Sergeant Walter James McCartney


Walter James McCartney was born on 16 February 1886 at 46 My Lady's Road, Belfast, the last of at least eight children of plumber (previously porter, ironmonger, iron fitter and shopkeeper) George Alexander McCartney and his wife Margaret (nee Williamson). By 1901 he was living with his grandfather George, a stonemason, and his cousin Isabella at Tullynacross, County Down.

In July 1901 McCartney sat the civil service exam for appointment to the Belfast GPO as a boy clerk. He was successful, assisted by some coaching from Hughes's Civil Service Academy of Belfast. Hughes's later published a testimonial from McCartney:

Dear Mr. Hughes ā€“ My getting through this Exam is entirely due to the thorough grinding I received at your Academy. I shall always consider it my duty to recommend intending Candidates to your Classes.

McCartney trained at the Belfast GPO as a telegraphist. On 25 April 1913 he married Florence Isabel Burling of Newtownards, daughter of Royal Irish Rifles sergeant George Burling. Their first child George was born in November that year, and James three years later.

McCartney enlisted in the North Irish Horse between 10 December 1910 and 25 January 1911 (No.564 ā€“ later Corps of Hussars No.71038), quickly rising to the rank of sergeant. In June 1914 he was mentioned in a Larne Times and Weekly Telegraph report about the regiment's annual training:

Over four hundred officers and men of the North Irish Horse, including contingents from Belfast, Londonderry, Enniskillen, and Dundalk proceeded yesterday to Newcastle, Co. Down, where they will be engaged in training up till 8th July. For the past week an advance party, under the command of Lieut. Pittaway and Regimental Sergeant-Major Aston, and including S.Q.M.S. Knox and Sergt. McCartney of "A" Squadron, and S.Q.M.S. Chambers of "B" Squadron, had been engaged in the necessary preparations for the main body, for whom everything was in readiness by Sunday. The Belfast contingent entrained in a "special" leaving the Belfast G.N.R. terminus at 12-10, being joined en route by the other detachments. The camp which for the next three weeks will constitute their headquarters is in the delightfully situated and picturesque demesne of the Earl of Annesley.

McCartney was mobilised on the outbreak of war and reported for duty at the regiment's Belfast headquarters. According to North Irish Horseman Charles Trimble:

Mac, with some hundred or more of the regiment, was quartered in the furniture store in Great Georgeā€™s Street in Belfast at the time a part of the Expeditionary Force was embarking there, when a message was received asking if the NIH had anyone who understood wireless ā€“ then quite in its infancy. The Horse rose to the occasion: they had McCartney, who had learned something about wireless with the Ulster Volunteer Force. It did not matter where he learned it. What did matter was that here was a man who could replace a sick operator on a transport due to leave that night for France. And so off Mac went, to return a week or two later full of stories of the landing of the BEF.

McCartney thus become the first man of the regiment to land in France. Ironically though, his short stay there meant he did not qualify for the 1914 Star.

McCartney embarked for France a second time on 2 June 1915 with a small reinforcement draft. It is likely that he was posted to A Squadron. He remained with the regiment throughout the war. On 27 August 1919 he was transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve.

After the war McCartney returned to work at the post office in Belfast. In November 1924 he was appointed to the post of Male Assistant Traffic Superintendent (Telephones). McCartney's wife died on 12 October 1934. Eight years later he married Helga Luzie Blackstock (formerly Deckers) at the Belfast Registrar's Office. He died on 19 July 1950 at the City Hospital, Belfast, and was buried in the Dundonald Cemetery.