Private Thomas McIlwrath


Thomas McIlwrath (or McIlrath) was born on 7 January 1894 at Teeshan, near Ballymena, County Antrim, the seventh of eight children of farmer Patrick McIlwrath and his wife Rose (née Russell). By the time of the 1911 Census he was living at 9 Mount Street, Ballymena, with his recently widowed mother and four of his siblings, and working as a clerk in the coach factory of Mathew Montgomery.

McIlwrath enlisted in the North Irish Horse on 18 or 19 November 1915 (No.1917). He trained at the regiment's Antrim reserve camp before embarking for France in 1916 or the first half of 1917, where he was posted to one of the squadrons of the 1st or 2nd North Irish Horse Regiments.

In August-September 1917 the 2nd NIH Regiment was disbanded and its men, together with some surplus to the needs of the 1st NIH Regiment, were transferred to the Royal Irish Fusiliers, an infantry regiment. Most, including McIlwrath, 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 five days later. McIlwrath was issued regimental number 41422 and posted to B Company.

He probably saw action with the battalion at the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917.

McIlwrath was one of the many posted as missing following the 9th (NIH) Battalion's fighting withdrawal from St Quentin from 21 to 28 March 1918 during the German spring offensive. It was later learned that he had been captured, unwounded, on 27 March at Erches, near Roye, when much of the battalion had been overwhelmed by the fast-moving German advance. He remained a prisoner until the end of the war, held at camps in Fresnoy-le-Grand in France, then Dülmen and Diedenhofen in Germany.

Following his repatriation in December 1918, McIlwrath returned to Ballymena. He died there on 4 October 1937.