Sergeant Arthur Cree Mitchell


Arthur Cree Mitchell was born on 17 April 1873 at 110 Donegall Pass, Belfast, the first of eight children of salesman (later house furnisher, then water board official) Andrew Mitchell and his wife Mary Jane (nee Cree).

By 1899 he was working as an accountant in the Belfast Waterworks Office. On 28 December that year, however, he enlisted in the 46th (Belfast) Company, Imperial Yeomanry (No.9468), embarking for South Africa two months later. Mitchell was one of several hundred made prisoner of war at Lindley on 31 May 1900. A letter he wrote home while in captivity, dated 13 July, was reported on in the Northern Whig:

He refers with the deepest regret to the death of George McLaughlin and of the other troopers who fell at Lindley, and pays a generous tribute to the memory of the dead. The tone of the letter is, all the same, cheerful, and, having inquired how the "Twelfth" passed in Belfast, Trooper Mitchell relates that on that day Trooper Alfie Johnston was successful in securing a bottle of gin, and drank with a number of other Orange bretheren to the "glorious, pious, and immortal memory of William, Prince of Orange." "The day," the writer proceeds, "passed quietly, all sober, and no disturbance." The afternoons, Trooper Mitchell further relates, were devoted to sports, and, there being plenty of company, the time did not weigh too heavily on their hands.

Released soon after, Mitchell returned to the UK on 7 June 1901 and was discharged at Belfast a week later, returning to work at the Waterworks Office. His character was recorded as 'good' and his special qualifications – a 'good horseman and groom'.

Mitchell joined the North of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry on or soon after its formation in 1903, serving in A Squadron. He was promoted to corporal in mid-1906.

On 1 June 1906 Mitchell married Lavinia Percy at Malone Presbyterian Church, Shankill. The event was celebrated at an A Squadron dinner at Belfast's Ye Olde Castle Restaurant later that year.

Advantage was taken of the opportunity afforded ... to present Corporal A. Mitchell with a massive standard lamp on silver pedestal, appropriately inscribed – a gift from his comrades to mark the occasion of his marriage. Sergeant Greer, in asking Corporal Mitchell's acceptance of the present, said there was no more popular man in the squadron, and they had thought it only right to celebrate his marriage in that way. Quite a number of their members had got married since the Yeomanry were formed; he himself was a victim and Sergeant-Major Bleakley was amongst the number. (Laughter.) He supposed there must be something in the uniform. (Laughter.) He extended to Corporal and Mrs. Mitchell the best wishes of the squadron for their happiness and prosperity. (Applause.)

Corporal Mitchell said that the gift, which he highly valued, was quite unexpected, and he could not find words to express his feelings towards the members of the squadron for their kindness, consideration, and thoughtfulness. He especially desired to thank Sergeants Greer and Gregg for the part they had taken in organising the presentation, which he would always prize, and which would keep him ever in memory of the happy days he had spent in connection with the Yeomanry. (Applause.)

Sergeant-Major Bleakley – Do you mind the day you fell off?

Corporal Mitchell – Aye, but there are older soldiers than me have fallen off. (Laughter.)

Sergeant-Major Bleakley – I'm sorry I spoke. (Loud laughter.) Continuing, the sergeant-major said that Corporal Mitchell had had the proud distinction of representing the North of Ireland in South Africa, where he did his work well. He wished him a happy life in double harness. (Applause.)

Sergeant-Major Pittaway and others present joined in the congratulations to Corporal Mitchell.

In June 1907, at the squadron's annual musketry competition, Mitchell was rated as a 'first class shot' It is likely that he left the regiment in 1908 when it was disbanded and re-formed as the North Irish Horse.

By the time of the 1911 Census Mitchell was living at 255 Lisburn Road, Belfast, with his wife Lavinia and their daughter Dorothy. Lavinia died two years later, aged just 33.

Mitchell enlisted in the North Irish Horse on 13 October 1914 (No.1305 – later Corps of Hussars No.71328). He was immediately promoted to the rank of sergeant, but at his own request reverted to corporal, then private, over the next few months.

The Belfast News-Letter of 25 January 1915 reported that:

Members of the staff of the Belfast Water Office met on Friday evening at a social reunion in the Crown Restaurant in honour of two of their number who have recently exchanged mufti for the all prevalent khaki – Mr. A. Mitchell, of the secretary's office, and Mr. V. Downey, of the rates department, now sergeant and trooper respectively in the North Irish Horse. There was a splendid muster of their former colleagues, every department being represented. Mr. E. Henry presided. At an interval compliment was paid in tangible form to the guests of the evening, who on being made the recipients by the chairman of wristlet watches, were assured by him of the esteem and admiration and best wishes of those with whom they had been associated in the office for so long. Sergeant Mitchell, who has seen previous active service with the North of Ireland Yeomanry in South Africa, and Trooper Downey expressed their grateful acknowledgements in suitable terms.

On 10 February 1915 Mitchell embarked for France, where he was posted to A or C Squadron. He remained in France and Belgium until 5 August 1916, when he returned to the North Irish Horse reserve depot at Antrim, probably on account of sickness or his age – by then he was 43.

On 31 January 1918 Mitchell was transferred to the Army Service Corps (No. M/40580 – later M/354689). He was posted to the Motor Transport section at Grove Park before embarking for France on 5 July 1918, where he was posted to the 14th Division GHQ Reserve Moror Transport Company. He remained in that role until demobilised and transferred to Class Z Army Reserve on 6 June 1919.

On 6 December 1919 Mitchell married Florence Mary Smith at St Jude's Church of Ireland Parish Church, Belfast. He resumed work with the Water Office, as a water rate collecter.

In 1937 Mitchell was involved in a boating tragedy at Portrush, and at the inquest was critical of the role played by bystanders (see article below).

On the 50th Anniversary of the outbreak of the Boer War the Belfast News-Letter carried an interview with Mitchell:

I had a talk yesterday ... with Mr. Arthur Mitchell, of Linden Gardens, Belfast, a retired official of the Belfast Water Commissioners and formerly Trooper Mitchell, of the 46th Troop of the Ulster Imperial Yeomanry, [and ] I found that, while the years have dimmed his recollection of dates, his memory otherwise remains vivid.

He could recall clearly the days of training at Victoria Barracks, which culminated in a march through the streets lined with cheering, flag-waving crowds, and a Mayoral garden party in the Botanic Gardens, before the unit marched to the railway and journeyed to the Curragh for further training.

The voyage to Cape Town occupied 21 days in the transport Cornwall, which, redolent of past cargoes of meat, offered little on the way of comfort or food to the 18-year-old soldier.

But the confidence so buoyant at the Curragh and at Maitland Camp, outside Cape Town, was bound for rude shattering. At Lindley the Belfast boys, sent to join General Colville, found themselves cut off and, helpless under the shells of the Boers' ox-drawn artillery, were forced to surrender.

The years have still not blunted the memory of the trials of the month's trek which followed capture – nor the nostalgia with which the prisoners passed the towns of Belfast and Balmoral on their route from Pretoria to Delagoa Bay.

As though it were yesterday Trooper Mitchell can recall the conditions of the prison camp at Nooitgedacht. The young soldiers found themselves within barbed wire, without huts or canvas.

"The Boers did not treat us badly, but we had to sleep in the open, which meant that on wet nights there was nothing for it but to walk about in soaking clothes until the sun came up to dry us," said Trooper Mitchell.

Release did come eventually, and after it a happy meeting. First man to welcome the Ulstermen in Pretoria was Lord Craigavon (then Captain James Craig), who already, in Africa, was showing the gift of leadership which later was to help to lay the foundations of Ulster's independence. The Ulstermen later saw service under the command of General Sir Charles Knox, K.C.B., son of Bishop Knox, of Belfast. They served in flying columns and on half rations in pursuit of the elusive De Wet.

Mitchell died on 30 March 1955 at Purdysburn Hospital. He was buried in the Belfast City Cemetery.