Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Private John McKeen Simms, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Remembering today: The first Carrickfergus man to lose his life in the Great War,  Fusilier John McKeen Simms - 10437 - 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Born in Carrickfergus in 1896, killed in Action 26th August 1914 aged 19. 
John was born in rural Carrickfergus in 1896 son of Robert James and Agnes Simms and brother to Maria, Jane, Agnes, William, Thomas, Samuel, James, Robert and Hans.  By 1901 he was a school boy living with his family in the western division of rural Carrickfergus.  His father was a farmer and many of the children worked as helpers to their father.  By 1911 the family had moved to Portallo Street in Belfast just off the Woodstock Road.  John was now working as a message boy and his father as a cattle dealer in the city.  
When war broke out in August 1914 John was living in Victoria Street in East Belfast and had already been attested to the 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and his war record shows his transfer date to France with the Expeditionary Force as 23rd August 1914.  He was killed in action just three days later on the 26th August 1914, on this date the 2nd Battalion was heavily involved in the first day of the Battle of Le Cateau. For long hours during the morning of the 26th August, the British, notably the field artillery, held overwhelming numbers of the enemy at bay and inflicted severe loss. John lost his life alongside 35 of his comrades among huge acts of bravery and heroism.   
Private John Simms was reported as missing in the weeks following the battle and his family would have had an horrible wait, praying that perhaps he had been taken prisoner but knowing the likelihood that he had been killed.  His body was eventually recovered and he was buried in Esnes Communal Cemetery, Nord, France. Grave reference: I (pictured), his name also appears on the Strandtown War Memorial on Belmont Road. 

 Info on Esnes Communal Cemetery: 

Esnes witnessed fighting in the Battle of Le Cateau (26 August 1914), and it was captured by the New Zealand Division on the 8 October 1918.

In the corner of the Communal Cemetery, are five graves; one (marked also by a French memorial) contains the bodies of soldiers of the 4th Division who fell in August, 1914, and in the others are buried soldiers who died later in the War.

There are now over 100, 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, over half are unidentified and a special memorial records the name of a soldier who fell in the Battle of Le Cateau and is buried in the cemetery, but whose grave cannot now be traced.

1 comment: