Private Isaac Wingfield Espey


Isaac Wingfield Espey was born on 18 June 1881 at Lowertown, Dungannon, County Tyrone, the second of three children of farmer James Espey and his wife Isabella (nee Haydock, or Haddock). His mother died before his tenth birthday and four years later his father remarried. By 1911 he was living at Lowertown with his father and stepmother and working on the family farm.

Espey enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Dungannon on 16 September 1910 (No.540). He was also active in his local unit of the Ulster Volunteer Force. On 13 April 1914 the Belfast News-Letter reported that:

On the evening of Good Friday there was a suspension of the usual drills in connection with the Dungannon Battalion, Ulster Volunteer Force. The D and F companies, to the number of 150, paraded at Killyman, and marched to the parish church, where the usual evening service was held. ... The officers on parade were – Messrs. Wingfield Espey, Francis E. Greer, and George Burns, half-company commanders D company, and Mr. Thomas Rogers, officer commanding F company.

On the outbreak of war Espey reported for duty at the North Irish Horse depot at Belfast. The Belfast Evening Telegraph of 7 August 1914 reported:

The departure of the local members of the North Irish Horse who have been called to the colours was the occasion of a hearty demonstration at Dungannon Railway Station on Thursday afternoon. The men were in uniform, and were escorted to the train by an armed guard of the Ulster Volunteer Force, comprising the Bush Company of the Dungannon Battalion, under the command of Mr. R. H. Scott, company officer, two of the troopers being officers of the company – viz., Mr. Wingfield Espey, half-company commander, and Mr. Isaac Carter, section leader. Mr. Harry Newell, section leader of "A" Company, Dungannon, also went off.

Espey embarked for France with C Squadron on 20 August 1914, seeing action on the retreat from Mons and advance to the Aisne. Some of his experiences were later described in the Belfast News-Letter:

... on arriving at Mons the first intimation he received of the proximity of the Germans was seeing a number of aeroplanes, which were evidently hostile, as the British troops commenced to fire at them.  The North Irish Horse did not then come into contact with the enemy, although the sound of the heavy guns and, later, of rifle fire apprised them that hot work was in progress.  In the evening they received orders to retire, and throughout the retreat towards Paris they occupied a prominent place in the rearguard.  As they crossed the rivers they could hear the explosions caused by the British engineers blowing up the bridges to impede the progress of the enemy.  One day during the famous retreat he accompanied an officer and some men in charge of a machine-gun which was placed on a little hill.  The Uhlans could be seen advancing in swarms, and Espey’s party signalled by means of the field telephone to the British artillery.  They soon found the range, and for the first time in his life Espey saw both horses and men being literally blown into the air.  The Uhlans rapidly retreated, but the shell fire followed them accurately and inflicted heavy losses.  So interested were Espey and a companion in the scene that they did not observe the departure of their officer and the other men.  They were unable to overtake them, and had given themselves up for lost, as the Germans were rapidly approaching in the rear, when a British staff officer overtook them and on finding that Espey had not got a map of the country, directed him to go through a wood which was in front.  On entering the wood Espey found that it was intersected with cross roads every hundred yards or so, but taking his direction from the sun he and his companion fortunately debouched on a road filled with retiring British troops.  It was, however, two days later before they fell in with the North Irish Horse.  He took part with his squadron later in the forward movement, and they were afterwards given the much coveted honour of forming the bodyguard of the Commander-in-Chief.

On 7 November 1914 the Mid-Ulster Mail reported:

Corporal Wingfield Espey. of the North Irish Horse, in a letter to his uncle, Mr. David Espey, Perry Street, Dungannon, gives an interesting description of the spendid work performed by the British Aerial Fleet, and states that the aeroplanes are capable of hovering over the enemy's positions and signalling back to the artillery the exact range. He also describes the armoured motors and pays a tribute to the tremendous amount of work personally carried out by Sir John French.

Espey's stepmother Millie died on 6 April 1915. Two months later he returned home on "urgent private business". The Northern Whig of 15 June reported that:

On Friday evening a social meeting in honour of Trooper Espey was held in the Bush Orange Hall ... and there was a crowded attendance. Dancing took place till a late hour.

Espey returned to France, but when his period of service expired he chose to leave the army. He left for England on 10 September 1915 and was discharged at Antrim as 'time expired' five days later. His record of service was marked as "very good". Espey's father had died the day after he left France.

On 25 September the Mid-Ulster Mail reported that:

Trooper Wingfield Espey, North Irish Horse, has returned home to Lowertown, Dungannon, from France, his term of service with the colours having fully expired. Trooper Espey's period of service had actually expired four days after he had been called to active duty at the outbreak of hostilities, but owing to the terms of his engagement he was required to serve an additional twelve months. He has returned safe and sound after his varied experiences in France. During his absence both his father and stepmother have died. Trooper Isaac Carter, Gortin, Coalisland, has also received his discharge from the North Irish Horse on completion of his term of service and has returned home.

Espey resumed farming at Lowertown. On 30 April 1920 he married Mary Elizabeth Dawson at St Andrew's Church, Killyman. He died on 18 January 1953 at South Tyrone Hospital, Dungannon. The Ballymena Weekly Telegraph of 23 January reported that:

A well-known farmer, Mr. Wingfield Espey, of Gortmerron House, Dungannon, died on Sunday. He was vice-chairman of Dungannon Rural District Council and took a particular interest in housing schemes. As a tribute to his work, the Council named "Espey Park" the 40 residences erected at Killyman. He was in the North Irish Horse when the 1914-18 war was declared and took part in the Mons retreat. A past-provincial officer of the Masonic Province of Tyrone and Fermanagh, he was P.M. and for the past 12 years treasurer of St. John's Masonic Lodge 185, Dungannon. Mr. Espey was for many years registrar of Killyman District Royal Black Chapter and had granted the use of his grounds for several Orange and Black demonstrations. A member of Bush L.O.L., he had been mainly responsible for the erection of their Orange Hall. He had held several lay offices in Dungannon Parish Church and was a member of the local Joint Committee of Urban and Rural Councils. Mr. Espey is survived by his wife and son.