Belfast Telegraph

Last week he was an unknown soldier, but now thanks to a photo in the Telegraph, Wilson Haye's story is being told

By Flora Bradley-Watson

When Rory Mills sat down to read the Belfast Telegraph this week, he couldn't believe it when he saw his grandfather staring out from the front page.

He was stunned to see our appeal for information on an unknown soldier whose image was captured as he prepared to head to war.

The soldier wasn't unknown to Mr Mills – he recognised him as his mother's father, Wilson Haye, who fought with the 36th Ulster Division, the Royal Irish Rifles, in the Great War.

The picture was published on Tuesday as part of our quest to identify a number of unknown soldiers pictured on the Castleton Lanterns found in a church in north Belfast.

Mr Mills, who lives in Belfast, has now sent a copy of the paper to his mother in London to see the picture of her father as he was about to head into action from his home city of Belfast.

"I have photographs of him at home, it came as a bit of a shock seeing him on the front of the paper," Mr Mills (44) said.

Wilson Haye was just 17 years old when he signed up to go to war and trained at Seaford in Sussex.

And Muriel Mills, a 78-year-old pensioner living in Muswell Hill, London, told the Belfast Telegraph about her father's experiences in the war.

"My daddy was the most Christian man you would meet and he wasn't one for telling tall stories.

"He was very good-living, he never smoked, he never touched alcohol all his life and somehow he got through the war."

She added: "It would not have been a nice experience, he hated swearing, it must have been dreadful for him.

"He hardly ever talked about it."

Mrs Mills said her father, on returning to Belfast after surviving the war, "took a vow never to cross the channel again".

"He had a terrible time in the trenches, they had dysentery, they got foot rot," she said.

"They didn't have enough to eat – they were so hungry, they scraped the mould off the bread and ate it."

Mrs Mills said that her father found it difficult to re-adapt to normal life.

"It was hard for him when he came out of the war because he had post-traumatic stress disorder, he would wake up having had bad dreams." She added: "He had no help."

After the war, Mr Haye returned to Belfast and became a partner in the linen firm, Brookfield Spindle Works, in west Belfast.

He married Muriel Pritchard in the 1930s, who he met through their shared love of music and the church.

"My mother was a pianist and an accompanist and my father was a church organist.

"They had a great love of music," she added.

"They were very much in love."

The couple's first child tragically died of diphtheria aged two-and-a-half .

Muriel was their second child and was born in August 1935.

Mr Haye died in 1979 aged 78.

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