Poppy In memoriam Poppy

Second Lieutenant Francis John Elliott McFarland

 

 

McFarland 1

 

Francis John Elliott McFarland was born on 11 August 1885 at 4 Lorington, Antrim Road, Belfast, son of Francis Edward, a brigade surgeon in the Army Medical Department and later a lieutenant-colonel, and his wife Mary Georgina McFarland (formerly Elliott).

In the 1911 Census he was living as a guest at the home of Irish author and historian Standish O'Grady at 44 Milltown Road, Dublin.

McFarland was a civil engineer, having studied at the Royal Academy, Belfast. From 1914 to 1915 he was employed as assistant engineer on the Eastern Railway Survey; from 1915 to 1916 as Assistant District Commissioner in Northern Territories on Africa's Gold Coast, before resigning in order to enlist.

On his return to Ireland he joined the North Irish Horse at Antrim on 28 June 1916 (No.2207). On 15 November that year he embarked for France and was posted to No.1 Troop of E Squadron, 1st North Irish Horse Regiment.

Soon after, McFarland applied for a commission in the 2/11 Battalion, London Regment (understating his age by two years), and on 27 February 1917 left his squadron for the UK, reporting for duty at No.8 Officer Cadet Battalion, Lichfield, on 7 April. On 1 August 1917 he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant and posted to the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

McFarland was then sent to Palestine to join the 5/6th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers. There he earned a Military Cross, his citation reading:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Though wounded early while in a difficult position under heavy machine-gun fire, he continued to encourage his platoon. Wounded again, he stayed till the situation was cleared.

On 10 March 1918 he was wounded. Following his recovery, McFarland was attached to the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers, reporting for duty at Cormette, near St Omer on 29 June.

In the early hours of 22 July the battalion attempted a major raid on the German lines, the object being a strong point called Shoddy Farm at Meulenhouck, near Bailleul. McFarland was one of the five officers who took part. By 12.27 am the raiding party had got quietly into position, but fifteen minutes later it was spotted by the enemy, who sent up SOS flares:

His barrage came down in No Man’s Land and M.Gs opened from the road running N.E. from La Bourse and the house at [Wirral Farm]. On barrage starting the raiding party at once opened L.G. fire and moved forward: at the same time our barrage was phoned for and came down at 12.50 a.m. Throughout the raid there was very heavy fighting, the enemy garrison being estimated at about 70–100 men with 5 M.Gs. One prisoner and 2 M.Gs were captured, the second M.G. was lost owing to bearer becoming a casualty. Enemy casualties estimated about 30. Our casualties were 2 Officers and 4 O.Rs missing and 11 wounded.

Second Lieutenant McFarland was one of the two missing officers. Patrols sent out for two nights found no trace of any of the missing men. It appears likely that they and the four missing men were killed in the fighting that night and their bodies brought in by the Germans. After the war the bodies of four 9th Battalion Other Ranks killed at that time were recovered from a German cemetery very close to the scene of the raid. The two officers were probably also buried there, but their graves subsequently lost.

While it was initially thought that McFarland had been captured, nothing was heard of him, and in 1919 it was concluded that he had died "on or since" 22 July 1918. Having no known grave, he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium, Panel 140.

 

The circumstances of McFarland's loss on the night of 22 July were such that, for a year his family held out hope that he had been captured, and after the Armistice might return home. Their search for information on the events of that night, through newspaper advertisements, and inquiries to the War Office and the Red Cross, yielded much information, though not a great deal of clarity.

In February 1919 a Corporal David Clarke of Bessbrook, County Armagh, wrote to McFarland's sister:

I now take the pleasure of writing you these few lines to let you no that your Brother was captured on a Raide in July and since that we captured a german Document and it gives his name on it and another officer named Ratcliff and a couple of men that is about all the News of him that I can give you. The [Germans] did not kill him. I am only too glad to give you all the [news] that I no about him hoping he will soon turn up. You can answer this to my home because when I get this Letter I was just leaving france so I wrote this in a Hurry for you to get it.

On 19 March he wrote again:

I could not tell you were & whether it was an officer or a private got the document, but the document was sent round to every sergeant to read out to the men. I could not tell you were the document has gone to. I saw the document myself I would do anything I could for you, but the document would do you no good, but I am almost sure your brother is living and well and I am certain sure you will hear from him before long. I cannot tell you who it was captured the document but I will look for more news for you. I am only too pleased to do anything I can for you. I hope by the time you write back to me that you will have good news from him.

In March a Sergeant John Lockhart wrote to the family:

Having seen yr adv. in the Belfast Evening Telegraph of 2nd Lieut McFarland I was with him about the latter end of July when my company were out on a raid one night. Mr McF came out with us to[o], but he should not have been with us as he belonged to another company, but he came and done splendid work. When our company got word to retire we came back in the usual way. It wasn't till a few hours after I found it [sic] Mr McFarland was missing along with a few more, and there was a party out looking for them, but couldn't get any one, so I never seen him anymore, so he must have been taken prisoner, for we went over the same ground a few days after, and couldn't find any trace of anyone. I feel very sorry for him as he was a splendid soldier. This is all the information I can give you Sir

A Private J. Scott wrote:

I was with the 15th Pl[atoon] D Coy which went on a covering party on the right & left flank of B Coy. party, which made a raid on a German machine gun nest. On the night of the 21st July last, Captain Murphy D.C.M., M.M. was in charge of B Coy. raiding party. I saw Mr McFarland before the raid, but not afterwards, our party did not go through the German posts as the raiding party did, when we returned there were 5 missing out of B. Coy party, Mr McFarland & I think Sgt Foster – no one cd give any news of Mr McFarland and 2 nights later we were relieved by a Royal Inniskilling Fus: Batt:. I am very sure it was the 9th but it might have been the 1st or 2nd, But not before no man's land had been well searched by us. A couple of nights afterwards a strong rumour went round the Batt: that Mr McFarland's body had been found and buried by the Inniskillings. The place of this raid was between Bailleul & Kemmel Hill.

... and a Private W. Taylor told the family:

In reply to your adv: in the paper, I wd like to let you know something about Lieut McFarland. We were to make a raid (..?..) on a post at Bailleul (B. Coy). That night when we were going out Mr McFarland came after us, & said he wanted to go, well he went without Shell Helmet or Revolver, well I saw him pull a German out of a hedge, and I also saw him up to the time we had to come back to our own lines but he was supposed to be taken prisoner but I don't believe it for there was an officer found 2 nights after by the Inniskillings lying dead in no mans land. Well I never saw him so could not say who it was, Lieut McFarland came to our batt: from the 2nd I think that all the time we had him he proved to be one of the finest officers we ever had, we also lost another the same night, Mr Ratcliffe but he is a prisoner of war, this is all, but I hope you will find out something better.

McFarland's uncle W.S. Elliott MB wrote to the War Office in April 1919:

I write to request that you will very kindly have the name of my nephew 2nd Lieut F.J. McFarland M.C. 9th Batt Royal Irish Fusiliers placed upon the names of English Prisoners in Germany (if it has not already been done), regarding whom our Government are making Enquiries. He has been missing since July 21st last after a Raid from Bailleul –
(1) At the time he was supposed to have been taken Prisoner, I have been informed by the Adjutant of his Regiment.
(2) Search was made for his body the following day, so he was evidently not killed.
Corpl David Clarke 14077 same Regiment has written to Lieut McFarland's family saying a document was taken from the Enemy at Ypres on Oct. 18th last, stating that my nephew, another officer & some men were prisoners in their hands at the time, he adds that it was sent round to every sergeant to read out to the men.
(4) Capt Murphy who was with the Raid with my nephew considered that he had been taken Prisoner.
I mention the above facts, in case they may not have come before yr notice ahead, and will feel extremely obliged, both upon my own behalf, and that of his mother who is a widow by your kindly carrying out my request.

The War Office made inquiries, including of Corporal Clarke, who had written to McFarland's family in February. He replied:

As you speak about being informed that I can give information concerning Second Lieutenant F.J.E. McFarland 4th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers Being captured on the 22nd July 1918 in October there was a german document captured and the cour [sic] we were in at the time sent these document round to each platoon sergeant to read out till the men and it give 2nd Lieutenant McFarland name and Mr Ratcliff name and a couple of privates names and the give a Lot of information away on us and the very map References was gave away well I don't think a private could give that away it must have been an officer give it away there was some one fellow in our own Batt seen him since in the village we were lying in the[y] said he had a Machine gun cour cap Badge in his cap so that is all I no about him if it was him give the game away like that I don't think much of him.

The War Office them replied to McFarland's family, setting out in some detail the reasons that they should not hold out hope for his survival.

On 7 August 1919 McFarland's sister Emily Hardy wrote to the War Office:

My mother & I feel there can be no hope, so she has asked me to tell you kindly to proceed with the official acceptance of my brother 2nd Lieut Elliott McFarland's death ... as soon as possible. I feel it would be better for my mother as this long (silence?) is too hard for her to bear.

 

Second Lieutenant McFarland's brother, the Reverend Edward Walter McFarland, served as a chaplain to the Army in Egypt during the war. He too was awarded a Military Cross.

 

McFarland 2

 

Memorial images Copyright © Phillip Tardif with all rights reserved as set out in this Use of Material policy. Image from the Belfast Evening Telegraph kindly provided by Nigel Henderson, Researcher at History Hub Ulster (www.greatwarbelfastclippings.com).