Fitzsimons, John (Johnnie)
No. 5809, 7th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
Died of wounds on Sunday 25 February 1917 (aged 19)
Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension (Nord), France (Grave III. A. 14)
Holywood and District War Memorial
Glencraig Parish Church of Ireland Church (Holy Trinity)
In some records his surname is spelt Fitzsimmons.
John Fitzsimons was born on 6 February 1898 in Craigavad and he was the elder son of Martin and Susan Fitzsimons (nee Urquhart, sometimes Orchard) of Dalchoolin Lodge, Craigavad. Susan was from Scotland and she and Martin were married on 4 December 1896 in Sandys Street Presbyterian Church Newry. At the time of the wedding, both Martin and Susan were living and working in Poyntzpass – Martin as a footman and Susan as a cook.
Martin Fitzsimons worked as butler (a position he held for sixty years) and Susan Fitzsimons worked as housekeeper in Dalchoolin House at Craigavad. This house was built in 1839, has since been demolished and the site is now occupied by the Transport Museum part of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.
Martin and Susan Fitzsimons (nee Urquhart) had five children including:
John (born 6 February 1898 in Craigavad)
Female child (born 25 April 1900 in Craigavad; died)
Eva Jane (born 1 December 1902 in Craigavad)
Charles James (born 10 August 1906 in Craigavad)
In February 1915 Johnnie Fitzsimons enlisted in Belfast (aged 17) and in a postcard sent to his mother on 16 February 1915 he said that ‘he was liking soldiering a treat’. After he was posted to the Front he continued to write home regularly and his letters ranged over issues from the mundane to the intensely poignant. He told his family about being picked for the signallers and how he was hoping for a transfer to Water Transport. He said, ‘I have seen no place as nice as Craigavad’ and he thanked his mother for the cake she had sent. He was being paid in French money and was suffering problems with his neuralgia.
He described the fearful noise from the guns, the deafening crashes and the sky illuminated with flashes from the guns – he called them Sister Susies. During bombardments, conditions were ‘hellish’, soldiers often lying in shell holes amongst ‘dead men and bursting shells’.
On one occasion Johnnie suffered from shell shock when he was lying in a shallow trench with no cover and a big shell burst beside him. Many men were killed and he was hospitalised for a short period.
Back in the trenches he volunteered to lay out the telephone wire prior to a surprise bombing raid on enemy trenches. He went out at 3.00 am to lay the wire. Then at 3.30 am when the moon went down he went over the top again ‘with the bombers and the bayonet men’. He described how everything was done very quietly ‘until you spring into the enemy trench’. This was in contrast to a charge where ‘all go over the top cheering with the guns roaring round you’.
Lance Corporal Johnnie Fitzsimons wrote his last letter home on 9 February 1917. He said that he was out of the trenches for a period of eight days and he dreaded going back in again ‘to the bitter cold of an icy fire trench’.
Later that month a telegram brought the dreaded news of his death – Lance Corporal John Fitzsimons 7th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles died of wounds received in action at 11.45 pm on 25 February 1917.
Army Form B. 104 – 82 dated 6 March 1917 confirmed that Johnnie had died at No. 1 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station in France.
His father, mother, sister and brother placed a death notice that contained the following verse:
The strife is done, the crown is won,
And the soldier rests at last
Far beyond the clear blue sky
Beyond the stars and sun,
To his Father’s home on high.
Lance Corporal John Fitzsimons was 19 when he died and he was buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension (Nord), France. There is an inscription on his CWGC headstone:
NOT GONE FROM MEMORY
OR FROM LOVE
Lance Corporal John Fitzsimons (No. 5809) is commemorated on Holywood and District War Memorial and in Glencraig Parish Church of Ireland Church (Holy Trinity).