Thursday, 6 November 2014

We Will Remember Them: Arthur O'Neill 6 Nov 1914

In addition to remembering my family members who died in the Great War, as this is a political blog I shall also be looking at the men who while still Members of Parliament signed up for the war and paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Arthur Edward Bruce O'Neill was part of the Irish nobility part of the Chichester family who were the Marquess of Donegall. He grandfather was the younger brother of Arthur, 2nd Earl of Donegall when he  inherited the O'Neill estates through his wife's connections and changed his family name.

Arthur O'Neill in his Lifeguard's Uniform
Arthur O'Neill was the second, but eldest surviving son of the 2nd Baron O'Neill born on 19 September 1879. He had been elected as the Ulster Unionist Party member for Mid Antrim in 1910, succeeding his uncle Robert Torrens O'Neill to the seat. He was a Captain in the Life Guards when he was elected and his first recorded contribution in Hansard on 27 June 1910 is about serving officers serving in Parliament as if seconded. His only other recorded contribution is the following year in the Labourers Ireland Bill.

His first contribution was about the change in regulations about Officers serving in the House for a period of five years or fewer as if on secondment. It seems cruel that before such a five year period was up he was back on active service and killed in the line at Klein Zillebeke ridge during what was to become the first Battle of Ypres. He was also the first serving Member of the House of Commons to die in action.

It was a rough day for 2nd Life Guard the day that O'Neill fell, in letters to the family of 2nd Lt. W.S. Paterson who served with O'Neill we glean the following details as to what happened that day:

"Yesterday afternoon, November 5, we were ordered to support and recapture a village out of which the French had been driven. The whole regiment dismounted and advanced under heavy rifle fire on the village, which was charged at the point of the bayonet by us. Your son - Lt. Peterson - was shot through the heart during this charge. I am most profoundly grieved; he was such a splendid fellow and such a great friend. 

"We cleared the village at the point of the bayonet killing about 30 Germans and capturing about 20. I was the only officer left after this attack as our commanding officer, Major Dawney, a most gallant man was killed sitting next to me in the trench by a shrapnel shell. We also lost Captain O'Neill, killed, and Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hobson wounded, during this attack."

"Our brigade, the regiment itself, were known to stay in the trenches longer than anyone else. Your brother died with two other officers of the regiment, Major Dawney, commanding and Captain Arthur O'Neill, in driving the Germans back; they accomplished this work and in so doing actually saved most likely a great defeat of our arms; the fact is recognised by the General. I heard - I do not vouch for the truth of it - your brother (Peterson) killed 16 Germans before he was killed."

"As the senior officer left with the regiment, and as I was also the squadron leader,  I write to let you know that he (Peterson) died leading his troops most gallantly as we advanced under enemy fire.
  O'Neill's Westminster seat was taken in the subsequent by-election by his brother Hugo, who as the seat became first Antrim and then North Antrim continued to serve retiring as father of the House in 1952. Hugo was also to he be the first speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament elected for Antrim in 1921.

It was not to be the last connection with the Northern Ireland Parliament for the family, Arthur's third son Terence was the be the fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1966-69. He has served in the Army during the second World War before taking the seat of Bannside in the 1946 elections to the Northern Ireland Parliament a seat he would hold until 1970 when he was replaced by Ian Paisley.

Update: Here is the front of today's Order Papers for the House of Commons which as an act of remembrance remembered the first of their number to be killed in WWI.

Read also: The History of Parliament Blog also had the same idea as me, so I expect that I will be linking to them a few more times over the next four years.

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