Lance Corporal William Alexander Kelly



William Alexander Kelly was born on 30 December 1898 at Carnew, Garvaghey, County Down, the fifth of seven children of grocer William Kelly and his wife Anna Jane (nee Kelso). The family moved to Belfast soon after 1901, where his mother died in 1905. By the time of the 1911 Census, William and his younger brother David were living with their aunt and uncle, Martha and Henry Carmichael, in High Street, Ballynahinch, County Down. William later returned to Belfast where he lived with his father at 90 Wilton Street.

Kelly enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Antrim on 6 June 1916 (No.2189), overstating his age by a year. In November that year he was one of 100 North Irish Horsemen who volunteered to transfer to the Royal Irish Rifles (No.40883). The formal transfer took place on 7 December, the same day they embarked for France, where they joined the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, on the Somme front. Kelly was posted to A Company. He was promoted to lance corporal (unpaid) on 10 April 1917 (paid from 18 July).

On 31 July 1917 the 1st Battalion took part in the attack on the Westhoek Ridge on the first day of Third Ypres (Passchendaele). Their casualties were severe - 36 officers and other ranks killed, 152 wounded and 18 missing – according to the battalion diary.

Kelly was one of the wounded – hit by a bullet in the neck. He was evacuated to No.3 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station, then to the 22nd General Hospital at Camiers. On 4 August he was evacuated to England, where he was admitted to Reading War Hospital, remaining there until 5 November.

After he had recovered, Kelly returned to Ireland, where he remained in reserve with the Royal Irish Rifles. On 20 April 1918 he was transferred to the 2nd (Home Service) Garrison Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment (No.3366) and embarked for France soon after.

The 2nd Garrison Battalion, later renamed the 8th (Service) Battalion, served in France with the 59th and 40th Divisions until the end of the war.

Kelly remained with the battalion until January 1919, when he returned to the UK. On 15 February he was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve. His character was recorded as 'very good'.


Image, from Belfast Evening Telegraph, from 1917, kindly provided by Nigel Henderson, Researcher at History Hub Ulster (