Major Robert Magill


Robert Magill was born on 3 September 1876 at Castlewellan, Downpatrick, County Down, son of surgeon Robert Magill and his wife Julia Sarah (nee Trowsdale).

Magill followed his father into medicine, gaining his qualifications as a surgeon at Trinity College, Dublin University, in 1905.

In 1911 he was living with his parents in Main Street, Newcastle, County Down, together with his uncle, Joseph May Magill, who had been the veterinary officer of the North Irish Horse since its formation in 1908.

Robert Magill was heavily involved in the activities of the Ulster Volunteer Force, commanding the 1st South Down Battalion.

At the beginning of 1909 Lord Shaftesbury, lieutenant-colonel of the North Irish Horse, proposed that the position of Medical Officer be added to the establishment of the regiment, with Magill to fill the position. The response from officials tells something of the state of politics in Ireland at the time. One wrote:

As we have given a Med. Officer in the S. Ir. Horse I am strongly of opinion that we shd do so in the case of the North Ir Horse – especially as Mr Magill is an influential gentleman in the North of Ireland. Lord Shaftesbury spoke to me about the case and from what he said I think it wd be politic to allow this.

Although the proposal was not supported, because the role of the regiment in war would be to provide cavalry squadrons to divisions which would provide all the medical support needed, a compromise was found, in which Magill could be commissioned as an officer in the Special Reserve of the Royal Army Medical Corps, and attend the annual training of the North Irish Horse.

Following a month's training at Aldershot in September 1909, Magill was commissioned as a lieutenant in the RAMC. He was promoted to captain on 7 December 1912.

On the outbreak of war in August 1914 Magill joined the North Irish Horse and sailed with the regiment for France (though whether he was with A or C Squadrons is unknown). He saw action in the Retreat from Mons and Advance to the Aisne.

On 13 December 1914 he became ill with influenza and was evacuated to the UK. It was not until the beginning of February 1915 that he was again fit for duty. On 6 February he was posted to the Ulster Division. He commanded the 109th Brigade's Field Ambulance from its arrival in France in October 1915 until mid-October 1918, holding the rank of major from 5 November 1915 and acting lieutenant-colonel from 22 August 1916.

Magill was twice mentioned in Field Marshal Haig's despatches, on 13 November 1916 and 9 April 1917. In June 1917 he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order and the following month a Legion d'Honneur, Croix de Chevalier by the French government.

In October 1918 Magill left for home on leave, relinquishing his acting lieutenant-colonel's rank.

After the war he worked as registrar at the Connaught Hospital, Aldershot. In 1921 he asked to be demobilised due to the serious illness of his father-in-law. He was demobilised on 8 May 1921 though on 7 June his promotion to major was confirmed.

Magill retired on 3 September 1926, having reached the age of 50, the army's compulsory retirement age for officers.

He died at home on 4 February 1956.


Belfast News-Letter, 6 February 1956