Royal Irish Rifles
Newtownards and District War Memorial
The name Thomas Girvin is listed on Newtownards and District War Memorial and in the booklet produced for the Unveiling and Dedication Ceremony held on Saturday 26 May 1934 he is listed as Thomas Girvan and described as a Rifleman in the Royal Irish Rifles.
Thomas Girvin who enlisted on 29 September 1914 in Belfast stated that he was:
- 34½ years old; he was in fact 37½ years old having been born in Movilla Street, Newtownards on 8 March 1877: Thomas Henry Coulter Girvin, a son of Henry Girvin (a weaver) and Jane Girvin (nee Towell)
- Born in Newtownards
Thomas cited as his next-of-kin his mother Jane who lived at 7 Queen Street Newtownards.
Thomas Girvin joined the 8th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles (No. 8/19518) but it transpired that he was wanted by the civil authorities. He was arrested and served one month in prison from 12 October 1914 until 11 November 1914.
On release from prison he absented himself and was apprehended again by the police ‘for a misdemeanour’. He served a further term of imprisonment from 18 December 1914 until 17 February 1915. Thomas Girvin absented himself again and with no information available as to his whereabouts he was declared to be a deserter.
In September 1920, the military authorities wrote to Jane Girvin asking her for information about her son. The letter was returned marked ‘deceased’ and the military authorities referred the matter to the police in Belfast for investigation. [Jane Girvin died of heart failure in Queen Street, Newtownards on 5 March 1917 (aged 74)].
The police provided the following information ‘based on their enquiries’:
Thomas Girvin was dead; after deserting from the Royal Irish Rifles he had gone to Scotland, joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1915 and had drowned when the troopship taking him to the Dardanelles was torpedoed.
Then the military authorities asked the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in Belfast to determine Thomas’s regimental number in the Royal Scots Fusiliers. The police in Belfast referred the case to RIC in Newtownards and officers there interviewed Thomas’s father Henry Girvin.
Henry Girvin made a statement saying that he believed his son to be dead. He told police that when Thomas went to Scotland he stayed with his aunt, Eliza Burns, at 6 John Street Lane off Main Street Glasgow and that he joined the Scottish Rifles under the alias Thomas Coulter. Henry Girvin told police that some time previously he had received a letter from Eliza Burns informing him that Thomas had drowned when the troopship taking him to the Dardanelles was torpedoed. Eliza had said that she was told this by a comrade of Thomas’s who had survived the torpedo attack.
Henry Girvin told police that he had no papers relating to Thomas’s enlistment in Scotland but he referred them to Patrick Burns – a son of the late Eliza Burns and Thomas’s full cousin.
Military authorities wrote to Patrick Burns at 60 Franklin Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow and he furnished a copy of Thomas Girvin’s birth certificate but could provide no documents relating to Thomas’s service.
Patrick Burns stated that Thomas had been serving as a fireman aboard the ship that was torpedoed and when Thomas signed up he had arranged for Eliza Burns to receive half of his pay on a regular basis.
Desk searches and public appeals to date have not confirmed that the Thomas Girvin described above is the Thomas Girvin who is listed on Newtownards and District War Memorial. No information has yet been found to confirm the death on active service of a Thomas Girvin or a Thomas Coulter who served in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Scottish Rifles (also known as the Cameronians), the Royal Navy or the Mercantile Marine.