Private Robert John Mehaffey



Robert John Mehaffey was born on 31 October 1882 at Ballyneaner, Strabane, County Tyrone, one of at least five children of farmer John Mehaffey and his wife Nancy (nee Ramsay). On 17 December 1908 he married Martha Jane Fullerton at the Second Presbyterian Church, Omagh, the couple having three children over the next four years. By the time of the 1911 Census they were living with Robert's father at Ballyneaner, Robert working on the family farm.

Mehaffey (or McHaffey) enlisted in the North Irish Horse between 26 October and 10 November 1911 (No.627). He embarked for France with C Squadron on 20 August 1914, seeing action on the retreat from Mons and advance to the Aisne.

It appears that he returned to the UK during 1915. On 28 September that year he transferred to the 6th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (No.5997).

The 6th Battalion had embarked for Gallipoli in 7 July 1915, landing at Anzac Cove on 5 August. The following month they left for Egypt for service in Palestine. It is likely that this is where Mehaffey joined them. The battalion was disbanded at Deir-el-Nidham in 15 May 1918.

Mehaffey was then transferred to the 1st Garrison Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment (No.21545). He remained with that regiment in Egypt for the remainder of the war.

On 24 July 1919 he was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve.

I am very grateful to Lesley Brown for providing the image of her grandfather Robert Mehaffey and the following account of his subsequent life and that of his family:

Robert Mehaffey applied to purchase twelve acres of land (with rights of turbary) from the Ogilby Estates as the tenant farmer of the land. However, the sale was never completed and Robert moved to Glasgow to seek work, the approximate date being 1920. Martha, accompanied by their daughters Mabel, Margaret (Peggy) and Nancy, followed later.

My mother described vivid memories of arriving in Glasgow to life that the family could never have envisaged. Martha was a talented seamstress and the three girls were dressed in identical dresses of her making. The sisters felt completely lost. Accommodation was a tenement in the north of the city, far from the fields and space of County Tyrone. Robert endured the indignity of queuing for work. He was a tall man (approximately six feet four inches in height and a military bearing that he retained). Family legend has it that he was the tallest man in the regiment and his pride in his service made his predicament especially painful and humiliating. After a succession of temporary jobs, Robert eventually secured work as a labourer at British Rail’s Buchanan Street Station, Glasgow. Two further children were born, Lavinia in 1920 and Robert in 1922.

Life continued for the Mehaffeys in Glasgow during the hard years of the Depression when work was valued, but so hard. Martha’s skill at sewing supplemented the family’s income. However, tragedy struck the family in 1936 when the ebullient and lovely Nancy contracted tuberculosis. Like so many others, the disease proved fatal and she died in March 1936, aged twenty-one years. Three months later, Robert left school at the age of fourteen to contribute to the family’s income. He gained employment as a delivery boy. On his third day of full time work, he was killed in a road traffic accident at Stamperland on the southern outskirts of Glasgow. My mother said that the circumstances of his death were never fully explained. I can only imagine the devastation that these deaths had on the family, but they had to carry on as there was no support from the state.

Robert (of whom I have such warm memories) died in 1964 at the age of eighty one,  followed by Martha in 1974 at the age of ninety years. They, Nancy and Robert are interred at Lambhill Cemetery, Balmore Road, Glasgow.