No. 18960, ‘B’ Company, 13th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
Killed in action on Saturday 1 July 1916 (aged 23)
No known grave
Thiepval Memorial, France (Pier and Face 15 A and 15 B)
Comber and District War Memorial
Second Comber Presbyterian Church
John, James and Samuel Donaldson were sons of John and Mary Donaldson (nee Potts) who were married on 18 August 1884 in Ballygowan Presbyterian Church. John Donaldson from Ballymagreehan was a son of John Donaldson, a farmer. Mary Potts (a minor) from Ballymagreehan was a daughter of Allan Potts, a carpenter.
John was born on 9 April 1890 in the townland of Unicarval, James was born on 15 September 1892 in the townland of Ballymagreehan and Samuel was born on 17 July 1894 in the townland of Ballymagreehan.
The Donaldson family lived in the townland of Ballyloughan, Comber and before that in the townlands of Unicarval, Ballymagreehan and Ballyalton, Newtownards.
John Donaldson Senior worked as an agricultural labourer and he and Mary had at least nine children:
William (born 9 July 1885 in Ballyalton)
Jane (twin, born 7.30 am 7 November 1886 in Ballyalton)
Eliza (twin, born 8.30 am 7 November 1886 in Ballyalton; died 22 December 1886)
Mary Eleanor (born 10 December 1887 in Unicarval)
John (born 9 April 1890 in Unicarval)
James (born 15 September 1892 in Ballymagreehan)
Samuel (born 17 July 1894 in Ballymagreehan)
Elizabeth (born 13 February 1897 in Ballyalton)
Robert Hugh (born 16 September 1902 in Ballyloughan)
The first seven children, including John, James and Samuel, were baptised in First Newtownards Presbyterian Church. Elizabeth (born 13 February 1897) was baptised in Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church, Newtownards.
Prior to the outbreak of the Great War John and James Donaldson both worked in the shipyard at Queen’s Island Belfast. Samuel Donaldson worked in Andrew’s Mill in Comber. They were all members of the Ulster Volunteer Force and the three brothers enlisted together in Comber where they were allocated consecutive battalion numbers. They served in ‘B’ Company 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (1st County Down Volunteers) in 108th Brigade of the 36th (Ulster) Division and the three brothers fought and died side by side on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Initially there was uncertainty about the fate of the three brothers and they were posted as missing in action.
At home the Donaldson family feared the worst and this accentuated a decline in the health of John Donaldson Senior who died of heart failure on Sunday 1 October 1916 (aged 56).
In the 7 October 1916 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle it was reported that James Donaldson was being held as a Prisoner-of-War and that John and Samuel had been killed.
In August 1917 the widowed Mary Donaldson was officially informed that her three sons, Riflemen James, John and Samuel Donaldson, had all been killed in action on 1 July 1916 and she placed a For King and Country notice in the 25 August 1917 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle. It contained the verse:
Sometimes we often sit and think
Of our loved ones far away,
Who left their home at duty’s call,
And fell in the battle’s fray.
They were true Britons every inch,
Unknown to coward’s fears;
‘Somewhere in France’ they did their part
With the Ulster Volunteers.
We do not grudge their sacrifice,
For this we know full well,
They helped to keep the flag unstained,
And like true soldiers fell.
Riflemen James, John and Samuel Donaldson have no known graves and they are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France; on Comber and District War Memorial and in Second Comber Presbyterian Church.
Rifleman Samuel Donaldson is also commemorated on the Andrew’s Mill Memorial Plaque.