Armstrong, William Wilberforce

Armstrong, William Wilberforce (Billy)

Second Lieutenant

7th (Territorial) Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)

Killed in action on Thursday 27 December 1917 (aged 24)

Buried:

Jerusalem War Cemetery, Israel (Grave D. 49)

Commemorated:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Bangor and District War Memorial

Royal British Legion (Bangor Branch) Memorial Plaque

Comrades of the Great War (Bangor Branch) Album in North Down Museum

Ballygilbert Presbyterian Church

Hamilton Road Presbyterian Church Bangor

Bangor Grammar School

Armstrong family grave headstone in Bangor Cemetery, Newtownards Road

Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) Roll of Honour 1914 – 1919 Roll of Honour for Strean Presbyterian Church Newtownards

Journey of Remembering Belfast Book of Honour

BIOGRAPHY

William Wilberforce Armstrong was born on 2 December 1893 in Rosetta Park, Belfast and he was a son of William and Elizabeth (Eliza) Jane Armstrong (nee McClure) who were married on 12 December 1876 in Great Victoria Street Presbyterian Church Belfast.  William Armstrong from Belfast was a son of John Armstrong, a farmer.  Eliza McClure from Belfast was a daughter of Samuel McClure, a labourer.

The Armstrong family lived in Rosetta Park, Belfast.

The Armstrong family came originally from Donacloney and William Armstrong Senior was a linen merchant with premises in Amelia Street, Belfast.  He was also a farmer and the family moved from Rosetta Park to Ballysallagh House, Clandeboye.

William and Elizabeth Jane Armstrong had nine surviving children:

Margaret (Maggie, born 17 September 1877 at 111 Cromac Street, Belfast; died 3 July 1956)

Sarah Marion (born 12 August 1879 at 111 Cromac Street, Belfast)

Eliza Boyce (born 19 August 1881 at 89 Divis Street, Belfast)

Jane Moffatt (born 11 December 1883 at 97 City View Terrace, Belfast)

John (born 25 January 1886 at 4 Willowbank Terrace, Belfast; died 25 May 1965)

Eleanor Maude (born 1.30 am 27 December 1888 at 1 Landscape Terrace, Belfast)

Ruth Olivia (born 1.45 am 27 December 1888 at 1 Landscape Terrace, Belfast)

Isabel Gordon (born 9 October 1890 in Rosetta Park, Belfast)

William Wilberforce (Billy, born 2 December 1893 in Rosetta Park, Belfast)

William Wilberforce Armstrong attended Bangor Grammar School from 1907 until 1908 and when he left school he worked as an apprentice in his father’s linen business.

Billy Armstrong enlisted in Perth, Scotland on 11 September 1914 and he joined the 6th Battalion Black Watch as a Private (No. 2087 later No. 265585).  It was noted that he was 5 feet 8 inches tall.  He trained in Scotland before being posted to France on 2 May 1915.  He fought at Festubert, Beaumont-Hamel, Arras and Ypres.

He returned home in January 1917 and after a period of training at Gaile’s Cadet Corps in Ayrshire was appointed Second Lieutenant on 26 June 1917 in the 7th Battalion Black Watch.

On 17 December 1917 he was posted to Palestine and ten days later Billy was killed during an approach march north of Jerusalem.  Jerusalem had surrendered to General Allenby on 8 December 1917 and the objective was to clear Turkish guns that were shelling the city.  The main attack began at 8.00 am the day after Billy died.

Six weeks before Billy died, on an instruction from Billy’s father, the Newtownards Chronicle carried an advertisement for an auction of livestock at Ballysallagh House.

Billy’s older brother John served in the First World War with the Royal Naval Air Service.  He was a Petty Officer in Locker Lampson’s expeditionary Armoured Car Section which fought alongside the Russian armies on the Eastern Front between 1915 and 1917.  John survived the Great War and was discharged from the Army in 1918.  He died on 25 May 1965 (aged 78) and was interred in Bangor Cemetery, Newtownards Road.

Several of the letters that Billy wrote home have been preserved.  On 11 April 1915 he wrote from France to his niece Peggy just before he went back for another spell in the trenches.  He expected conditions to be very muddy because of all the rain and, interestingly, he provided his young niece with a graphic description of a British sniper killing a German soldier with a head shot.

Billy was in fine form on 14 November 1917 when he wrote a letter to his mother.  He was on board a large P&O liner on route to Palestine and he described the conditions on board for the officers as ‘very good’.  Later, when he was in Palestine, it was uncomfortably warm during the day and then bitterly cold at night.  He said that he was ‘covered with insect bites’.  Billy signed off one letter to his brother-in-law Joe Fulton with the words, ‘Yours in agony’.

On 19 December Billy sent a picture postcard of Jerusalem to his father.  He described the city as a ‘filthy hole’ and commented on the exorbitant prices being charged for food items.  He asked his father to send him some chocolate.

Billy’s last letter was addressed to his mother and he wrote it just six days before he died.  He said that things were very miserable.  It had been raining incessantly for three days and his clothes and blankets were soaking wet.  He spoke nostalgically about preparations for Christmas at home and wished he could get a whiff of plum puddings and mince pies as they were cooking.  He described some of the places he had seen in Jerusalem and spoke of their Biblical significance.  He was ‘high up in the hills’ and it was ‘fearfully cold at night’.  He asked for socks because they lasted no time.  His boots were almost worn through and it felt as if he was walking on his bare feet.  As he finished his letter he commented that the rain was pelting down his neck.

Second Lieutenant William Wilberforce Armstrong was 24 when he died and he was buried in Jerusalem War Cemetery, Israel.

Second Lieutenant William Wilberforce Armstrong is commemorated on Bangor and District War Memorial; on the Royal British Legion (Bangor Branch) Memorial Plaque; in the Comrades of the Great War (Bangor Branch) Album in North Down Museum; in Ballygilbert Presbyterian Church; in Hamilton Road Presbyterian Church Bangor; in Bangor Grammar School; on the Armstrong family grave headstone in Bangor Cemetery, Newtownards Road; in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) Roll of Honour 1914 – 1919 Roll of Honour for Strean Presbyterian Church Newtownards and in the Journey of Remembering Belfast Book of Honour.

Second Lieutenant William Wilberforce Armstrong’s father died on 9 May 1921 (aged 66) and his mother died on 2 November 1941 (aged 85).