Lance Corporal William O'Prey



William O'Prey was born on 24 February 1894 in Castle Street, Comber, County Down, the last of three children of labourer John O'Prey and his wife Mary (née Patterson). By the time of the 1911 Census he was living at 51 Railway Street, Comber, with his parents and brothers, and working as a flax dresser for the firm John Andrews & Co. His father died later that year and his mother the following year.

O'Prey enlisted in the North Irish Horse on 10 or 11 November 1915 (No.1840). (His cousin John O'Prey joined the regiment a week later.) 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 O'Prey, 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. O'Prey was issued regimental number 41347.

He probably saw action with the battalion at the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917, and perhaps also during the retreat from St Quentin and the fighting on the Ypres front in March and April 1918.

O'Prey was wounded later that year, possibly in the raid on Shoddy Farm near Meulehouck on the Ypres front on 22 July. Nothing further has been discovered about his service during the remainder of the year.

After the war O'Prey returned to Comber and resumed work as a flax dresser. On 28 March 1921 he married Susan Gibson in the Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church, Newtownards. The couple had four children over the next ten years.

O'Prey died at Braeside, Comber, on 27 August 1949 and was buried in the Comber New Cemetery. The following obituary appeared in a local paper:

The death of Mr. William O'Prey, Braeside, Comber, which occurred last Saturday at his residence, has caused deep sorrow among his many friends in the area. Mr. O'Prey was 54 years of age, and his death occurred only seven weeks after his leaving the Ards Hospital, where he had a lengthy illness.

Born and bred in Comber, he was of a reserved disposition, yet popular for the enthusiasm which he lent to all things that interested him.

For many years he was employed in the bundling department of Messrs. John Andrews & Co., Ltd., flax spinners, where he was working until the time of his death. The department closed on the day of the funeral (last Monday) to allow the late Mr. O'Prey's colleagues to pay their last respects.

It can be truthfully stated that he was one of the pioneers and one of the greatest supporters of band music in Comber. He was a foundation member of the Second Comber Old Boys' Flute Band, which later changed its name to Comber Amateur Flute Band, and, less than a year ago, took the title (when new instruments were obtained) of the Comber Amateur Silver Band. At the time of his death Mr. O'Prey was chairman of this band.

He was a member of the Comber Branch of the British Legion, having served and being wounded with the North Irish Horse during the first World War in France and in Belgium. During the last war, too, he played his part, and was leading fireman and a very popular member of the National Fire Service in Comber.

He was a constant church attender, and a prominent member of the congregation of Second Comber Presbyterian Church. For some years, though not recently, he was connected with the Orange Order, being in Gold Springs of Comber L.O.L. No. 1037, and, later, Ulster Defenders L.O.L. No. 100.

Mr. O'Prey is survived by his wife, Mrs. Susan O'Prey, and three children – Miss Greta O'Prey, and Messrs. Wm. and Ronnie O'Prey. To them we extend our heartfelt sympathy in their irreparable loss.

There was a very large attendance at the funeral, which took place to Comber New Cemetery, and the Silver Band assembled to play the hymn, "Nearer my God to Thee," outside the house. They also rendered appropriate music on the way to the burial ground, and at the graveside rendered "Peace, Perfect Peace."

Mr. J. L. O. Andrews, representing the firm, was among those present, and the chief mourners were the late Mr. O'Prey's brothers, Messrs. John and Thomas O'Prey. Rev. James E. Jones, B.A., officiated.

Beautiful floral tributes were received from his wife; the family; Comber Civil Defence Club; the Comber Branch of the British Legion; Comber Amateur Silver Band; David Dickson, and Mr. O'Prey's brother, Tom and his wife.

Funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs. W. L. Doggart & Son, Newtownards.


William O'Prey on the left. The other man is probably his cousin 'Jack' O'Prey.


Comber Second Presbyterian Church Roll of Honour


Andrews Mill Roll of Honour


I am grateful to Dawn Corken for providing the images of her grandfather William O'Prey. Andrews Mill Roll of Honour image sourced from Imperial War Museum © WMR-82364.