, Mechanical Transport.
Lieut. William Andrews Royal Garrison Artillery & Royal Army Ordnance Corps.
Major C Blakiston-Houston RASC, was a Major in the Ulster Division and was ‘Mentioned in Dispatches’. He also served as Church Warden in St Mary’s Parish Church.
David M Byers Royal Canadian Regiment was wounded in action.
Lieut. HP Cinnamond 1st Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. Thrice wounded. Awarded the Military Cross.
Private L’Isle Cinnamond 3rd Battalion of the Canadian Machine Gun Corps was twice wounded.
Capt. Francis EP Cowan Artillery Captain at the North Antrim Garrison and was wounded in action.
Col. RG Sharman-Crawford 18th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.
WC Coulter Honourable Artillery Company.
Major GH Culverwell MD RAMC.
R Gailey 7th (Service) Battalion East Lancs. Regiment.
GL Gibson Chartered Accountant BEF.
Lieut. Wallace D Gilmour 2nd Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment.
Sergt. Robert Webster Glass Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Mentioned in dispatches. Awarded the ‘Medaille Militaire.’
Lce/Corpl. DA Gold 14th (Service) Battalion RIR Wounded Prisoner of War
Capt. NB Graham MD RAMC. Wounded.Awarded the Military Cross.
Major DS Graham MD North Irish Horse and RAMC, Field Ambulance.
Capt. LD Graham MD RAMC.
Capt. RF Henry 15th (Service) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and Headquarters Staff 36th Ulster Division and Royal Field Artillery.
Lieut. JE Hill-Dickson 13th Royal Irish Regiment. 1st and 2nd Gn. Battalion RIF.
CB Houston RASC Ulster Division, 36th Reserve Pack
Capt. RT Jamison MD South African Medical Corp Botha’s SW African Force.
WA Miller 4th (Territorial) Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers and the 2nd King Edwards Horse and Tank Corps.
Capt. WN Montgomery MD 3rd Reserve Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers and RAMC. Mons Star, Order of the Nile, Order of ‘Nahda’ Twice mentioned in despatches.
Capt. FP Montgomery MD RAMC. Awarded the Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre & Bar.
Col. JS Moore Royal Army Service Corps. Wounded.
2nd Lieut.TH Morrow 3rd Hussars Cavalry Regiment.
Lieut. NB Munn 19th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. Awarded the Military Cross.
Lieut. DJ Murray 3rd Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment.
2nd Lieut. Geo L Murray 13th (Service) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.
Capt. AN McClinton 10th (Service) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.
Sergt. JT McIntyre 18th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.
Capt. W McWilliam 2nd Battalion Connaught Rangers.
GH Nicholson 5th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. Wounded
T Prenter Canadian 72nd Scottish Seaforth Highlanders. Wounded.
2nd Lieut. JA Ritchie Royal Army Service Corps Mechanical Transport.
David Smyth Auckland New Zealand Contingent.
JM Spence 13th (Service) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.
N Stouppe 14th (Service) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.
Lieut. DR Taylor MD RAMC.
WT Turnbull Engine Room Artificer with the Australian Navy. HMS ‘Sydney’
Capt. A Wallace 10th(Service) Batt. Royal Irish Rifles. Shell Shocked. French Croix de Guerre.
Lt. Col. SH Withers MD RAMC. CMG.
WGA Withers North Irish Horse. Meritorious Service Medal.
Lieut. DR Wheeler RAMC and Army Service Corps Ulster Divisional Train.
Lieut. JR Wheeler B/46 Brigade Royal Field Artillery. Twice wounded. Mentioned in Despatches.
Lieut. AR Wheeler 15th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. Twice wounded.
In December 1919 the club secretary Edward Wishart wrote to the people of Comber and beyond, indicating that the North Down Committee had contracted for a War Memorial for the pavilion that would record not only those members who gave their lives in the Great War, but also those who served with the forces.
“I have no doubt you will esteem it a privilege to subscribe to such a worthy object”
In April 1924 Mr Willie wrote to copper and brass engravers in Leicester:
“I have just been informed that you engrave copper and brass in a manner which is very much cheaper than embossed lettering………we have nothing like sufficient money to do one with the usual brass or copper lettering.”
Edmund de Wind
The name Edmund de Wind doesn’t feature too highly in the North Down teams of the late 1890s or early 1900s, although the de Wind family had several players at the club. However, the 15-year-old Edmund was included in the historic photo album of members that was presented to Tommy Graham in 1898 when he retired as club secretary. Despite his frail build, the young de Wind would certainly have been a keen cricketer, as his family was very friendly with the Andrews and Stone families, and he would have been a willing participant in games at Ardara and Barnhill when the families got together. He was also a pupil at Campbell College from 1895 to 1900 so cricket would obviously have been one of his regular summer sports.
Edmund de Wind may have been a very ordinary cricketer, but he was certainly not an ordinary man, and his name is immortalized in Comber history as our only recipient of the Victoria Cross. On the green fields of France, far from Castle Lane, he brought great honour to North Down Cricket Club through his heroic acts.
Edmund was born in Comber in 1883, the son of Arthur de Wind, chief engineer for the Belfast and County Down Railway. His mother was Margaret Jane Stone, and the Stone family lived at Barnhill on the Belfast Road, although the de Winds eventually settled on the Killinchy Road at ‘Kinvara’, a house that Arthur built himself. Young Edmund worked with the Bank of Ireland in Cavan following school, before emigrating to Canada in 1910, where he joined the Bank of Commerce. When war broke out he immediately enlisted with the 31st. Battalion (Calgary Regiment) of the Canadian Expedition Force and served in the machine-gun section in France from 1915 to 1917. He kept in close contact with his family in Comber and, it was said, he used his Andrews connections to gain the commission that led to his posting to the 36th (Ulster) Division in late 1917. He joined the Royal Irish Rifles and was in the frontline in France on 21st March, 1918 at 4.40am when the Germans launched a major offensive called Operation Michael, with a deluge of heavy artillery on the Allied positions.
The German onslaught was horrific and within a few hours their barrage of shells and gas had decimated virtually all the Allied frontline trenches. The 36th (Ulster) Division was hit at 9.40am and within minutes was almost completely overrun with heavy losses. Two positions bravely held out until late afternoon, and the third at Racecourse Redoubt near Groagie was where Second-Lieutenant Edmund de Wind of 15th Irish Rifles was pinned down. It was to prove a bitter end for this brave young Comber man who was wounded twice in the onslaught, but held his position for seven hours before another section came in support. He made several sorties into enemy trenches despite the heavy machine-gun fire but was eventually fatally wounded.
For his ‘conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice’, Edmund de Wind was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously, and the medal was received from King George V by his proud mother at Buckingham Palace on 21st June, 1919. His burial place is not known, but Mount de Wind was named in his honour in Canada and De Wind Drive was later named in his memory in his home town of Comber. After the war an old German field gun was presented to the Comber people and positioned in the Square in his memory, but it was later used for scrap metal in the munitions build-up to the Second World War. The metal engravings were saved and remain in nearby St. Mary’s Parish Church where there is also an engraved plaque in his honour.
Every year the Comber fallen are remembered with special services on 1st July and Remembrance Day. It is a poignant moment to pay tribute to the brave young Comber men who made the supreme sacrifice, none more so that Second-Lieutenant Edmund de Wind, VC.
George J Bruce
George Bruce joined North Down in 1905 and made a useful debut for the 2nd XI against Corinthians, taking two wickets. He was promoted to the 1st XI the following week for a league game against Lisburn that was won easily, but his finest performance in his debut season was his six for 23 in the Senior Challenge Cup semi-final win over Ulster. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, George was unavailable for many matches including the final, but he did play in the final in the following year losing to North of Ireland. Like many of his peers, George was a member of both clubs, North Down and North of Ireland and, ironically, played for the Ormeau team in their 1907 win over Holywood. George’s match figures of 12 for 80 remain one of the best cup final performances in the history of the competition.
An old Winchester boy, George Bruce was born in Gloucestershire in 1880, the eldest son of a Scotsman, Samuel Bruce. His mother was from the famous Cork cricketing family Colthurst, so he had strong cricketing roots from the outset of his sporting career. And what a talented all rounder he was at sport. In addition to cricket, George was a two-handicap golfer, an excellent shot, and a fine tennis and billiards player.
When he moved to live and work in Comber, he took up the position of managing director at the Comber Distilleries Company where his father was chairman, but his busy job played havoc with his availability, so he played only sporadically for both 1st and 2nd XIs in the pre-Great War period. But George’s claim to fame in this North Down history is not just for his fine cricketing achievements, but in the bigger world for his brave action in France.
George was a staunch unionist and in the volatile 1912 Home Rule period he prepared for civil war, as commander of a company of the Ulster Volunteers, by drilling his men in the Lower Distillery yard on the Newtownards Road. The war in Europe eventually shelved the threat of civil war in Ireland and, amazingly, both sides answered the call of king and country and joined together to fight the common enemy. On the formation of the Ulster Division, George obtained a commission in the 1st County Down Battalion and was promoted to the rank of Captain in September 1914. He trained his men at Clandeboye and was known as a popular and efficient officer. He then went with the battalion to Ballykinler for rifle practice before moving to Seaford in Sussex in preparation for action. Within a few weeks his battalion crossed the English Channel and the horrors of the Great War became reality for his young soldiers, many of them from Comber and some from the cricket club. A Comber man, Willie Humphries, was his groom and they fought and survived many horrific battles in the 13th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, including the Battle of the Somme, at Thiepval on 1st July, 1916.
George became Brigade Major of the 109th Infantry Brigade, much to the chagrin of his men in the 13th Battalion who regretted losing such a popular leader, but tragedy was just around the corner and the brave old Winchester boy was killed in action on 2nd October, 1918 at Dadizelle in Flanders. He was 38 years old, and his death came just six weeks before the Armistice was signed.
The brave and courageous George Bruce is remembered not only in North Down archives, but also on the war memorial in Comber Square, on a stone tablet in St Mary’s Parish Church, on a street called Bruce Avenue in the town, and on a special war memorial tribute at North of Ireland Cricket Club. Gone but not forgotten.
The Life Thereafter
Despite the huge loss of life there was a life thereafter and while it took many people a long time to get back to any semblance of normal life, for others it was simply a question of getting on with it. When the NCU senior committee met in the spring of 1919 to discuss cricket for the new season, it was unanimously agreed to re-commence competitions. On that committee were Willie Andrews and TJ Macdonald, while former member Oscar Andrews was an Ulster selector. Many old faces had disappeared both from the committees and from the playing ranks, but life had to go on and for North Down it was a case of getting back to the top of Ulster cricket.
Willie Andrews was at the helm and there was no better man to bring back the golden years to the club.