Neely, Noel Montgomery

Neely, Noel Montgomery (Noel)


HMS Circe, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve

Killed on active service on Sunday 23 April 1944 (aged 33)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Chatham Naval Memorial, Kent, England (Panel 79. 2)

Belfast Banking Company Second World War Memorial Plaque (now in Danske Bank, Donegall Square West, Belfast)

Family grave headstone in Knockbreda Cemetery, Belfast


Noel Montgomery Neely was born on 27 December 1910 in Sion Mills, Co. Tyrone, baptised in Urney, Sion Mills, and he was a son of James and Margaret Neely (nee Irvine, sometimes Irwin) who were married in Urney and Sion Mills Presbyterian Church on 9 April 1903.  James Neely, a widower from Sion Mills was a son of James Neely, a mechanic.  Margaret Irwin from Sion Mills was a daughter of John Irwin, a carter.

James Neely had previously been married to Fanny Ann (sometimes known as Jane) Montgomery from Belfast.

James Neely and Fanny Ann Montgomery were married on 28 July 1880 in Urney and Sion Mills Presbyterian Church and they lived in Sion Mills, then Tandragee and then the townland of Tullyverry, Killyleagh, Co. Down.

James Neely worked as a Preparing Master in local mills and he and Fanny had seven children:

Matthew (born 4 September 1881 in Sion Mills)

James (born 23 May 1884 in Tandragee)

Andrew (born 28 February 1886 in Tandragee; served in the 36th Ulster Division during the First World War)

Susan Montgomery (born 22 November 1887 in Tandragee)

Mary (Mae born 3 October 1891 in Tullyverry, Killyleagh)

Fanny Anne (born 9.30 pm 15 June 1894 in Tullyverry, Killyleagh)

Eliza Dickson (Lilly, born 9.40 pm 15 June 1894 in Tullyverry, Killyleagh)

Their mother, Fanny Anne Neilly, died in childbirth on 15 June 1894 (aged 34).

After Fanny Ann died James Neely moved back to Sion Mills where he worked as a Preparing Master in Herdman’s Mill, Sion Mills and the Neely family lived at 2 Sion Terrace, Sion Mills.

James and Margaret Neely (nee Irwin) had three children:

Gerald Irwin (born 5 January 1904 in Sion Mills; died 5 December 1990)

Samuel Stephen (born 26 December 1906 in Sion Mills; died of diphtheria 14 May 1908)

Noel Montgomery (born 27 December 1910 in Sion Mills)

Noel’s parents both died in 1924, his father James on 7 January (aged 67) and his mother Margaret on 11 October (aged 50).

Noel Neely had tutoring from his half-brother James who was a schoolteacher and, after leaving school, Noel worked as a clerk in the Belfast Banking Company Ltd. He was successful in his first attempt at the bank examination from Skerry’s School, Royal Avenue, Belfast in March 1927.  He worked in Coleraine Branch, Belfast Castle Place Branch, and Head Office. His hobbies included amateur dramatics, sailing, cricket, and rugby.  He played cricket for the Bank.

On 1 July 1936 Noel Montgomery Neely married Joan Lorimer from Helen’s Bay in Holywood Parish Church of Ireland Church (St. Philip and St. James) and they had two children:

Peter James (born 16 November 1939; died 1 February 1940)

Patrick Lawrie (born 19 April 1941)

Joan Lorimer was born in Johannesburg and she was a sister of Flying Officer Robert Lawrie Lorimer who was killed in action on 14 May 1940, less than four months after Joan’s infant son, Peter James Neely, died.

When Noel and Joan Neely’s second son was born on 19 April 1941, they gave him Lawrie as one of his forenames in memory of his uncle Lawrie Lorimer.

Patrick Lawrie Neely was just three years old when his father Noel died on 23 April 1944 aboard HMS Circe.  This Algerine-class minesweeper was built by Harland and Wolff Ltd., Belfast and she was commissioned on 16 October 1942.  Along with Radar Operator Gordon Planner, Lieutenant Neely was posted to Belfast to supervise her fitting out and sea trials and, for a time in 1942, the Neely family lived in Groomsport.  They also lived at 2 Royal Terrace, Lisburn Road, Belfast and, after Noel was killed, his widow and young son moved to North Down.  They lived at 27 Windmill Road, Bangor and then at 8 Diamond Gardens, Finaghy, Belfast.

Radar Operator Gordon Planner was injured in the explosion on HMC Circe that killed Lieutenant Noel Montgomery Neely and he provided details as to what happened.  As well as working together during the fitting out and sea trials they met again on board when, as the officer on watch, Lieutenant Neely visited the radar shack located on the largely open bridge.  HMS Circe had her first operational deployment in December 1942 as part of the initial escort for Convoy JW51B from Loch Ewe in Scotland to Reykjavik in Iceland (Convoy JW51B continued on to Murmansk in Russia).  Following her return from Iceland HMS Circe joined the 12th Minesweeping Flotilla (MSF) in the Mediterranean Sea at the beginning of 1943.  On 23 April 1944 HMS Circe and other ships from the 12th MSF were conducting a sweeping operation north of the Anzio beachhead, near the mouth of the River Tiber.  Enemy ships were sighted, and emergency retrieval of the sweeping gear was initiated.

One of Lieutenant Neely’s duties was to supervise the sweeping deck during sweeping operations, and during the emergency sweep retrieval, a mine got caught in the gear.  It exploded under the stern of the ship.  Lieutenant Neely was killed outright and several others, including Gordon Planner, were injured.  Lieutenant Neely’s remains were transferred to HMS Espiegle for burial at sea.  HMS Circe was severely damaged in the explosion with her stern having been blown off.  Two other ships in the flotilla, HMS Acute and HMS Spanker, were lashed one to either side to keep her afloat and another ship took her in tow.  This presented a big target for enemy aircraft and so the ships were separated again as soon as HMS Circe had been made watertight.  A tug towed her back to Naples and then to Taranto, for repair.  HMS Circe rejoined the 12th MSF later in 1944 and eventually returned from the Mediterranean in 1946.  In 1966 she was broken up at Dalmuir in Scotland.

Lieutenant Noel Montgomery Neely was 33 when he died and he is commemorated on Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent and on the Belfast Banking Company Second World War Memorial Plaque (now in Danske Bank, Donegall Square West, Belfast).   He is also commemorated on the family grave headstone in Knockbreda Cemetery, Belfast.

His widow, Joan, died on 10 July 1994.