Branch Meeting, 20 February, 2016.
Owen Hughes, Private 21261
Michael Byrne, Private 21933
8 Royal Irish Fusiliers
Died, 20 February, 1916.
Owen Hughes was born Circa 1886, the son of Patrick and Mary Hughes, in Cullyhanna, Co. Armagh. The 1911 census shows him living in Nicholas street, Dundalk, with his wife Rose and sons Patrick (3) and Owen Jr. (1).
Michael Byrne was born Circa 1895, the son of William and Mary Jane Byrne, of Dublin. The only other fact we know about him, is that he was married to a lady called Eileen.
The 8 (Service) Battalion, Princess Victoria’s, (Royal Irish Fusiliers) was formed in Armagh in September 1914 as part of K2 and came under command of 49th Brigade in 16th (Irish) Division. The battalion moved firstly to Tipperary and then in September 1915, moved to Pirbright in England.
The Battalion War Diary opens on 1 February, 1916, with the fact that they were currently in Bordon, Hampshire, (about 17 miles south of Pirbright) and that the order to mobilize had been received.
The next entry is for the 18, when they entrained for Southampton. At 6 pm on the 19, they embarked for Harve, where at 7 am on the 20, they disembarked and marched to camp, and at 6 pm on the 21, they entrained for Berghette. However, despite the fact that there is no mention of any mishap in the War Diary, sometime on the 20 February, Privates Byrne and Hughes both lost their lives.
The 1923 Imperial (Commonwealth) War Graves Commission produced, index to the burials in the St. Marie Cemetery in Le Havre, gives no clue as to the cause of death for Pte. Hughes, however, for Pte. Byrne, it states that he ‘Died of wounds’
During my research I came across a request, on a WW1 forum that I use, for information into Pte. Hughes death from his Granddaughter, while the replies received shed no real light on the events that day, her final post on the matter was as follows:
‘just an update-have spoken to family and as they recall Grandad's battalion landed in Le Havre France on the 20/02/1916 and sadly grandad 'died’? as he was getting off the boat-they are not sure whether the battalion was under attack at that point as he met an horrendous death-but as I have said before he will always be our hero as he was a serving soldier and with his comrades went off to war prepared to give their all for King and country’
As there is nothing in the War Diary to suggest that the battalion came under enemy fire on 20 February, if Pte. Byrne died of wounds, it would seem that these must have been the result of an accident, whether or not Pte. Hughes was killed at the same time is something we will probably never know.
Owen and Michael were both entitled to the British War and Victory medals, they are buried next to each other in plots Div. 19. R. 6 & 7 respectively.
Ian Chambers. February, 2016.