Saturday, 14 May 2011

D H O'Flaherty

Douglas Hill O'Flaherty
Born 9 May 1880, Belfast    Killed in Action 1 July 1916 at Thiepval
Captain, 15 Battalion Royal Irish Rifles



Douglas was the eldest child of Francis Hale O'Flaherty, a linen merchant, and his wife Harriet Isabella Felton.  Francis and Harriet had married in Belfast the year before Douglas' birth.  They had two more children, Wilfred in 1882 and Norah in 1884.  

Douglas was sent to an English public school, Bedford County School, in Ampthill Road, Kempston.  Apparently the School had a fine sporting reputation, being especially proud of its cricket team.  Perhaps this rubbed off on Douglas because as an adult he remained a keen cricketer, playing for the North of  Ireland Cricket Club.  

Although the School closed in 1916 it had a war memorial tablet on which Douglas' name appears.  When the building was demolished in 1964 the memorial was transferred to Elstow Abbey, where it remains today.

The 1901 Census shows Douglas back in Belfast with his parents and siblings.  He and his brother are apprenticed, whilst younger sister Norah is still at school.  As far as I can tell, Francis O'Flaherty died later that year.  By 1911, the only member of the family left in Belfast is Douglas; he is living as a boarder in University Street and working as a Stocks Cashier.  The following year, on 4 June 1912,  he married Beatrice Ewing (shown as "Erving" in some records).  This was possibly Beatrice's second marriage and she may have had a daughter from her first marriage, also named Beatrice.

Prior to the outbreak of war, Douglas had joined the Ulster Volunteer Force and became a company commander. When war broke out the Ulster Division was formed and it would seem that Douglas applied for a commission at this time.  By February he was promoted to Captain.  His brother Wilfred was in the Royal Irish Fusiliers.  

In July 1915 the Division moved to Seaford, in Sussex where they were inspected first by Lord Kitchener and later by the King.  In October they moved to France, where Douglas' 107th Brigade where attached to 4th Division and engaged in further training.  The Brigade returned to 36th (Ulster) Division in February 1916 and took over a section of the front line, extending south from the River Ancre.  

On 1st July 1916 Douglas was to see action in the opening phase of the Battle of the Somme, at the Battle of Albert. At 8.15am the action began for Douglas.  His battalion reported heavy casualties but were able to capture a section of the German line.  They were desperate for reinforcements, but none were available.  One desperate company sent 14 runners back, only one of whom got through.  The German barrage lasted for five hours and gradually chipped away at the Battalion.  Several officers were wounded or killed, including Douglas.  According to a witness he was hit by a shell fragment and was killed instantly.  318 of his comrades in the battalion died on that day.

Douglas is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, as well as the Belfast War Memorial, the Belfast Institute Memorial (from whose website I found Douglas' photograph and the war diary extracts) and the Bedford County School memorial.  But why the Newquay War Memorial?

Douglas' connection to Newquay perplexed me for some time.  At first I imagined that his wife or mother must have been born in the town, but I quickly ruled that out.  Eventually I found a 1940 probate record for his sister, Norah O'Flaherty.  Although she died in the Wirral, it mentioned that she had recently lived in Tintagel, so I guessed that she was the connection.  However, I couldn't find any record of her, despite searching the 1911 Census and some street directories.  Eventually, I found both Norah and her mother in Newquay in 1911.  Their entry had been mistranscribed as "O'Flakerty".  So, Harriet and Norah were living at Trenninick, Newquay, in 1911 and possibly for some time afterwards, hence Douglas' name on the memorial.  Harriet died in the Wirral in 1943.

3 comments:

  1. I believe his wife was Beatrice Ewing, my grandfather James Ewing's cousin.

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  2. Thanks for the information Roibeard - much appreciated.

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