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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland


NEWS

BANGOR GRAMMAR CADETS REVEAL LIFE AND LOSS OF WW1

03 January 2019

The history of an ‘old boy’ from Bangor Grammar School who fought and died in the trenches of World War 1 has inspired a fascinating journey into the past by two current students.

As part of a Northern Ireland wide history project, members of the school’s Combined Cadet Force were challenged to find out more about World War I by researching stories of ‘local heroes’.  Joshua Hardy and Aqeel Mohamed chose as their subject 2nd Lt Harry Leebody Weir.

Henry, known to friends and family as Harry, was born in Belfast in 1888, and grew up in Bangor, attending Bangor Grammar School. A keen sportsman, he played inter-provincial rugby for the school and was an amateur boxer. Harry’s first job was at Messrs Riddel’s Ltd hardware Store at Donegall Place in Belfast.

He was 26 years old when he volunteered for the Army in Bangor, joining the Royal Irish Rifles just two weeks after the outbreak of war. He transferred to the 36th (Ulster) Divisional Train (Army Service Corps) and, on 1 March 1915, he was promoted to the rank of Corporal.  

Harry soon found himself fighting on the front lines and, in 1918,  was caught up in the German Spring Offensive at St Quentin where he and his comrades came under the heaviest artillery bombardment yet seen on the Western Front. Mustard, chlorine and tear gas engulfed the British trenches and, by the end of that action, 35 soldiers and 4 officers of the 12th Irish Rifles had been killed. Harry was taken to Cologne and held as a prisoner of war.

Conditions for prisoners of war were usually unhygienic and desolate and forced labour was common.  Harry contracted flu which developed into pneumonia and, on 28 October 1918, he died whilst still a prisoner.

Today Harry is remembered on his school remembrance board, and his name is inscribed on the cenotaph in Bangor.  

Reflecting on the research, Joshua Hardy said, “We felt a special connection with Harry and it was strange to think that someone who was young, full of life and a bit of a Bangor Grammar School sporting hero could have died in such dreadful circumstances in World War 1.  Finding out about his story reminded us that, behind the statistics of sacrifice, in that war were real people … people very much like us.”

Aqeel Mohamed agrees, “Our research made us think more deeply about what World War 1 soldiers must have suffered.  It also reminded us that not all the deaths happened in the trenches.  Working on the Local Heroes project gave a whole new dimension to history lessons and it was an interesting and valuable challenge for us – a bit less adventurous than the majority of Cadet exercises, but something that we will always remember.” 

The information gathered by the young people will now become an important learning resource for others in the Cadet movement.