First MP to die in the Great War honoured

The O'Neill shield in the House of Commons. INLT-46-703-con
The O'Neill shield in the House of Commons. INLT-46-703-con

A local elected representative who was the first MP to be killed during the First World War has been honoured at a House of Commons ceremony.

Captain Arthur O’Neill was MP for the old mid-Antrim constituency, which included East Antrim.

At the age of 38 he became the first MP to die in World War 1 when he led his men in a bayonet charge at Klein Zillebeke Ridge on November 4, 1914.

Captain O’Neill previously served with distinction in South Africa during the Boer War and was decorated for gallantry four times.

He was a member of the Household Cavalry, and spoke fondly of the regiment during his maiden speech after being elected to the House of Commons in March, 1910. He served as MP for mid-Antrim until his death in 1914. A further 21 MPs subsequently died in battle during the war.

Captain O’Neill was described by his commanding officer as a man who did not know what fear was.

Although he was a cavalry officer, his regiment was used in an infantry role during the first battle of Ypres.

Captain O’Neill was injured while charging a ridge to dislodge the Germans, who were threatening the British lines.

Despite his wounds, he continued to direct his men and while being carried from the battlefield he was injured again.

He begged the stretcher-bearers to leave him and save themselves from the German bombardment.

Although he died of his wounds he completed the task as the Germans were repelled and the line was secured.

Paying tribute to Captain O’Neill, East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson stated: “The First World War saw death being dealt out on an industrial scale because of the new weaponry available to armies.

“It is sobering to think of the sacrifices made by hundreds of thousands across our country who believed it was their patriotic duty to defend their country.

“They came from humble backgrounds and from the wealthiest families. Some were brave professional soldiers, many were scared but equally brave volunteers and conscripts.

“The democracy and freedom which we enjoy today was bought with the lives of brave men such as Captain Arthur O’Neill MP and his many constituents who went off to fight for their country in France and never returned.

“Although these events took place a century ago we still owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”