We know from contemporary records that over 600 past pupils from Wesley College joined up to fight in the First World War. During this period and leading up to the start of the war, Wesley College was at the centre of a pro-war propaganda movement. This was led by many influential old boys of the day including Lord Edward Carson and other Protestant leaders in the city.
We know that sadly 83 former pupils of Wesley died in the war. These young men are commemorated on a large plaque that greets you as you enter the main hall in Wesley in Ballinteer. After the war a chapel was built on the grounds of the school in St. Stephen’s Green to commemorate the war dead. An inscription within that chapel read:
This building was erected to the honour of all old boys of this College who ventured their lives for defence of home and country in the Great War and especially in loving and grateful memory of those who fell”
The schoolboys of the time were clearly influenced by the pro-war propaganda, to the extent that the entire 1st XV rugby team of 1913/14 signed up together to serve in the war. I want to share with you the story of those 15 boys.
The team these 15 boys played on was one of the most successful the college has produced. They progressed easily through the Leinster Schools Cup competition and beat the holders Castleknock in the semi-final. Eight of the team had been capped for their respective provinces in the spring schoolboy interprovincial series. The team was ably led by their captain, Norman Irwin, the son of the principal Rev. Irwin.
They were overwhelming favourites to beat Mountjoy School in the final on April 9th 1914 in Lansdowne Road. The newspaper report of the match recalls a day “favoured by glorious weather” with a large crowd gathered. Wesley were reported to be by far the physically bigger team, each boy being on average 10lbs to 1 stone heavier than their opponents but they did not make use of this advantage in the first half and with some fine tackling on show by Mountjoy, especially one try saving tackle on the Wesley wing Notley, meant that the sides were level 0-0 at half time.
In the second half, Wesley again pushed hard and fine play by Irwin, Dart and Mills were especially called out; Mills for his resolute defence and Irwin, the Wesley scrum half, “played as usual a rare and plucky game.” The report goes on to say that the Wesley forwards “were disappointing in that one would expect from their physical advantage they would be able to nearly dominate the game”. Despite this, Davies, Burns & Gillespie (the Wesley forwards) were mentioned for their good play. However, during the second half in a frenetic scramble for the line Hurst crossed and scored for Mountjoy. In the end this was the score that won the game 3-0 (a try being 3 points). This must have been a bitter disappointment for the team.
Whilst war was only a few months away I doubt many in attendance at that game in April 1914 could foresee that this entire Wesley team would soon be fighting in the trenches and indeed that four of them would ultimately be killed in action before the war was out.
This story is an important part of the history of Wesley from that time. I’ve gathered some information from publicly available records and have outlined it below.
The four boys that died were:
RICHARD DAVIS (died aged 19)
Richard “Dickie” Davis, was from a Methodist family who lived in Harpur House in Drogheda. His father James is listed as a draper in the 1911 census. We know that Dickie joined the Manchester Regiment and served in Iraq. Whilst there he was promoted to Second Lieutenant but he died fighting in the Battle of Dujaila near Kut in Iraq on the 8th March 1916. He is commemorated in the Basra Memorial in Zubayr near Basra in Iraq.
WILLIAM GREEN (died aged 19)
William Osmond Green was originally from Portadown. His father William is listed as a member of the Church of Ireland and working as a Commercial Traveller in the 1901 census. William joined the Royal Irish Rifles and fought in the Somme. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant but died in action on the 1st July 1916. He was first reported wounded and then later confirmed as having been killed in action. His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. His photograph was published in the Belfast Telegraph on the 14th July 1916 with the caption: Lieut. W.O. Green, Portadown missing
WILLIAM RUDD (died aged 19)
William Rudd was from a Methodist family in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary. The family had a strong connection to Wesley, indeed all three children were boarders including his brother Samuel and his sister Olive. Olive happens to have been one of the first girls to enter Wesley as girls were first admitted in 1911. Their father was a corn miller in Roscrea and the family later lived in Limerick.
William joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and was killed in action on the 13th November 1916 at the Battle of the Ancre near the Somme. This was the first day that the Royal Dublin Fusiliers saw action in the war and of the 493 officers and men who started the Ancre attack almost half – 242 were recorded as killed, wounded or missing. William is also commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
FREDERICK PAYNE DOWLING (died aged 19)
From Clontarf in Dublin, the son of John & Maria Dowling, Frederick also joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. He fought in the Somme and was promoted to Lieutenant. He died on the 7th August 1917 whilst fighting in Ypres in Belgium and his body was never recovered. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres.
The family tombstone in Dublin also mentions Frederick as follows:
In loving memory of, Fredrick Payne Dowling, Lieu. 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers
killed in action near Ypres 7 August 1917, aged, 19 and who’s burial place is
known only to God, ‘”He played the game ‘”
He is also commemorated in the war memorial in St. Fintan’s church in Dublin
The other boys in the team all survived the war, and I have only managed to find information about some of them:
WILLIAM HENDERSON MAGUIRE
From Bundoran in Donegal and the son of a Grocer, William survived the war and in 1927 married Kathleen Doris Dench who is the aunt of the actor Judy Dench
JOHN NEWTON DART
From Roscrea in Tipperary and the son of a Grocery Manager
He joined a Cavalry regiment and was promoted to Second Lieutenant.
THOMAS JOSEPH HARLAND MILLS
From Monaghan, the son of a farmer, Thomas survived the war and I believe died in the 50s in South Africa.
JOSEPH CECIL GILLESPIE
From Boyle in Roscommon, Joseph survived the war and went on to represent Ireland in Rugby Union. He won two caps against France & Wales in 1922 and his grandchildren attended Wesley in the 80s and 90s.
I know little about Walter. We believe he was from Dromod in Leitrim and his father’s occupation is listed as Farmer and Shop keeper
From Prospect House, Barrigone, Limerick, the son of Esther and the late Joseph Shier, we know that Herbert joined a cavalry regiment, the south Irish Horse along with his brother Christopher. We also know that Christopher died in November 1917 and is buried in the Croisilles British Cemetery
NORMAN LESLIE CROZIER IRWIN
The captain of the team, he was born in Cork to Thomas & Annie Irwin. Norman’s father was a Methodist minister and later to become the principal of Wesley. We find him in the census in 1901 in Ballinamallard in Fermanagh as a four year old at the home of his grandparents, Thomas & Dorothea Crozier. They were drapers and grocers in the nearby town. In the 1911 census we find him boarding in a house in Clontarf possibly living there while he attended Wesley.
He joined the 9th Royal Welsh Fusiliers shortly after leaving Wesley and went on to have a distinguished military career. He was promoted from 2nd Lieutenant to Lieutenant and was sent to India in 1918. In 1920 he was promoted to Captain and in 1933 to Major. He went on to be promoted full Lieutenant Colonel in 1941 in the Guerkhas in Burma. During his time in the army he served in France and Belgium and then in Afghanistan in 1919, Malabar 1921, Waziristan 1923-24 and in Nepal from 1929 to 1940
He was awarded the DSO in 1920 and a bar to the DSO in 1945. He was mentioned in dispatches in 1943 and 1945. In 1946 he was awarded the Tri Shakti Patta, 3rd Class, one of the highest awards given by the kingdom of Nepal. He married Mildred Mary Hamlyn Noel in 1929 and died in England in ŧhe early 1970s.
The commendation for Norman’s DSO reads as follows: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He was informed that a company of the attacking battalion to whom he was in support was in danger of being surrounded by the enemy. He immediately reconnoitred the position, organised a skilful attack, and drove out the enemy. His gallantry and grasp of the situation undoubtedly saved the company from being cut off, and probably saved the whole situation at a critical moment.”
This is just a snapshot of 15 boys who served in the First World War. I haven’t been able to find any information about Harte, Kenny, Clegg or Burns. As I’ve mentioned many hundreds of other past pupils also served. We would be very interested in any information that you may have about this team or any of the men who served. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
President PPU 2014-2015