No. 16999, ‘A’ Company, 13th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
Killed in action on Saturday 1 July 1916 (aged 31)
No known grave
Thiepval Memorial, France (Pier and Face 15 A and 15 B)
Donaghadee and District War Memorial
Shore Street Presbyterian Church Donaghadee
Family grave headstone in Donaghadee Parish Church of Ireland Graveyard
Brother of Rifleman Robert James Semple (No. 16998)
Cousin of Rifleman William Semple (No. 18/775)
William Semple was born on 8 August 1884 in the townland of Ballywilliam, Donaghadee and he was a son of George and Eleanor Jane (Ellen) Semple (nee Niblock) who were married on 21 June 1882 in Shore Street Presbyterian Church Donaghadee. George Semple from Ballywilliam was a son of Samuel Semple, a gardener. Ellen Niblock from Shore Street, Donaghadee was a daughter of William Niblock.
The Semple family lived in the townland of Ballywilliam and at 27 East Street, Donaghadee.
George Semple worked as a general labourer and he and Eleanor Jane had nine children including:
Samuel (born 19 November 1882 in Ballywilliam)
William (born 8 August 1884 in Ballywilliam)
Ellen (born 11 December 1886 in Ballywilliam)
Mary Bell (born 2 April 1889 in Ballywilliam)
Eliza Ann (born 18 June 1891 in Ballywilliam)
George (born 25 February 1894 in Ballywilliam)
Robert James (born 4 January 1897 in East Street, Donaghadee)
Lydia (born 23 May 1902 in East Street, Donaghadee)
Seven of the children, including William and Robert James, were baptised in Shore Street Presbyterian Church Donaghadee.
Their mother, Eleanor Jane Semple, died of cancer on 14 April 1916 (aged 54).
William was the first of the two brothers to be killed in action.
Prior to the outbreak of the Great War William Semple worked as a general labourer. He enlisted in Donaghadee, served with the 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles in 108th Brigade of the 36th (Ulster) Division and he was 31 when he was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Rifleman William Semple has no known grave and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France.
Initially Rifleman William Semple was reported as wounded in action and in August 1916 the Red Cross reported that he was in Holywood Military Convalescent Hospital suffering from shell shock. This proved not to be the case and he was reclassified as missing in action. After it was officially confirmed in June 1917 that Rifleman William Semple must be presumed to have been killed in action on or since 1 July 1916, his friend Nan Bennett who lived in Hunter’s Lane, Donaghadee placed a For King and Country notice in the 16 June 1917 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle. It contained the verse:
Too far away thy grave to see,
But not too far to think of thee;
When days are dark, and friends are few,
How I’ll think and long for you.
I often think of days gone by,
When we were all together;
A shadow o’er our life is cast,
A dear friend gone for ever.
Rifleman Robert Semple and Rifleman William Semple are both commemorated on Donaghadee and District War Memorial; in Shore Street Presbyterian Church Donaghadee; on the family grave headstone in Donaghadee Parish Church of Ireland Graveyard.
Robert and William Semple were cousins of Rifleman William Semple (No. 18/775). Their father George and William’s father Samuel were brothers.