Some time after the initiation of the project to track the military service record of J. A. C. Kennedy, I went back to look for his older brother “William” who we knew had been killed in the Great War. Fortunately, we also knew that only Josiah had enlisted from Canada, so a search was made of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site for a UK soldier who was the son of a Rev. S. G. Kennedy. That search led us to the following:
Service Number: 14/16657
Rifleman, 14th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
Killed in Action: June 7, 1917
William Kennedy served in the 14th (Service) Battalion (Young Citizens) of the Royal Irish Rifles, which formed part of the 109th Brigade of the 36th (Ulster) Division. On 1 June 1917 (war diary page 213 of 479) they were at Newmarket Camp (TMC 28.M.14.c.10.85) in Belgium preparing for an attack that was to commence at 3:10 am in the early morning hours of 7 July 1917 (Battle of Messines). They started their trek at 9 pm taking Number 6 Track to the front line. They were now in the Spanbroek Sector at 28.N.30, approximately 9,000 yards south-southwest of Ypres and 1.000 yards southwest of Wytschaete. They are moving east to their objectives in 28.O.25.
Forty-two (42) men of the battalion were killed on 7 June 1917, of which twenty-four (24) are buried with William Kennedy in the Spanbroekmolen British Cemetery. Three (3) are buried across the border at a hospital cemetery in France. Only one (1) has no known grave and is named on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. He could very well be in the unmarked grave beside William Kennedy. There are five (5) other Unknown Soldiers in the cemetery.
From the Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
In November 1914, the strategically important Wytschaete-Messines Ridge, south of Ypres, fell into German hands. The occupation of the high ground allowed Germans to observe the Allied and their rear areas in the Ypres Salient. The ridge was gradually transformed into a German stronghold with multiple defensive positions. Early in 1916 the British began to tunnel beneath the German positions. In June 1917, British Empire forces attacked the ridge with the aim of capturing the high ground.
At 3.10am on 7 June 1917, after a week-long artillery bombardment, Allied forces detonated explosives in 19 mines under the German positions. Shocked German troops suffered many casualties and soon faced an infantry attack protected by a ‘creeping’ barrage.
Most of the initial objectives were taken in the early hours of the day. The New Zealand Division captured the village of Messines, while the 16th (Irish) Division and 36th (Ulster) Division took the village of Wytschaete. German counter-attacks the following day failed to win back ground, but resistance continued until 14 June when Allied forces had control of the Wytschaete-Messines Ridge.
Messines was one of the most successful operations of the war on the Western Front, demonstrating that success could be achieved with meticulous planning and training, combined with overwhelming firepower and limited objectives. Success at Messines was vital for the later Allied offensive at Ypres, but also created an unfounded sense of optimism. The six-week delay before the start of the Third Battle of Ypres allowed the Germans to reorganise and the Allies were unable to replicate their quick victory.
British Empire forces suffered around 25,000 casualties. German losses were more than 26,000. Although the attacking forces were composed of men from different parts of the British Empire, the succeeding generations have associated the Battle of Messines particularly with the Irish and New Zealand participation.