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'Remembrance Day is so special to my family. My uncles fought in World War One: one was gassed and died two years later, the other came under enemy fire while on a fishing boat. How brave were they? It is quite amazing'

As we mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, Patricia McKinley-Hutchinson from Larne tells Stephanie Bell why this Sunday’s commemoration will be extra poignant for her family after finding out just last year about the role her uncles played

Patricia McKinley-Hutchinson, who only discovered last year her great uncle and uncle were war heroes
Patricia McKinley-Hutchinson, who only discovered last year her great uncle and uncle were war heroes
Great Uncle David Haughey 1916
Uncle Alexander Magill 1917
David Haughey's medals
David Haughey's medical card from the war

Remembrance Day has always had special meaning for Larne woman Patricia McKinley-Hutchinson - but since discovering just last year that she has two war heroes in the family, this year's service will feel even more poignant.

Patricia (76) had no idea that her great uncle and uncle both fought in the First World War until she came across pictures of them in Army uniform in an old family scrapbook last year.

Curious about the two men, who'd never been discussed with her growing up, she started to research them and was amazed at what she discovered.

Both men suffered during brave service and were decorated for their efforts during the conflict.

Her great uncle David Haughey was in his 40s when he joined the Royal Engineers in 1916 as a sapper and was involved in the efforts to dig tunnels, which were used in the Battle of Arras in 1917.

Tragically, he was gassed by the enemy while underground and had to be medically discharged in 1918. He died in Belfast just two years later, aged 45, from the effects of the mustard gas he inhaled.

Throughout the Great War Arras was one of the towns on the front line in northern France. It had great medieval chalk quarries, which during the conflict were linked together by tunnels dug by soldiers to help get the allied troops closer to the Germans.

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On the morning of April 19, 1917 from this secret base which Patricia's uncle helped to build, more than 20,000 soldiers from all over the world emerged from underground to just a few metres from the German positions.

David Haughey was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, which now take pride of place in the home of his great niece.

Alongside it are four medals awarded to her uncle Alexander Magill, who was just 20 when he joined the Royal Naval Reserve in 1917.

The only photograph Patricia has of her uncle was one that appeared in the Belfast Telegraph in 1917 when he received his Distinguished Service Medal.

This was awarded in recognition of bravery and resourcefulness on active service at sea.

Alexander was a leading deck hand serving on the drifter Coral Haven in May 1917 at the battle of the Strait of Otranto, a body of water between Albania and Italy.

The Coral Haven was a wooden fishing trawler used by the Navy during the war to try and block enemy submarines.

Alexander's boat formed part of an Allied blockade of the Strait.

In 1917 a fierce fight known as the Battle of the Strait of Otranto ensued with Allied forces coming under attack from Austro-Hungarian cruiser SMS Novara.

Patricia's uncle's boat was sunk but not before he had the chance to fight back, as she discovered: "There was only one gun on the fishing boat and as leading deck hand it would have been my uncle's job to fire it.

"He was one of six crew on board and a Captain when they came under attack from SMS Novara, a light cruiser.

"My uncle's boat managed to fire off four rounds into the Novara before the crew had to abandon ship.

"How brave were those men to come under attack while on a wooden fishing boat? It really is quite amazing.

"My uncle went on to become a captain and he married my aunt in 1935 and moved to the Irrawaddy River in Burma to work for a flotilla company and my aunt went with him. They lived there until he took ill in 1938, when they returned home to Larne."

Patricia grew up in the well-known Laharna Hotel, a former railway station hotel in Larne run by her late father George Beattie.

She is currently finishing a book, Daughter Of Laharna, a memoir of her life growing up in the hotel, which she went on to run after her father retired.

The Laharna, which had 180 bedrooms and was a landmark in the town, was burnt to the ground in a fire in 1999 and there is now an apartment block on the site.

Patricia also managed hotels in Edinburgh before taking up the post of catering adviser and facilities manager for the NI Civil Service, responsible for all restaurants in government buildings.

She retired in 1999 when she also married her first husband who she sadly lost in 2014. Two years ago she married her second husband, who is a novelist.

She is also well-known for her voluntary work in Larne, where she has taken care of marketing for The Tuesday Group, a cross-community charity set up after the Troubles, for 20 years.

She is an active member of her local church, St Cedma's Church of Ireland, and is also writing a book about its history.

Patricia has fond memories of her father, who she said was unable to enlist during the war because his job was considered an essential service.

Instead, he did his bit for the war effort by cooking meals for the thousands of soldiers who came into the province via Larne harbour.

The First World War had a great impact on him and he was so affected by it that when he was just 16 he wrote a poem which he went on to put to music, called A Hymn For Armistice Day.

Patricia's dad was a church organist for 70 years, starting at the age of 16 in Sinclair Seaman's Church in Corporation Street, Belfast, and playing until his death in 1988 when he was 86.

She said: "He was so much affected by the many deaths during the First World War that he penned a poem about it when he was 16 which he also set to music.

"When he was still at college, he was appointed organist of Sinclair Seaman's Church, where many of the congregation had joined the various services in World War One and as a result many were killed.

Later a beautiful stained glass window was erected in this church to their memory.

"Dad managed the hotel until it was handed over to the Army in 1940 during the Second World War to be used as a rest and convalescent home, housing some 500 troops.

"He was employed by the railway company during the war to look after the troops arriving at Larne Harbour, where he organised the feeding of between 5,000 and 7,000 troops at a time arriving there.

"He used Laharna Hotel kitchens to prepare food and then had it transported to Larne harbour.

"Later on he was manager of the Midland Hotel, Belfast, and when it was bombed in the Belfast Blitz in 1941 he oversaw the rebuilding of it, making accommodation there for American officers and their mess facilities, as well as the other hotel facilities.

"All this data is being recorded in my book soon to be published about Laharna Hotel, which he managed from 1933 until 1969, and it will include details of my father's life during the Second World War.

"I've been planning the book for years and life always got in the way but I have finally finished it.

"And it was while researching for my book that I came across an old scrapbook of my mum's last year and found the pictures of my uncles."

Remembrance Day was an important annual event for Patricia's father and has remained so for her since her childhood.

The hotel was situated close to the cenotaph in Larne and her father was always respectful of the service, lowering the hotel's flag as a mark of respect.

This year as she remembers with the rest of the country, Patricia will be thinking back to her own family and the part they played in securing peace during the World Wars.

She says: "It always was very special to me and my family. My brother was in Larne Boys' Brigade and learned to play the bugle and he now lives in Bristol and plays the bugle at the Remembrance ceremony there every year.

"My father was also a member of the Home Guard during the Second World War.

"There are so many examples of men from Northern Ireland who went and served their county to help fight the enemy so that we can live in peace.

"War is a terrible waste of life and what happened in my family is echoed right across Northern Ireland and the UK.

"I am very proud of my family's part in both wars and when I think of what it must have been like for my great uncle underground building tunnels and my uncle in a small fishing boat coming under attack, it really is quite horrific.

"It will make me stand even prouder this year at the Remembrance service."

Belfast Telegraph


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