Belfast Telegraph

First of our Fallen revealed

Sailors sunk by mine Ulster's opening casualties of WWI

By Ivan Little

A century-old mystery over the identities of the first Ulster casualties of the Great War has been solved after it was revealed four sailors perished just 32 hours after the start of hostilities.

The quartet of Ulstermen died when the light cruiser HMS Amphion sank in the North Sea after hitting mines laid by a German ship two days after Britain declared war on August 4, 1914.

A series of commemorations are to be held across Northern Ireland on Monday week to remember the centenary of the outbreak of the war, which claimed millions of lives.

Tens of thousands of Ulster soldiers perished in bloody land battles including the Somme, Ypres and Messines, but it's now emerged that the four sailors – from Belfast, Co Donegal, Co Down and Co Antrim – were among the 151 men who died on the Amphion.

A new research group, History Hub Ulster, discovered the fate of the Royal Navy crewmen after it was approached by the Northern Ireland WWI Centenary Committee, which wanted to know who was the first person from here to die in World War One.

History Hub organiser Karen O'Rawe said: "I think they assumed it was a soldier who was the earliest casualty."

But after painstaking searches through service records, diaries and newspaper archives, Karen discovered that four Ulstermen had died when HMS Amphion went down.

One of them was Henry John Bennett, a 36-year-old engine room artificer from Torr Head in Co Antrim, a highly decorated serviceman who had seen action in the Boer War.

Another was able seaman William Clarke, the seventh son of a seventh son from Moville in Co Donegal, and a third casualty was petty officer Joseph Lynch from the village of Bright near Downpatrick.

Details about the first three men were scant, but Karen uncovered more information about the fourth Amphion victim, able seaman Charles George McConaghy from Belfast.

McConaghy was born at number 9 Pacific Avenue, near the city's Waterworks, on July 11, 1889, and was baptised in St Patrick's Catholic Church in Donegall Street, near the city centre.

But the McConaghy family had converted to Presbyterianism by the time they moved to live in Ballymena, where Charles attended Ballymena Academy.

By a tragic twist of fate, one of McConaghy's sisters, Ethel, also died at sea, during the Second World War.

Factfile

Engine room artificer (1st class) Henry John Bennett born at Torr Head in Co Antrim, died aged 36.

Able seaman William Clarke born in Moville, Co Donegal, died aged 26.

Petty officer (2nd class) Joseph Lynch born in Bright, Co Down, died aged 39.

Able seaman Charles George McConachy born in Belfast, died aged 25.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph