Orr, John (No. 18/774)

Orr, John


No. 18/774, 12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles

Killed in action on Thursday 22 November 1917 (aged 34)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Cambrai Memorial, France (Panel 10)

Ballywalter and District War Memorial

Ballywalter Presbyterian Church

Orr family grave headstone in Ballyvester Cemetery, Donaghadee

Brother of Rifleman Andrew Orr (No. 55918)

Nephew of Rifleman Francis Orr (No. 8298)

Nephew of Private Hugh Orr (No. 9285)

Nephew of Rifleman Nicholas Orr (No. 741)


Five members of the Orr family were killed in action during the First World War and to understand the relationship between them it is useful to begin with Francis Orr’s father, Nicholas Orr.

Nicholas Orr worked as an agricultural labourer and lived in the townlands of Ballyferris, Ballywhiskin and Ballyhaskin before moving to Belfast where he lived in Leopold Street and Crimea Street:

Nicholas Orr and Margaret Kinney (sometimes Kenny) were married on 12 November 1859 in Ballywalter Presbyterian Church.  Nicholas Orr, a full-age bachelor from Whitechurch, worked as a labourer and he was a son of Francis Orr, a labourer.  Margaret Kinney, a full-age spinster from Ganaway was a daughter of William Kinney, a farmer.

Nicholas and Margaret Orr (nee Kinney) had five children, all of whom were baptised in Ballywalter Presbyterian Church:

John (born 12 May 1860)

Francis (born 1862; died)

Ellen (born 18 June 1864; married James Taggert on 3 May 1890 in Newtownards Registrar’s Office)

Francis (born 17 November 1866; died from heart disease 7 December 1875)

Hugh (born 14 November 1869 and killed in action 17 May 1915)

After their mother, Margaret Orr, died from bronchitis on 19 January 1872 (aged 34), their father, Nicholas Orr, married Eliza Jane Mawhinney (sometimes McWhinney, sometimes Mawhinnie) on 30 July 1877 in Newtownards Registrar’s Office.  Nicholas Orr, a 32-year-old widower from Ballyferris was a farmer and he was a son of Francis Orr, a labourer.  Elizabeth Jane Mawhinney (born 13 May 1865 in Ballylimp) was a 21-year-old spinster from Ballyferris and a daughter of William Mawhinney, a labourer.

Nicholas and Eliza Jane Orr (nee Mawhinney) had at least twelve children:

Nicholas (born 28 June 1878; died in an accident at Ballymacruise 16 August 1897; he died from a fractured skull after falling from a cart)

Margaret (Maggie, born 29 December 1879 in Ballyferris, married Harry James Rogerson, a driver in the Army Service Corps stationed at Victoria Barracks Belfast on 25 December 1908 in St Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral Church Belfast)

William (born 2 July 1881 in Ballyferris)

Eliza Jane (Unnamed female child in civil records, born 9 July 1882 in Ballyferris; married Thomas Dixon on 20 November 1912 in Sinclair Seaman’s Presbyterian Church Belfast)

Francis (born 8 August 1885; died from convulsions 13 August 1885)

James Andrew (born 19 August 1887 in Ballywhiskin, served with a Scottish Regiment)

Sarah (born 28 October 1888 in Ballywhiskin, married Henry Savage on 30 August 1913 in Mariner’s Church of Ireland Church Belfast)

Edwin Dorrian Colvin (Edward, later called Francis or Frank, born 14 December 1890 in Ballywhiskin) Frank was killed in action 5 May 1915

Robert Melville (born 6 November 1893 in Millisle, served as a Company Sergeant Major with the Royal Scots and was home on leave from active service when he and Margaret Jones were married on 5 December 1916 in St Matthias’ Church of Ireland Church, Lower Falls, Belfast)

Minnie McCaw (born 16 October 1895 in Millisle; died from marasmus  14 April 1896)

Nicholas (born 8 May 1898 in Millisle and named after his brother Nicholas who died in an accident at Ballymacruise on 16 August 1897; killed in action on 24 March 1918)

Albert Edward (born 18 February 1901 in School House Brae, Donaghadee; died from debility 20 April 1901 in School House Brae, Donaghadee)

Their father, Nicholas Orr, died on 13 July 1920 at 112 Bristol Street, Belfast.

John Orr, eldest son of Nicholas and Margaret Orr (nee Kinney), lived in the townlands of Kilbright and Ballywhiskin, Millisle.  John Orr worked as a labourer and he and Mary Baird were married on 22 December 1882 in Ballywalter Presbyterian Church.  They had seven sons all of whom were baptised in that church:

John (born 18 March 1883 and killed in action 22 November 1917)

James (born 1 December 1884; died 20 January 1940)

Francis (born 28 February 1887 in Kilbright, served with a Canadian Battalion)

Hugh (born 29 April 1889 in Kilbright, served aboard HMS Illustrious)

Alexander (born 13 July 1891)

Andrew (born 17 August 1893 and killed in action 31 July 1916)

Nicholas (born 15 October 1895 in Kilbright, served with the Machine Gun Corps)

Their mother, Mary Orr, died on 29 July 1898 (aged 40) and their father, John Orr, died on 10 February 1930 (aged 69).

Francis was the first of the five Orr family members to die, then Hugh, then Andrew, then John and then Nicholas.

John Orr was born on 18 March 1883 in the townland of Kilbright and he was baptised in Ballywalter Presbyterian Church.  He was the eldest of John Orr’s seven sons and prior to the outbreak of the Great War he worked as a labourer.

John Orr Junior and Margaret Jane McLean (sometimes McClean) were married on 9 December 1910 in Carrowdore Parish Church of Ireland Church (Christ Church) and in 1911 they were living with Margaret Jane’s widowed mother Margaret in the townland of Ballywhiskin, Millisle.

Margaret Jane McClean already had a son, George McClean, who was born on 7 March 1906.  George McClean adopted his stepfather’s surname and in subsequent records he is named George Orr.

John Orr worked as a labourer and he and Margaret Jane Orr had six children all of whom were baptised in Ballywalter Presbyterian Church:

Francis (twin, born 7.15 am 27 November 1911; died 14 February 1912)

John Andrew (twin, born 5.00 pm 27 November 1911; died 3 January 1912)

Elizabeth Mary (born 29 November 1912)

Francis (born 26 November 1913)

John Andrew (born 28 September 1915; died 5 June 1995 aged 79)

George (born 28 March 1917, just eight months before his father was killed in action; died 13 September 2004 aged 87)

Margaret Jane Orr (nee McLean) died on 19 April 1968 (aged 91) and was interred in Christ Church Graveyard, Carrowdore.

John Orr enlisted in Belfast in November 1915 and he joined the 18th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.

Rifleman John Orr went to the Front with the 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles in 108th Brigade of the 36th (Ulster) Division and he was 34 when he was killed in action at Cambrai on 22 November 1917.  He has no known grave.

After Rifleman John Orr died, his widow Margaret Jane placed a For King and Country notice in the Newtownards Chronicle and it contained the verse:

Should your frail corpse be never found,

Your loving soul to heaven has fled,

Where happiness abound

I am so lonely, oh, so lonely,

And my heart with pain is sore,

Till I grasp your hand in a better land,

On the great eternal shore.

Rifleman John Orr is commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial in France; on Ballywalter and District War Memorial; in Ballywalter Presbyterian Church and on the Orr family grave headstone in Ballyvester Cemetery, Donaghadee.