EAST BELFAST CADETS HONOUR LOCAL HERO OF WWI
A challenge to find out more about the history of World War I by researching stories of ‘local heroes’ has proved an inspiration to four East Belfast teenagers.
Bloomfield Collegiate students Elia Morrow and Aimee Smith joined forces with fellow members of the Campbell College Combined Cadet Force, to tackle the exercise … and what they discovered moved, educated and inspired them.
They chose as their ‘Local Hero’ 2nd Lieutenant Robert Wallace McConnell, a Campbell College ‘old boy’ who served and died in the Great War.
The son of Rev James McConnell and Annie Duffield-McConnell, Robert was born and grew up at Mont Royal at Bloomfield in East Belfast, attending Campbell College where he proved himself to be an able and popular student before moving on to study English at Queen’s University. Robert, known as ‘Bob’ to friends and family, joined the Queen’s Training Corps and, on 21 February 1915, became a Lieutenant of the 10th Battalion The King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.
Much of his life was closely connected with the Megain Memorial Church of the Nazarene on the Newtownards Road – indeed, as the Cadets were to discover, Robert brought his sword there, to ceremoniously dedicate it, and his military service, to God.
What Robert could not have known was that, a short time later, his name would be added to the Scroll of Honour in that church, following his death under machine-gun fire at Suniyet in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). Today his name is also recorded on the memorial at Basra, Iraq and he is remembered at Campbell College.
Cadet Elia Morrow says “We had studied World War 1 in school, plus we do some military history in the Cadets, so we already knew a bit about the war and about some of Northern Ireland’s famous World War 1 heroes. Looking more closely at Bob’s life and death however, made us really think about the real people behind all the facts and figures.”
Cadet Aimee Smith agrees, “Bob grew up on the Newtownards Road and went to Campbell, then on to study at Queen’s … he probably had the same sort of dreams and ambitions that we do … those facts alone helped us to identify with him, but the more we discovered, the more we liked and admired him. He felt like a friend. His story was just one of the many tragedies of World War 1, but it gave us insight into what the huge losses from that dreadful war actually meant in personal terms. We will never take history for granted again, for this has taught us to look behind the statistics.”
The information accumulated in the young people’s research will now become an important learning resource for others in the Cadet movement.
Pictured showing off the certificates which marked their participation in the research challenge – and holding the sword which once belonged to their ‘Local Hero’ – are Cadets Elia and Aimee, Cadet Petty Officer Toby and Cadet Corporal Jack.