Private Leonard Downes



Leonard Downes was born on 4 March 1897 at Tullyvallen, Newtownhamilton, County Armagh, the last of nine children of English-born army pensioner (later farmer) James Charles Downes and his wife Mary (née Preston). At the time of the 1911 Census he was living at Tullyvallen with his parents and one of his six surviving siblings and working on the family farm.

Downes enlisted in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons Service Squadron in between 7 June and 2 August 1915 (No.UD/267 later Corps of Dragoons No.21276). On 6 October 1915 he embarked for France with his squadron, which at the time was serving as divisional cavalry to the 36th (Ulster) Division. In June 1916 the Inniskillings became part of the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to X Corps.

Downes was wounded on 5 July 1916. According to the regimental diary:

Orders were received from A.P.M. 36th Division at 9 am for the two troops dismounted to report to Capt O'Neill at Lancashire Dump for salvage duty. They carried out this duty bringing in equipment, rifles etc till 1 pm. The men had dinner and were just turning out again when Lieut Seymour received orders from 36th Division to return to Regtl Head Quarters. The men had just started to saddle up when a heavy bombardment of both high explosive, shrapnel & machine guns was concentrated on the Wood. The intensity of the fire necessitated Lt Seymour giving orders for the men to take shelter in some old dugouts & trenches close by. The bombardment lasted for 3/4 of an hour & then slackened but did not entirely stop. Up to now one horse was killed & four wounded. The men were then ordered to saddle up & lead their horses thro' Wood out on to the road and were waiting for the others to join up when the bombardment opened much heavier than previously especially on that part of the road where the men were waiting. Lt Seymour moved off up the road leaving 2/Lt Matthews & Sergt McIlvoy to round up the stragglers in the wood, as by this time horses were very restive and almost unmanagable. Lt Seymour with his party had reached about 1 mile along the road & turned down a lane leaving the horses in charge of Sergt Quinn. Almost immediately a heavy fire was brought to bear on the horses and Sergt Quinn was wounded. The horses stampeded in every direction, some back to Aveluy Wood. Eventually Lt Seymour was able to round up most of this party & got to Senlis. Lieut Matthews & Sergt McIlroy remained behind. Our losses numbered 16 horses killed or wounded and 2 missing. 2/Lt Matthews was wounded severely in the knee from high explosive and Pte Downes, Nicholl, Gourley wounded (hosp) and Ptes Buchanan, 195 Campbell, Totton, 105 Craig, Cpl Dickson, 209 Robinson slightly wounded (duty).

Downes was evacuated to the UK and admitted into a hospital in Manchester. Following his recovery he would have been posted to the Inniskillings reserve squadron at Enniskillen. It is probable that he remained there until the end of the war.

On 11 July 1919 he was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve.

On 26 October 1920 he married Mary Jane Diffin (or Duffin) in Nantwich, Cheshire.



At least one of Downes's brothers, Harry Vivian, also served in the war, as a sapper in the Royal Engineers. Their father had had a long military career, serving 21 years in the 75th (Stirlingshire) Regiment of Foot and the Gordon Highlanders.


Sapper Harry Downes, 1915


Leonard Downes with his father James


Second image of Private Downes from the Larne Times of 12 August 1916 kindly provided by Nigel Henderson, Researcher at History Hub Ulster. The other images sourced from Public Member Trees – contributor 'selerang63'.


This page last updated 5 July 2023.