No. 6982560, 70th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
Died as the result of enemy action on Wednesday 16 April 1941 (aged 17)
Mullaghglass (St. Luke’s) Church of Ireland Churchyard, Co. Armagh (Grave 4B)
Bessbrook War Memorial
Fusilier Ernest McNeill (No. 6982560) was one of 13 soldiers serving with the 70th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers who died as the result of an air raid on Newtownards aerodrome during the night of 15/16 April 1941.
Between 10.45 pm on Easter Tuesday 15 April and 4.30 am on Wednesday 16 April 1941 there was a large-scale German Luftwaffe air raid on the City of Belfast. Other nearby towns and villages, including Bangor and Newtownards, were also attacked. Areas of Bangor where bombs fell, included Ashley Gardens, Bangor Golf Clubhouse, Baylands, Farnham Road, Hazeldene Gardens and Ranfurly Avenue. Fires blazed on Scrabo Hill, Newtownards and bombs fell on Green Road, Conlig and Comber Road, Newtownards. At least 29 people with North Down and Ards connections were killed, including the following 15 civilians.
Matilda Grattan together with her daughters Angeline Grattan and Shelagh Grattan who died at 40 Ashley Gardens in Bangor.
Margaret Byers Watt who died at 5 Hazeldene Gardens in Bangor.
Robert Wright of 32 Baylands, Bangor who died of his injuries in Bangor Hospital.
Edith, Henry, Isabella, and William Dunwoody; Nancy Simms Gribbin; Thomas Morton; Bessie and Ellen Ogle; William Henry Taggart and Evelyn Tate who all died in Belfast.
That night the aerodrome at Newtownards, which was the Headquarters of 231 Squadron, Royal Air Force was attacked. The aerodrome was guarded by soldiers of the 70th (Young Soldiers) Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, some of whom were too young for front line service and were deployed instead on the home front. Newtownards aerodrome was attacked with a considerable number of incendiary bombs and some high explosive bombs. One high explosive bomb that fell on the hutments of ‘A’ Company Headquarters killed 13 men, all of whom served with the 70th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Most were killed instantly, and the remainder died the following day as the result of their injuries:
Fusilier William Bellamy (aged 28)
Fusilier Samuel Burke (aged 18)
Lance Corporal Alexander Carlisle
Fusilier Andrew Copling (aged 16)
Fusilier Hugh Fulton (aged 17)
Fusilier George Graham
Fusilier Daniel Higgins
Fusilier Leslie Love (aged 34)
Fusilier Samuel McFarland (aged 19)
Company Quartermaster Sergeant William McMurray (aged 27)
Fusilier Ernest McNeill (aged 17)
Warrant Officer Class II Alfred Penfold (aged 36)
Fusilier Matthew Wright (aged 18)
The casualties were all taken to Ards District Hospital in Newtownards.
There was another casualty with an Ards connection who died during the night of 15/16 April 1941. Flight Lieutenant Wilfrid Mark Hamilton Brookes (aged 23) of 231 Squadron who was in Belfast at the time was killed during the air raid.
Fusilier Ernest McNeill (No. 6982560) was a son of John McNeill (a railway linesman) and Margaret McNeill of Craigmore, Co. Armagh. Local sources have reported that Ernest had at least two brothers – Edward and Lawrence – and two sisters, one of whom was called True Elizabeth McNeill.
True Elizabeth McNeill and William Booth were married on 10 July 1939 in Mullaghglass Church of Ireland Church, Co. Armagh.
Fusilier Ernest McNeill (No. 6982560) was 17 when he died, and he was buried in Mullaghglass (St. Luke’s) Church of Ireland Churchyard, Co. Armagh. There is an inscription on his CWGC headstone:
SAFE IN THE ARMS OF JESUS
Fusilier Ernest McNeill (No. 6982560) is commemorated on Bessbrook War Memorial.