Irwin, William Duncan (Willie)
No. 4459560, 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
Died of disease on Thursday 16 March 1944 (aged 50)
Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt (Grave 6. B. 9)
Bangor and District War Memorial
Bangor Parish Church of Ireland Church (St. Comgall’s)
Family Grave Headstone in Bangor Cemetery, Newtownards Road, Bangor
William Duncan Irwin was born on 25 June 1893 at 145 McDonnell Street, Belfast and he was the third son of William Henry and Annie Elizabeth Irwin (nee Mathers) who were married on 19 March 1883 in St. Anne’s Church of Ireland Church, Belfast. William Henry Irwin (aged 22) from 45 Theodore Street, Belfast was a son of John Irwin, a shoemaker. Annie Mathers (aged 21) from 36 Ward Street, Belfast was a daughter of Charles Mathers, a soldier.
The Irwin family lived in Belfast and Larne before moving to Bangor where they lived at 54 Victoria Road, 90 Seacliff Road and later at Brooklyn Villas, 124 Groomsport Road.
William Henry Irwin and Annie Irwin (nee Mathers) had at least ten children including:
Robert Gordon (born 1 February 1885 at 147 McDonnell Street, Belfast)
Charles Wesley (born 31 January 1887 at 147 McDonnell Street, Belfast)
Florence (Florrie, born 20 December 1888 at 147 McDonnell Street, Belfast)
Mabel (born 20 April 1891 at 145 McDonnell Street, Belfast)
William Duncan (Willie, born 25 June 1893 at 145 McDonnell Street, Belfast)
John Stanley (born 5 April 1895 in Larne)
Caroline Mathers (Carrie, born 3 June 1897 in Main Street, Larne)
Arthur Patrick (Artie, born 17 March 1901 at 17 Frank Street, Belfast)
Norman (born 14 April 1905 at 7 Ulsterdale Street, Belfast)
Willie Irwin’s father worked as a tailor and he was known locally as Tailor Irwin; his customers remembered that he sat cross-legged on the floor as he worked. Willie Irwin’s mother died on 17 February 1935 (aged 73) and his father was 79 when he died on 7 February 1940. Both were buried in Bangor Cemetery. Originally from County Kildare, Willie Irwin’s father had travelled extensively in India and the Far East and it was reported in the Press that he was a pioneer member of Distillery Football Club.
It was reported in the 15 April edition of the County Down Spectator that Willie Irwin had served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers during the First World War and that he had been Mentioned in Despatches. He was an Assistant Steward and his address was 43 Southwell Road, Bangor when he joined up as a Cadet (No. 2867) in the 4th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on 23 November 1912 in Belfast. He was demobilised in 1919 and, after the war, he spent some time working in business in the United States of America. On 4 September 1923 Willie Irwin (then living at 8 Queen’s Parade, Bangor) and Ethel Maud Irwin (daughter of Samuel George Irwin, 116 Seacliff Road, Bangor) were married in Ballygilbert Presbyterian Church (information from a family source).
In 1935 Willie Irwin was the Head Waiter in Hotel Pickie, Mount Royal, Bangor. When he was leaving that job the hotel manager gave him a reference which included the sentence, ‘His ability has always been of the highest standard and we can thoroughly recommend him to anyone requiring his services in any capacity of trust’.
Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Willie Irwin worked as a Steward on the Union Castle Line in the Mediterranean. At the outbreak of war Willie rejoined his old Regiment and served as an instructor to a native regiment in East Africa.
During the Second World War Sergeant Willie Irwin (No. 4459560) served in the Middle East with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and he died of spastic paraplegia in No. 64 General Hospital, Alexandria on 16 March 1944 after having been ill for some months. He was buried the following day with military honours and the Chaplain, Revd H.E.S. Newbold, wrote to Willie’s mother, and to Willie’s wife and daughter, to express his condolences. He assured them that Willie had died at 6.30 pm ‘in peace with God and man’. He said, ‘I don’t think he suffered terrible pain as the morphine deadened it’.
Willie’s wife Ethel, who was a Corporal in the ATC, lived in High Street, Bangor and later in Whitten House, William Street, Portadown in County Armagh. It was reported in the Press that Willie Irwin was survived by five brothers – Charles, Arthur, Norman, Stanley, and Gordon – and three sisters – Florence Irwin, Mrs Mabel Naye in California, and Mrs Carrie Burrowes in Bangor. Charles Irwin was a film actor in Hollywood, California, and a well-known figure in American vaudeville. Arthur Irwin served with the US Army and Norman worked in the insurance business in California.
Sergeant William Duncan Irwin (No. 4459560) is commemorated on Bangor and District War Memorial; in Bangor Parish Church of Ireland Church (St. Comgall’s) and on the family grave headstone in Bangor Cemetery.