Benvarden’s World War 1 hero

Members of the 'Carson Project' (Ballymena) and the 'Ulster Covenant & Historical Society' visit Private Meeke's grave. inbm33-15
Members of the 'Carson Project' (Ballymena) and the 'Ulster Covenant & Historical Society' visit Private Meeke's grave. inbm33-15

Ultoniae Cultural and Heritage Society recently held a talk in Derrykeighan Community/Orange Hall where members of the Carson Project (Ballymena) and the Ulster Covenant & Historical Society listened intently as Lizzie Lindsay (UCHS) gave a talk about Pte John Meeke MM (formerly of Benvardin).

She also described the Battle of Messines in June 1917 when he saved the life of Major William Redmond who was serving with the 16th Irish Division.

Lizzie Lindsay explained, “As he bandaged Major Redmond’s wounds the two men came under continued fire. John knew the importance of the officer to whom he was tending, and Major Redmond, conscious throughout, would have known he was in the care of a young Ulsterman.

“As he finished bandaging, John Meeke himself was wounded on his left side. Major Redmond saw the young private bleeding profusely and ordered him to retreat to the safety of the British lines. John refused, openly disobeying his senior officer.

“Later, John was hit again. A second time Major Redmond gave him an order to save himself. Once more, he refused. He survived his wounds and, when the war ended, returned home to his family at Benvardin. John’s brother Samuel had been a prisoner of war in one of the most notorious of the German Prison camps. He had been forced to work in the sulphur mines and when he arrived home he was in very poor health. Following the War, John returned home to Benvarden where he worked as a gardener on Benvarden House.

“A few weeks later Samuel was dead, he is buried in Old Derrykeighan Burial Ground and his grave is marked with a Commonwealth War Graves Headstone. He too is buried beside his brother in the same cemetery, but no Commonwealth War Grave headstone marked his grave having died after the cut off point of August 1921. However thanks to the local community he has now been rightfully honoured with a memorial headstone which pays tribute to such a brave man.”

Darren Quigg (Chairperson) explained: “This event will help to develop mutual understanding by developing a day of reflection to identify differences and similarities between communities and the sacrifices made by both traditions.”