Belfast Telegraph

Faces of the two young Belfast neighbours who died together on battlefield 100 years ago today

By Sara Neill

They lived just streets away from each other in Belfast – but would die together amid the horror of the battlefields of World War One.

It is exactly 100 years ago today that teens John McKean Simms and Samuel Hoy died in the face of German gunfire hundreds of miles away in France.

The 19-year-olds, members of 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, lost their lives in the August 1914 Battle of Le Cateau alongside 34 comrades.

Michael Nugent, of WWI Research Ireland, explained: "When war broke out, the prevailing view was that it would be over by Christmas.

"A lot of people rushed to join to 'get some war in' before it ended.

"This was a big adventure. You're a 19-year-old from east Belfast in 1914.

"Given the chance to go to France, you'd jump at it!"

Private Simms, a message boy before enlisting in the Army, had lived with his parents and 10 siblings in the family home at Portallo Street.

Just yards away at Newcastle Street, Mr and Mrs Hoy's eldest son Samuel gave up his trade as an apprentice carpenter to join the Inniskillings.

The pair were called to battle stations in France not long after hostilities broke out.

Arriving in Le Havre, they were greeted by locals who threw fruit and flowers at those who had come to defend them.

Along with the rest of their regiment, they joined the British forces on the front line at Le Cateau, where the Germans, who had broken through at Mons, had to be stopped.

There were no trenches in August 1914, instead the soldiers tried to dig a small ditch in the ground or find a nearby object, like a farm cart, to shelter behind during the fighting.

As the Germans advanced, General Horace Smith-Dorrien ordered his troops to stand and fight. The enemy attack began before dawn on August 26, with German infantry encircling the 2nd Battalion, who fought back doggedly in a "severe and desperate" clash. By the end of the day the Inniskillings had lost 36 men, with many more wounded.

In the days following the battle at Le Cateau word of the heavy losses reached the men's families.

"At first, their parents may not have received a letter they expected," explained Mr Nugent.

"Then, a note would arrive from the War Office, informing them their son was missing in action."

While the families maintained hope that perhaps their loved ones had been taken prisoner, as time passed they realised they would never see their sons again.

Private Simms was posted as missing after the battle.

His body was later found and buried in Esnes communal cemetery alongside five others who died in the same battle.

Private Hoy's body – like many of his comrades killed that day – was never recovered.

It is thought he may have been buried by the Germans in an unmarked grave, or his body blown to bits by the heavy German shell fire.

Eight years after his death, Samuel's mother received his medals.

Fewer than half of those who died that same day have known graves.

For many of them, the only recognition of their fight against the enemy is a name on the La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial to the Missing.

Factfile

Twenty-two other soldiers from Ulster were killed on August 26.

They were: Private William Robert Elliott, Holywood, Co Down; Private James Smyth, Louisa St, Belfast; L/Corporal Robert McCorkell, Clonleigh, Co Donegal; Private Thomas Murray, Antrim; Private Charles O'Donnell, Glendermott, Co Londonderry; Private John Rafferty, Butler St, Belfast, Private Samuel Ritchie, Manderson St, Belfast; Private William Ruddy, Ardgowan St, Belfast; Private Robert Scott, Seapatrick, Co. Down; Private Francis Joseph Quinn, Cappagh, Co Tyrone; Private James Templeton, Cupar St, Belfast; Private William Warnock, Richmond St, Belfast; Sergeant Thomas Wilkinson, Cappagh, Co Tyrone; Corporal George Ayer, Doagh, Co Antrim; Private Robert Falls, Cookstown, Co Tyrone; Private James Carr, Downpatrick, Co Down; Private James Browne, Hillview St, Belfast; Private William Harvey, Convention St, Belfast; Private George Henning, Bessbrook, Co Armagh; Private William Nixon, Portadown, Co Armagh; Private Thomas Donnelly, Belfast; L/Corporal Joseph Willey, Christopher St, Belfast.

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