Private Thomas Godfrey McAllister


Thomas Godfrey McAllister was born on 9 September 1895 at Ballymachan, Belfast, the first of nine children of gardener (later egg and butter merchant) James McAllister and his wife Sarah Jane (née Morrison). At the time of the 1911 Census he was living at 80 Belmont Avenue, Belfast, with his parents and his four surviving siblings.

McAllister enlisted in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons Service Squadron at Belfast on 12 April 1915 (No. UD/249). He gave his occupation as 'provision merchant'. His service file records that he was tattooed with a 'female with flags front of right forearm. Female figure back of left forearm.'

Throughout his time in the army McAllister was frequently in trouble. On 11 May 1915 at Enniskillen he was awarded 3 days' confined to barracks and to forfeit 2 days' pay for being absent without leave for 2 days. On 22 July at Belfast he was tried by a District Court Martial for, 'on 3 July, absenting himself without leave when the squadron was on the line of march till apprehended by the civil power at Belfast at 7.50 pm on 9 July, and losing by neglect his clothing being deficient of one greatcoat value £1.2.0'. He was sentenced to 28 days' detention and to pay for the coat.

McAllister's squadron, serving as divisional cavalry for the 36th (Ulster) Division, embarked for France on 6 October 1915. A party of at least thirty men, however, had embarked three days earlier attached to 36th Division Headquarters. McAllister was among them, attached as batman to Captain Henry Metcalfe Appleton, Assistant Provost Marshall.

On 4 November 1915 he was fined 7 days' pay for 'neglect of duty to the prejudice of good order and military discipline in that he on Nov 3rd failed to clean out his billet having been ordered to do so.'

Three days later he shot himself in the leg. Below is a transcript from the court of inquiry held the following day:

McAllister: On the morning of Nov. 7th 1915 I took up Capt Appleton's revolver to clean. I was cleaning it with a chamois cloth, it went off and shot me through the leg. I was standing about 3 paces from the window at the time. I fell backwards on to the floor, but was able to get up again to call for help, and Sergt Wingate arrived. I knew the revolver was loaded when I took it up.

Question by court: What did you do with the cloth?

McAllister: It fell on the floor and I left it there.

Sergeant Wingate, MMP: About 12.40 p.m. Nov. 7th I heard a revolver shot, and a knocking on the floor of the APM's bed room. I immediately ran up stairs, where I saw Pte McAllister standing against the bedroom window. I asked him what was the matter. He replied "I've shot myself in the leg with a revolver." I asked him how it happened. He said, "I was cleaning it." I then asked him where the revolver was, he replied "There," pointing to the Provost Marshal's bed. I told him to keep his putties tied tight round his leg, while I went for medical assistance. I picked up the revolver and locked it up in the APM's office.

Question by court: Was there any chamois cloth lying about the room.

Wingate: I could not see any or any other material for cleaning the revolver.

Captain J. Davis RAMC: I was called to see Pte No 249 T. McAllister on the morning of Nov. 7th. I found him suffering from a gun shot wound of the left leg. The wound of entrance was 2" below the knee on inner side of the leg. The wound of exit would be about 2" above the ankle on the outer side of the leg. Both wounds were about the same size, and some slight bleeding had occurred. I dressed the wounds and had him sent to hospital. He will be incapacitated for at least one month.

Question by court: Do you think the wound could have been self inflicted from a standing position.

Davis: In my opinion almost impossible.

Capt H.M. Appleton A.P.M. states: On morning of Nov. 7th, it was reported to me that my servant No.249 Pte McAllister I.M. had shot himself. I found him in a chair in my bedroom with a wound in the calf of his left leg. He said he had done it when cleaning my revolver. I saw no cleaning material lying about and found my own cleaning material in my suit case. I had on several occasions forbidden him to touch my revolver, as it was always loaded.

Opinion of the court: That the wound was self inflicted. There was no evidence to show that the wound was unavoidable. That it was caused by negligence.

McAllister was sentenced to 42 days' Field Punishment No.1, but this was later quashed by 3rd Army Headquarters. He was treated for his wound at the 2nd General Hospital until discharged to his squadron on 25 December.

Further disciplinary breaches followed: On 1 January 1916 he was fined 14 days' pay for reporting sick without a cause; on 13 March, deprived of 3 days' pay for being absent off parade at 9.00 am; on 19 March, awarded 14 days' Field Punishment No.1 for not complying with an order; and on 1 September, 21 days' Field Punishment No.2 for not complying with an order and insolence to an NCO.

In June 1916 the Inniskilling squadron had joined with C and F Squadrons of the North Irish Horse to form the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to X Corps. In August-September 1917 the Regiment was disbanded and its men, following training at the 36th (Ulster) Division Infantry Base Depot at Harfleur, were transferred to the Royal Irish Fusiliers, an infantry regiment. Most, including McAllister, were transferred on 20 September and posted to the 9th (Service) Battalion – renamed the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion – joining it in the field at Ruyaulcourt. McAllister was issued regimental number 41128 and posted to A Company.

He would have seen action with the battalion at the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917.

On 8 December he was hospitalised suffering from 'ICT' (inflammation of the connective tissue) of the knee. Evacuated to England five days later, he was treated in a hospital in Aberdeen for 'POU' (pyrexia of unknown origin) until discharged on 22 January 1918. Posted to the Irish Command Depot at Tipperary, he spent from 9 February to 29 April in hospital suffering from 'general debility'.

McAllister was then posted to the 10th (Reserve) Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers at Armagh. On 1 May 1918, however, he deserted. There is no record that he was apprehended, and his service medals were withheld.

It appears that following the war McAllister returned to his home in Belfast. An article in the Portadown Times of 20 February 1925 refers to a Thomas McAllister of 80 Belmont Avenue being fined £50 for selling margarine labelled as butter.


This page last updated 14 July 2023.