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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Captain George McElroy, World War I Fighter Pilot

Captain George Edward Henry McElroy MC & Two Bars, DFC & Bar, a leading Irish fighter pilot of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force during World War I, is killed by ground fire on July 31, 1918, while flying over enemy lines. He is credited with 47 aerial victories.

McElroy is born on May 14, 1893 at Donnybrook, County Dublin, to Samuel and Ellen McElroy. He enlists promptly at the start of World War I in August 1914, and is shipped out to France two months later. He is serving as a corporal in the Motor Cyclist Section of the Royal Engineers when he is first commissioned as a second lieutenant on May 9, 1915. While serving in the Royal Irish Regiment he is severely affected by mustard gas and is sent home to recuperate. He is in Dublin in April 1916, during the Easter Rising, and is ordered to help quell the insurrection. He refuses to fire upon his fellow Irishmen, and is transferred to a southerly garrison away from home.

On June 1, 1916 McElroy relinquishes his commission in the Royal Irish Regiment when awarded a cadetship at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from which he graduates on February 28, 1917, and is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery.

McElroy is promptly seconded to the Royal Flying Corps, being trained as a pilot at the Central Flying School at Upavon Aerodrome, and appointed a flying officer on June 28. On July 27 his commission is backdated to February 9, 1916, and he is promoted to lieutenant on August 9. On August 15 he joins No. 40 Squadron RFC, where he benefits from mentoring by Edward “Mick” Mannock. He originally flies a Nieuport 17, but with no success in battle. By the year’s end he is flying Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s and claims his first victory on December 28.

An extremely aggressive dog-fighter who ignores often overwhelming odds, McElroy’s score soon grows rapidly. He shoots down two German aircraft in January 1918, and by February 18 has run his string up to 11. At this point, he is appointed a flight commander with the temporary rank of captain, and transferred to No. 24 Squadron RFC. He continues to steadily accrue victories by ones and twos. By March 26, when he is awarded the Military Cross, he is up to 18 “kills.” On April 1, the Army’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) are merged to form the Royal Air Force, and his squadron becomes No. 24 Squadron RAF. He is injured in a landing accident on April 7 when he brushes a treetop while landing. By then he has run his score to 27. While he is sidelined with his injury, on April 22, he is awarded a bar to his Military Cross. Following his convalescence, he returns to No. 40 Squadron in June, scoring three times, on June 26, June 28, and June 30. The latter two triumphs are observation balloons and run his tally to 30.

In July, McElroy adds to his score almost daily, a third balloon busting on July 1, followed by one of the most triumphant months in the history of fighter aviation, adding 17 victims during the month. His run of success is threatened on July 20 by a vibrating engine that entails breaking off an attack on a German two seater and a rough emergency landing that leaves him with scratches and bruises. There is a farewell luncheon that day for his friend Gwilym Hugh “Noisy” Lewis. Their mutual friend “Mick” Mannock pulls McElroy aside to warn him about the hazards of following a German victim down within range of ground fire.

On July 26, “Mick” Mannock is killed by ground fire. Ironically, on that same day, “McIrish” McElroy receives the second Bar to his Military Cross. He is one of only ten airmen to receive the second Bar.

McElroy’s continues apparent disregard for his own safety when flying and fighting can have only one end. On July 31, 1918, he reports destroying a Hannover C for his 47th victory. He then sets out again. He fails to return from this flight and is posted missing. Later it is learned that he had been killed by ground fire. He is 25 years old.

McElroy receives the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously on August 3, citing his shooting down 35 aeroplanes and three observation balloons. The Bar would arrive still later, on September 21, and would laud his low-level attacks. In summary, he shoots down four enemy aircraft in flames and destroys 23 others, one of which he shares destroyed with other pilots. He drives down 16 enemy aircraft “out of control” and out of the fight. In one of those cases, it is a shared success. He also destroys three balloons.

McElroy is interred in Plot I.C.1 at the Laventie Military Cemetery in La Gorgue, northern France.


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Death of Francis Browne, Irish Jesuit & Photographer

Francis Patrick Mary Browne, distinguished Irish Jesuit and a prolific photographer, dies in Dublin on July 7, 1960. His best known photographs are those of the RMS Titanic and its passengers and crew taken shortly before its sinking in 1912. He is decorated as a military chaplain during World War I.

Browne is born to a wealthy family in 1880 at Buxton House, Cork, County Cork, the youngest of the eight children of James and Brigid (née Hegarty) Browne. His mother is the niece of William Hegarty, Lord Mayor of Cork, and a cousin of Sir Daniel Hegarty, the first Lord Mayor of Cork. She dies of puerperal fever eight days after his birth. After the death of his father in a swimming accident at Crosshaven on September 2, 1889, he is raised and supported by his uncle, Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne, who buys him his first camera shortly before the younger man embarks on a tour of Europe in 1897.

Browne spends his formative years at Bower Convent, Athlone (1888–91), Belvedere College (1891–92), Christian Brothers College, Cork (1892–1893), St. Vincent’s Castleknock College (1893–97), graduating in 1897. He goes on the aforementioned tour of Europe, where he begins taking photographs.

Upon his return to Ireland, Browne joins the Jesuits and spends two years in the novitiate at St. Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly. He attends the Royal University of Ireland, Dublin, where he is a classmate of James Joyce, who features him as Mr. Browne the Jesuit in Finnegans Wake. In 1909, he visits Rome with his uncle and brother, a bishop and priest respectively, during which they have a private audience with Pope Pius X with the Pope allowing Browne to take his photograph. He studies theology at the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy in Dublin from 1911 to 1916.

In April 1912 Browne receives a present from his uncle: a ticket for the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic from Southampton, England, to Queenstown, Ireland, via Cherbourg, France. He travels to Southampton via Liverpool and London, boarding the RMS Titanic on the afternoon of April 10, 1912. He is booked in cabin A-37 on the Promenade Deck. He takes dozens of photographs of life aboard RMS Titanic on that day and the next morning. He captures the last known images of many crew and passengers, including captain Edward J. Smith, gymnasium manager T. W. McCawley, engineer William Parr, Major Archibald Butt, writer Jacques Futrelle and numerous third-class passengers whose names are unknown.

During his voyage on the RMS Titanic, Browne is befriended by an American millionaire couple who are seated at his table in the liner’s first-class dining saloon. They offer to pay his way to New York and back in return for him spending the voyage to New York in their company. He telegraphs his superior, requesting permission, but the reply is an unambiguous “GET OFF THAT SHIP – PROVINCIAL.”

Browne leaves the RMS Titanic when she docks in Queenstown and returns to Dublin to continue his theological studies. When the news of the ship’s sinking reaches him, he realises that his photos would be of great interest, and he negotiates their sale to various newspapers and news cartels. They appear in publications around the world. The Eastman Kodak Company subsequently gives him free film for life and he often contributes to The Kodak Magazine. It is unknown what type of camera he used to shoot the famous photos aboard RMS Titanic.

After his ordination on July 31, 1915, Browne completes his theological studies. In 1916, he is sent to Europe to join the Irish Guards as a chaplain. He serves with the Guards until the spring of 1920, including service at the Battle of the Somme and at Locre, Wytschaete, Messines Ridge, Paschendaele, Ypres, Amiens and Arras in Flanders.

Browne is wounded five times during the war, once severely in a gas attack. He is awarded the Military Cross (MC) on June 4, 1917 “for distinguished service in the field”. He is awarded a bar to his MC on February 18, 1918. He is also awarded the Croix de Guerre by France.

Browne takes many photographs during his time in Europe. One, which he calls “Watch on the Rhine,” is considered a classic image of World War I. He assembles a collection of his war photographs in an album named after his most famous photograph and distributes copies to his colleagues in the Guards.

After the war, Browne returns to Dublin, where, in 1922, he is appointed superior of Gardiner Street Church in Dublin. Ill health dogs him, however, and in 1924 it is thought that he would recover more quickly in warmer climes. He is sent on an extended visit to Australia. He takes his camera along, photographing life aboard ship and in Cape Town, South Africa, where he breaks his voyage.

On his way back to Ireland, Browne visits Ceylon, Aden, Suez, Saloniki, Naples, Toulon, Gibraltar, Algeciras, and Lisbon, taking photographs of local life and events at every stop. It is estimated that he takes more than 42,000 photographs during his life.

Browne resumes office as the Superior of Saint Francis Xavier Church, Dublin, upon his return. In 1929 he is appointed to the Retreats and Mission staff of the Irish Jesuits. His work entails preaching at missions and religious retreats all over Ireland. As most of this work is necessarily performed on evenings and Sundays, he has considerable time to indulge in his hobby during the daytime. He takes photographs of many parishes and towns in Ireland, and also photographs in London and East Anglia during his ecclesiastical travels to England.

Browne dies in Dublin on July 7, 1960, and is buried in the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. His negatives lay forgotten for 25 years after his death. They are found by chance in 1985 when Father Edward E. O’Donnell discovers them in a large metal trunk, once belonging to Browne, in the Irish Jesuit archives. “When the trunk was opened in 1985, people compared him to the greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, but his work predated theirs by decades,” archivist David Davison later recalls.

O’Donnell brings the negatives to the attention of several publishers. The RMS Titanic photographs are published in 1997 as Father Browne’s Titanic Album with text by E. E. O’Donnell (Fr. Eddie O’Donnell). In all, at least 25 volumes of Browne’s photographs have now been published. The features editor of The Sunday Times of London calls this “the photographic equivalent to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Many of these books have become best-sellers, the latest being the Centenary Edition of Father Browne’s Titanic Album in 2012 by Messenger Publications, Dublin.

The Irish province of the Jesuits, the owner of the negatives pursuant to Browne’s will, engage photographic restoration specialists David and Edwin Davison to preserve and catalogue the fragile and unstable negatives. The Davisons make copies of every negative and are in the process of transferring every usable image to a digital format for future generations. The Davisons later acquire the rights to the photographs and still own the rights as Davison & Associates.


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Death of Victoria Cross Recipient Charles Davis Lucas

Charles Davis Lucas, Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross, dies in Great Culverden, Kent, England on August 7, 1914.

Lucas is born in Druminargal House, Poyntzpass, County Armagh, in what is now Northern Ireland, on February 19, 1834. He enlists in the Royal Navy in 1848 at the age of 13, serves aboard HMS Vengeance, and sees action in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852–53 aboard the frigate HMS Fox at Rangoon, Pegu, and Dalla. By age 20, he has become a mate.

On June 21, 1854 in the Baltic Sea during the Crimean War, HMS Hecla, along with two other ships, is bombarding Bomarsund, a fort in the Åland Islands off Finland. The fire is returned from the fort and, at the height of the action, a live shell lands on HMS Hecla‘s upper deck with its fuse still hissing. All hands are ordered to fling themselves flat on the deck, but 20-year-old Lucas with great presence of mind runs forward and hurls the shell into the sea where it explodes with a tremendous roar before it hits the water. Thanks to his action no one on board is killed or seriously wounded by the shell and, accordingly, he is immediately promoted to lieutenant by his commanding officer. His act of bravery is the first to be rewarded with the Victoria Cross in 1857.

In 1879 Lucas marries Frances Russell Hall, daughter of Admiral William Hutcheon Hall, who had been captain of HMS Hecla in 1854. The couple has three daughters together. Lucas serves for a time as Justice of the Peace for both Kent and Argyllshire.

Lucas’s later career includes service on HMS Calcutta, HMS Powerful, HMS Cressy, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Liffey and HMS Indus. He is promoted to commander in 1862 and commands the experimental armoured gunboat HMS Vixen in 1867. He is promoted to captain in 1867, before retiring on October 1, 1873. He is later promoted to rear admiral on the retired list in 1885. During his career he receives the India General Service Medal with the bar Pegu 1852, the Baltic Medal 1854–55, and the Royal Humane Society Lifesaving Medal.

Lucas dies in Great Culverden, Kent on August 7, 1914. He is buried at St. Lawrence’s Church, Mereworth, Maidstone, Kent.

Lucas’s campaign medals, including his Victoria Cross, are displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. They are not the original medals, which were left on a train and never recovered. Replacement copies were made, though the reverse of the Victoria Cross copy is uninscribed.