Lance Corporal William Harper McWilliams


William Harper McWilliams was born on 3 November 1891 at Drumreany, Dungannon, County Tyrone, the sixth of eight children of factory labourer (later factory engineman) Adam McWilliams and his wife Sarah (née Harper). At the time of the 1911 Census he was living at Drumreany with his parents and three of his five surviving siblings, and working as a linen lapper. Soon after this he moved to Belfast.

McWilliams enlisted in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons Service Squadron between 31 August and 15 September 1915 (No. UD/293). On 25 October he married Minnie Devenney in St Anne's Church of Ireland Parish Church, Belfast.

McWilliams' squadron had embarked for France as divisional cavalry to the 36th (Ulster) Division on 6 October. After training at the Enniskillen reserve camp, he was sent to join the squadron as a reinforcement in early 1917.

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 McWilliams, 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. McWilliams was issued regimental number 41132.

He probably saw action with the battalion at the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917, and perhaps also during the retreat from St Quentin from 21 to 28 March 1918 and at Kemmel on the Ypres front that April.

On 30 September 1918 the 9th (NIH) Battalion was ordered to advance on the Belgian village of Vijfwegen. The fighting centred on a small rise, Hill 41, which had been well fortified by the Germans and afforded a wide field of fire on troops attempting to move past it. During this and the following day they sustained numerous casualties – eight officers and 139 other ranks, including 29 killed in action and seven who would die of their wounds. McWilliams was among the many wounded.

After the war McWilliams lived for many years at 102 Clementine Street, Belfast, and worked as a linen lapper. He died at 11 Dublin Street on 20 May 1967 and was buried in the Roselawn Cemetery.


This page last updated 16 June 2023.