O’Neill, Robert John
No. CH/X 3059, HMS Cornwall, Royal Marines
Died as the result of enemy action on Sunday 5 April 1942 (aged 20)
No known grave
Chatham Naval Memorial, Kent, England (Panel 65. 2)
Donaghadee and District War Memorial
Millisle Presbyterian Church
Brown family headstone in Ballyvester Cemetery, Donaghadee
Robert John O’Neill was born on 2 January 1922 and he was the only son of John O’Neill, who worked as a labourer, and Georgina O’Neill (nee Patton) of Ballycopeland, Millisle who were married on 31 March 1920 in Ballyfrenis United Free Church of Scotland. He was a grandson of Robert and Mary Ann O’Neill; a brother of Georgina O’Neill and a nephew of John and Isabella Myles of Ballycopeland, Millisle.
Robert John O’Neill’s mother, Georgina, died on 8 April 1927 (aged 27), three days after her daughter Georgina was born on 4 April 1927.
Their father, John, married Sarah (Cissie) Morrow on 1 January 1930.
John and Cissie O’Neill (nee Morrow) had at least eight children:
Jean, David, Lily, Brian, Irene, Leslie, Robert, and May
During the Second World War Marine Robert John O’Neill (No. CH/X 3059) served aboard the heavy cruiser HMS Cornwall. This ship was built in the 1920s at the Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth for the Royal Navy.
In early April 1942 HMS Cornwall and her sister ship, HMS Dorsetshire, were detached from the Pacific fleet to escort the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes to Trincomalee on Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) for repairs. On 4 April 1942, the Japanese carrier fleet was spotted, and the two cruisers left the harbour. After a hurried refuelling at sea, they set out shortly after midnight for Addu Atoll (the southernmost atoll of the Maldives). On 5 April 1942, the two cruisers were sighted about 200 miles southwest of Ceylon by a spotter plane sent up from the Imperial Japanese Navy cruiser Tone.
As part of the engagement known as the Easter Sunday Raid (Battle of Ceylon), a wave of dive bombers took off from the Japanese carriers to attack HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire. Both ships sank and Marine Robert John O’Neill was one of more than 400 men who died.
Family members placed Killed in Action notices in the 9 May 1942 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle and the one from his father contained the verse:
The news was sad, the blow was hard,
God’s will it shall be done,
With a manly heart he did his part
And a crown of victory won.
The one from the Myles family contained the verse:
We little thought when he left home,
That he would ne’er return,
That he so soon in death would sleep,
And leave us here to mourn.
In subsequent years family members placed Our Heroes – In Memoriam notices in the Newtownards Chronicle and they contained the verses:
Taken away in his early youth,
Taken from those he loved,
From serving his King on earth below
To serve his great King above.
Just as manhood days were dawning,
On the lad we loved so well,
He was taken from amongst us
To his heavenly home to dwell.
A silent thought, a hidden tear,
Keeps his memory ever dear.
Duty called and he was there,
To do his bit and take his share.
His heart was good, his spirit brave,
His resting-place a sailor’s grave.
We shall meet him some bright morning,
Resting by the waters fair.
He’ll be waiting for our coming,
In the Upper Garden there.
He never shunned his country’s call,
But gladly gave his life – his all,
He died, the helpless to defend,
An Ulster sailor’s noble end.
Marine Robert John O’Neill (No. CH/X 3059) was 20 when he died and he is commemorated on Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent; on Donaghadee and District War Memorial; in Millisle Presbyterian Church and on the Brown family headstone in Ballyvester Cemetery, Donaghadee.
His sister, Georgina Brown, died on 7 December 2007 (aged 80).