The Benvarden Orangeman who rescued the Irish Nationalist MP

Major William Redmond. INBM34-14
Major William Redmond. INBM34-14

The family of Private John Meeke havae only just discovered the story of their grandfather’s WW1 heroism.

On 7 June 1917, the Battle of Messines began in Flanders, Belgium. On that day, Private John Meeke, of Benvarden, was serving as a stretcher bearer in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Private John Meeke MM. INBM34-14

Private John Meeke MM. INBM34-14

During an intense artillery bombardment, Private Meeke heard a report that Major William Redmond of the Royal Irish Regiment was lying wounded.

Redmond was an Irish MP with strong Irish Nationalist views; Meeke was an Orangeman and a soldier in the 36th (Ulster) Division. Back home in Ireland, they would have been bitter adversaries.

However, on the battlefield, loyalties were different.

Using the shell craters as shelter, Private John Meeke ran across the battlefield to look for the injured officer. He quickly found Major Redmond and began to treat his wounds.

As he worked, the battle raged around them and Private Meeke was twice hit by shrapnel. Despite his injuries, he continued to care for the Major until they were rescued and taken back to the safety of the British lines.

Tragically, Major Redmond died of his wounds.

Private John Meeke recovered and was awarded the Military Medal for his gallantry.

Meeke survived the war and returned home to Benvarden.

On his death on 7 December 1923, he was buried in an unmarked family plot in Derrykeighan Old Graveyard.

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Five years later, John Meeke’s wife sadly also died, leaving two young orphaned daughters. The girls were told nothing of their father’s wartime courage and, when they grew up, they moved to England. One of the daughters, Thomasina, had eight children and recently they began trying to find out more information about their grandparents.

At the same time, staff at Ballymoney Museum asked a local genealogist, Dorothy Arthur, if it was possible to trace the ‘missing Meekes’. Within days, Dorothy had used her expertise to locate the family in England. She was then able to reveal to them their grandfather’s amazing war story. With the help of the staff at Ballymoney Museum, the granddaughters were able to get in touch with their cousins (nieces and great nieces of John Meeke) still living in North Antrim.

For a free pamphlet, “Hero of Messines Ridge 1917: the Story of John Meeke MM & Major William Redmond” please contact Ballymoney Museum, Ballymoney Town Hall, Townhead Street, Ballymoney, BT53 6BE, Email: or Robert Thompson, 9 Riverside Road, Bushmills, BT57 8TP, Email: