Ballyclare woman shares memories of relatives who fought in the Great War

James Percy snr pictured while on home leave with his wife Mary Rachel Percy and his daughter Sarah Ann Percy. INNT 26-808CON
James Percy snr pictured while on home leave with his wife Mary Rachel Percy and his daughter Sarah Ann Percy. INNT 26-808CON

A woman from Ballyclare whose father and great-uncle both fought in World War One has spoken to the Times about her memories of the two men.

Iris Hurst’s great-uncle James Percy snr served as a private in the 6th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

James snr was born in Ballyeaston in 1881 and lived at the family farm on the Trench Hill Road. He later moved to Cogry, where he worked in Cogry Mill until the outbreak of the First World War.

He enlisted in Belfast at the age of 33. One of the main engagements that he was involved in was the Battle of the Somme.

James snr died of wounds sustained on October 17, 1918. Looking back, this is still poignant for Iris and her family as he died only a matter of weeks before the end of the war on November 11, 1918. He was aged 38.

He is buried in Serain Communal Cemetery in France.

Iris said: “It has been a wish of mine for many years to visit his grave. No Percy has ever made the journey across to the cemetery, but I would love to go, even though I didn’t meet him. I would just like to go to pay my respects. I am very proud of him. He is my family and he made the ultimate sacrifice.”

There is also a memorial to him in Kilbride Church of Ireland.

James was survived by his wife Mary Rachel Percy and his daughter Sarah Ann Percy. His brother Frank also served during the war with the Royal Irish Rifles.

Iris’ father, James Percy jnr also fought in the First World War. He served as a private in the 12th Battalion (Central Antrim Volunteers), Royal Irish Rifles.

He was born and raised in Cogry. He enlisted in Belfast at the age of 16.

He was wounded in action but survived and served out the rest of the war.

He would go on to serve as a private in the Second World War. He was one of the first British troops to be taken into Bergen-Belsen death camp. The German authorities established the Bergen-Belsen camp in 1940 in a location south of the small towns of Bergen and Belsen. This was approximately 11 miles from Celle in Germany. Up until 1943 the camp was exclusively a prisoner of war camp.

In April 1943 the SS took over a section of the camp. They transformed it into a civilian residence camp, before later being converted into a concentration camp.

Speaking about her father, Iris said: “I am very proud of my father. All of the men who fought in the wars should be remembered. What we have today is from what many of them gave their lives for. We need to show respect.

“Dad was rescued by a Welsh fisherman from Dunkirk. He described the scenes to me, saying how it was every man for himself.

“On another occasion during the Second World War, a German prisoner of war wanted a cigarette. Dad gave him a cigarette and the man gave dad his watch in return. My family still have this watch to this day.”

Iris added: “Dad taught us many valuable lessons from his time in the army. We were taught to respect everyone as he said no matter what a comrade’s background was, they were all men you could count on in the trenches. He also had a lot of respect for the German soldiers as he said they were in the same position as himself.”

James jnr went on to have 11 children, with Iris being the youngest member of the family.

For more information about servicemen from the Ballyclare area who fought in World War One and World War Two, check out Ballyclare and District Roll of Honour by Eddie Beck and Graeme Baird.