4th and 2nd Battalions, Royal Irish Rifles
Killed in action on Saturday 25 September 1915 (aged 30)
No known grave
Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium (Panel 40)
Holywood and District War Memorial
Holywood Parish Church of Ireland Church (St Philip & St James)
Glencraig Parish Church of Ireland Church (Holy Trinity)
Portora Royal School Enniskillen
Masonic Lodge No. 381 Holywood
Annals of Sullivan Upper School
North of Ireland Cricket Club Memorial Plaque
Brother of Second Lieutenant Kenneth Ross
Brother of Rifleman Wason Ross (No. 20/85)
Melbourne Ross was born on 30 January 1885 in Clandeboye and he was a son of George Harrison Ross and Henrietta Matilda Ross (nee Russ) who were married in 1881 in London. George Harrison Ross was an aerated water manufacturer.
Brewing and glass-making feature prominently in the history of the Ross family. Melbourne’s grandfather, William Adolphus Ross, founded the W A Ross & Co Royal Belfast Ginger Ale and Aerated Water Manufacturing Works in 1879.
In 1885 William Adolphus Ross bought a property in Craigavad and the Ross family worshipped in Glencraig Parish Church of Ireland Church (Holy Trinity) and in Holywood Parish Church of Ireland Church (St Philip & St James).
George Harrison Ross, who was born in Belfast in 1845, was a son of William Adolphus Ross. At the age of 16 George Harrison Ross went to sea and sailed to many parts of the world over a period of 17 years before joining the family mineral water business.
George Harrison Ross and Henrietta Matilda Ross (nee Russ) lived in Clandeboye, Helen’s Bay and Cultra and they had nine children:
Eileen Kate (born 27 May 1882 in Clandeboye)
Conway Andrew (born 17 October 1883 in Clandeboye)
Melbourne (born 30 January 1885 in Clandeboye)
Harrison (born 5 May 1886 in Helen’s Bay, Ballygrot)
Stanley Solari (born 10 April 1888 in Helen’s Bay)
Kenneth (born 1 September 1890 in Cultra)
Lorna (born 6 November 1892 in Cultra)
Wason (born 4 July 1894 in Cultra)
Joan (born 29 June 1896 in Cultra)
Eight of the children were baptised in Glencraig Parish Church of Ireland Church:
Four of their six sons were on active service in the Great War – Melbourne, Harrison, Kenneth and Wason. Their daughter Lorna served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse in Malta and Salonika and, during the Second World War, she served in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF). The Voluntary Aid Detachment was an organisation formed when the British Red Cross Society linked up with the Order of St John of Jerusalem.
George Harrison Ross died on 30 September 1917 (aged 72) knowing that two of his sons, Melbourne and Kenneth, had been killed in action. Rifleman Wason Ross was killed in action some seven months after his father died. Lieutenant Harrison Ross was wounded twice during the Great War, survived and was on active service again during the Second World War. Henrietta Matilda Ross died on 6 May 1928 (aged 73).
Melbourne Ross was educated at Sullivan School in Holywood, Portora Royal School in Enniskillen and later he joined the family business. He was a keen cricketer and member of the North of Ireland Cricket Club.
Like his brother Kenneth, Melbourne Ross was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (Royal North Downs) on 15 August 1914 and, with his brother, he joined the 2nd Battalion in France on 30 June 1915. Both Melbourne and Kenneth Ross were killed in action on the same day during the attack on Bellewaarde in Belgium. Whilst Melbourne was killed outright by an exploding shell, Kenneth was severely wounded by machine-gun fire and died a short time afterwards. The bodies of both brothers had to be left behind on the battlefield as their comrades retreated and they have no known graves.
Both Melbourne and Kenneth Ross were awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. During their time in France Melbourne and Kenneth wrote many letters to family members at home and these letters have been preserved. The letters written by Wason Ross have not been found. Melbourne’s and Kenneth’s letters provide a fascinating yet harrowing insight into the hardships they endured between their arrival in France in June 1915 and their deaths in Belgium in September 1915. The brothers arrived in Rouen on 26 June 1915 after crossing over from Southampton in the Golden Eagle. They called it a ‘ramshackle old tub’. The boat was crowded and the sea was rough. The boat rolled heavily and there was no ventilation for fear of light showing to submarines. It was ‘steaming hot’ aboard ship and many of the soldiers were very sick.
After a few days encamped near Rouen they travelled in cramped conditions on an 18-hour train journey to Boulogne and from there into Belgium. In letters home the soldiers were no longer permitted to quote the names of places where they were. Some of the letters contained requests for items to be sent from home. Over the ensuing weeks the list included toilet rolls, tobacco, sweets, cakes, fruit, handkerchiefs and ‘muscatol to keep the flies away’. In the trenches the stench was appalling, the flies were awful and rats abounded. Many soldiers in the trenches experienced an almost continuous headache from the noise of gunfire.
The task of burying fallen comrades was especially traumatic but enemy deaths could have a very moving effect as well. A sniper whose victim cried out after being shot might experience a reaction if he started to think about his victim’s family. Killing at close quarters with a bayonet was even worse.
Outside the trenches there was always a frightful smell from the rotting carcases of dead horses. In July 1915 the men were spending four days in the trenches and then three days out. In their letters home the brothers described their technique for dealing with bombs thrown by the enemy. These bombs were designed to explode several seconds after being thrown, so a judgement had to be made. If you lifted a thrown bomb and held it too long you got blown up; if you threw it back too soon the enemy picked it up and threw it back again. There was always apprehension in the trenches about getting buried alive.
Food in the trenches wasn’t very good and all the water had to be boiled. For long periods soldiers were unable to get their lice-infested clothes off and they couldn’t get properly washed. There were periods of very heavy rain when the trenches flooded and soldiers were constantly up to their knees in water.
Kenneth described four phases of life in the trenches:
- ‘The firing or front line of trenches where one gets rifle fire, shell-fire and gas;
- The support or second line of trenches where one gets badly shelled;
- The third or reserve line of trenches where one is relatively safe during the day prior to moving up to work nearer the front at night;
- The fourth line where one can rest in a bivouac.’
By September 1915 the men were spending twelve days in the trenches and four days out. When a period of seven day’s rest was announced on 14 September 1915 Melbourne surmised that there was ‘dirty work before us’. The brothers had been due to have a well-earned period of home leave beginning the following week and in their letters they expressed increasing concern that this leave might be cancelled. If their leave wasn’t cancelled they told the family to expect them home between 20 and 25 September 1915.
As things turned out, their anxieties were well-founded. On 18 September Melbourne wrote home to his brother Conway and said, ‘The luck is out and the leave is off; we are going to make an attack instead.’ Melbourne wrote his last letter home on 21 September. In it he said that he and Kenny now knew the worst. Overall, their Battalion was designated to lead the attack, with Melbourne’s and Kenneth’s companies leading the charge over the top and through the barbed wire. He said, ‘I hope that this work out here will count as part of our Purgatory. It ought to, as it as near Hell as anything you could think of.’
Melbourne and Kenneth Ross were both killed in action four days later.
Second Lieutenant Melbourne Ross was 30 when he died and he is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium; on Holywood and District War Memorial; in Holywood Parish Church of Ireland Church (St Philip & St James); in Glencraig Parish Church of Ireland Church (Holy Trinity); in Portora Royal School Enniskillen; in Masonic Lodge No. 381 Holywood; in the annals of Sullivan Upper School and on the North of Ireland Cricket Club Memorial Plaque.