Orangeman’s act of bravery recalled

Major Willie Redmond an Irish Nationalist MP who was injured during the Battle of Messines in June 1917 and rescued by Private John Meeke
Major Willie Redmond an Irish Nationalist MP who was injured during the Battle of Messines in June 1917 and rescued by Private John Meeke

The remarkable story of a Co Antrim Orangeman, who came to the aid of an Irish nationalist MP on the battlefield during the First World War, was recalled at the weekend, one hundred years on from the Battle of Messines.

The selfless act by Private John Meeke who tended to the injured Major Willie Redmond was the subject of a drama production and exhibition, held at Benvarden Orange hall, near Ballymoney.

Private John Meeke who tended to the injured Major Willie Redmond

Private John Meeke who tended to the injured Major Willie Redmond

Prior to Saturday’s performance, a commemorative service was held at Mr Meeke’s graveside at Derrykeighan in north Antrim.

Private Meeke was a member of Benvarden LOL 1001 and served with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers during World War One.

At the Battle of Messines in June 1917 Meeke was working as a stretcher bearer and attending to the wounded in No Man’s Land when he saw Major Willie Redmond, an Irish Nationalist MP, fall during an attack on the German lines. As he bandaged the Major’s wounds he was under continued fire.

Redmond twice ordered him to retreat to safety, but both times Meeke refused. Redmond was eventually carried to a field dressing station, where he died.

Despite having been wounded himself, Meeke insisted on returning to search for more casualties, until he too was taken for treatment.

For his bravery, the young soldier was awarded the Military Medal. He survived the war and died in 1923 of tuberculosis.

A steel silhouette depicting Meeke’s attempt to save his fellow soldier’s life was erected close to Messines last week, and was visited by dignitaries during official commemorations.

Deputy master of Benvarden lodge, Steven Philips, said members were extremely proud to have an association with the war hero. “John Meeke was a very brave soldier and a man who showed great compassion,” he said. “He will always be remembered and rightly so by Benvarden. We remember him for what he tried to do.

“The fact he received the military medal for means the hierarchy of the British Army recognised the selfless act of bravery.”