Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Somme soldier's family meet 'saviour's' descendants

Published 16/08/2016

Families lay a wreath at the Portadown war memorial
Families lay a wreath at the Portadown war memorial

The family of a soldier rescued from no man's land on the Somme have met the descendants of his saviour for the first time a century later.

Private Sam Neill from Tandragee in Co Armagh was serving with the Royal Irish Fusiliers when he was hit by shrapnel in the leg and spent hours lying between German and Allied lines near Thiepval Wood in northern France.

Lt Geoffrey St George Shillington Cather brought him to safety under enemy fire and was to receive the Victoria Cross for saving four people during the first two days of the First World War's most bloody battle. His heroics brought him death on that second day.

The families were traced by the British Legion in Portadown in Co Armagh following a chance encounter with his VC in a museum.

Lt Shillington Cather's cousin Anthony Shillington said: "We are terribly proud of what he did - the courage.

"It is a funny business who has courage when it comes to the crunch.

"He wasn't, for example, an amazing rugby player at school. It is not those that necessarily show courage in the face of battle, you can never tell in advance who they will be."

Pte Neill went on to have children, spawning a line of four generations.

His great nephew Peter Neill said: "Our uncle was lucky because he was recognised by Shillington Cather as one of his regiment and got him back in.

"Otherwise he was left for dead. He would not have survived."

Shillington Cather was from London but his family was from Portadown in Co Armagh.

He brought three men in on the first day and went out the second day and rescued another as well as tending to wounds and giving the lost causes water.

At the Royal Irish Fusiliers' Museum in Armagh, retired major and president of the Legion in Portadown Philip Morrison saw Lt Shillington Cather's VC medal being cleaned.

He had his photo taken with the honour and his colleague Peter Neill saw the photo and said Shillington Cather rescued his great uncle from no man's land on July 1 1916.

Pte Neill survived the war and worked in the US and later on the family farm in Tandragee.

The Cather family was contacted by a local photographer in Portadown and the two sets of relations met on Tuesday in Portadown and laid a wreath at the town's war memorial.

Mr Neill said his predecessor was in no man's land for most of the day.

A lot of people didn't make it because there were not enough stretcher bearers to go out and bring them in.

Many of the wounded succumbed through lack of medical attention.

Mr Neill said: "Shillington Cather came on him and recognised him as one of his regiment and then brought him back in again.

"He had been wounded in the calf and the foot and was in a pretty bad way."

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph