Lieutenant William Henry Hutchinson


William Henry Hutchinson was born in Cavan on 11 November 1883, son of Nicholina Hutchinson. By the time of the 1901 Census he was employed as an apprentice fitter and living with his widowed mother and his older brother Fitz William Hutchinson, a clerk in Holy Orders, at Daneswell Villas, Whitworth Road, Glasnevin, Dublin.

He later moved to South Africa and on 3 May 1914 was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 1st Imperial Light Horse, South African Union Defence Force. Soon after the war began he saw action with his regiment in German South West Africa.

Hutchinson was then given leave to return home and seek a commission in the British Army. He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant on 21 October 1915 and after serving for some months in a reserve cavalry regiment, on 28 March 1916 he was attached to the North Irish Horse.

He joined the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment in the field at Flesselles on 11 August 1916 and was posted to C Squadron. The regimental war diary includes a number of references to Hutchinson – attending a Court Martial for instruction on 15 September, and taking trench digging parties up to the line in January and March 1917.

Hutchinson was promoted to lieutenant on 25 September 1916. However on 24 March 1917 he returned to the rank of 2nd lieutenant in exchange for a permanent appointment in the North Irish Horse. On 1 July 1917 he was again promoted to lieutenant, with seniority later backdated to 16 June 1916.

In May 1917 he was involved in a motor vehicle accident while travelling from Samer to X Corps Headquarters. According to Hutchinson:

About 1½ miles north of Desvres the car left the road and crashed down a bank with result that all the occupants were thrown out and I sustained the injury to my foot. Another officer with me in the car was able to walk to Desvres and telephoned to my Regiment and a cart was sent for us.

He was hospitalised with a badly bruised left foot, but soon recovered and returned to his regiment.

In September 1917 the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment was dismounted and absorbed into the 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers – subsequently known as the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion. Hutchinson was transferred to the battalion on 20 September and joined it in the field at Ruyaulcourt twelve days later. He was posted to C Company.

On the night of 3/4 November C Company mounted a major raid on the German lines near Havrincourt. Although it was judged a great success, C Company sustained a number of casualties, including Lieutenant Hutchinson, severely wounded by a grenade – in his chest very near his heart, his right buttock, right knee, foot and left thigh.

Hutchinson was treated in military hospitals in France until 3 December, when he was evacuated to England. He was eventually sent to recover at Aut Even Hospital, Kilkenny. During this time he wrote two letters to the widow of one of the men killed in the raid, Sergeant Richard Irwin:

Dear Mrs Irwin. I would have written to you very much sooner only I was dangerously hit myself the night your husband was killed and when able to write had to get your address from the battalion. On account of recent movements it has taken till today for me to receive it. I do not want to stir up your sorrow afresh, but I simply must write and tell you how much I thought of him. I have been in charge of his troop since August 1916 and when we joined the Fusiliers lately, we were in the same company and on the night of the raid he was with me at the head of our party and I always felt that when he was with me I had a good pal as well as a good Serjeant, God himself only knows why I should have lived and he taken, ever since I was out of danger I have felt the loss of a good friend. Please if there is anything I can do let me know. I am still in bed and will not be up for a couple of weeks yet, I got six wounds but the dangerous one was a piece of shell that ripped up my lung.

Dear Mrs Irwin. I was very glad to hear from you and to know that you had received my letter. You asked me about your husband’s last moments. As far as I know he was unconscious when the stretcher bearers went to bring him in and I understand that he died before he was actually brought to our lines. If you know any of the Boys out there I am sure they could tell you more details, but you see I was hit practically at the same time, but being able to walk a little I got on a bit before I collapsed and was taken back by some of the men returning from the enemy lines.

I hope you will not be angry at the enclosed, which I want you to accept as a little xmas box for the little ones. It will be a sad time for you and if this little token of my sympathy will help to give pleasure to the children and through them to yourself, believe me it will be a very great pleasure indeed.

(From Elliott L & Stevenson D, The Story of a Banner: Waringstown during World War 1)

Hutchinson recovered, but slowly. A medical board on 10 June 1918 found that he would not be able to perform military duty for another seven months. It found that the wounds were healing well, although "there is still a piece of the bomb in his chest in the cardiac area".

Hutchinson served out the remainder of the war at the North Irish Horse reserve depot at Antrim. He was demobilised on 1 March 1919, and resigned his commission on 1 April 1920.