Private John Alexander Nesbitt


John Alexander Nesbitt was born on 11 February 1884 at Mallusk, Belfast, County Antrim, the last of seven children of labourer Peter Nesbitt and his wife Mary (née Foster). At the time of the 1911 Census he was living with his parents in Legland Street, Legoniel, Belfast, and working as a post-boy.

Nesbitt enlisted in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons Service Squadron at Belfast on 23 November 1914 (No. UD/191). On 29 January 1915 at Enniskillen he was awarded 14 days' confined to barracks and loss of 3 day's pay for being absent off leave from 25 to 28 January. On 17 April that year he was awarded 14 days' confined to barracks for breaking out of barracks.

On 6 October 1915 Nesbitt embarked for France with his squadron, which was then serving as divisional cavalry to the 36th (Ulster) Division.

In June 1916 the Inniskilling squadron joined with C and F Squadrons of the North Irish Horse to form the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to X Corps.

On 10 May 1917 he received a shrapnel wound to the head. Following treatment at No.4 London Field Ambulance and No.2 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station, on 15 May he was discharged to duty.

In August-September 1917 the 2nd NIH Regiment was disbanded and most of its men were transferred to the Royal Irish Fusiliers, an infantry regiment. Nesbitt was one of 70 men given the job of conducting the regiment's horses to Egypt, to be handed over for use by mounted units there. They embarked from Marseilles on board HMT Bohemian on 25 August. After a month at Alexandria they returned to France, via Italy. On 5 October 1917 they arrived at the 36th (Ulster) Division Infantry Base Depot at Harfleur for infantry training, and after just a few days were posted to the 9th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers – which had been renamed the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion – joining it in the field at Ruyaulcourt. Nesbitt was issued regimental number 41613 and posted to C Company, which he joined on 23 November.

He probably saw action with the battalion at the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917, and during the retreat from St Quentin from 21 to 28 March 1918.

On 9 April 1918 the 9th (NIH) Battalion was on the Ypres front when the Germans began their offensive in that sector. The battalion saw severe fighting between Wulverghem and Kemmel for more than a week and suffered many casualties. Nesbitt was wounded, in the left shoulder, in the fighting on 12 April, when a strong enemy attack along the Wulverghem-Messines Road was repulsed after much hard fighting. Casualties for that day in the 108th Infantry Brigade (of which the 9th Battalion was a part) were: officers – 5 killed, 6 wounded, 1 missing; other ranks – 3 killed, 109 wounded, 145 missing.

After treatment at the 7th Stationary Hospital at Boulogne, on 17 April Nesbitt was evacuated to the UK, where he was admitted to the 3rd Western General Hospital at Cardiff. He remained there until 23 May, when discharged and posted to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers, at Rugeley.

On 21 September 1918 at Bawdsey he was awarded 7 days' confined to camp and loss of pay for overstaying his pass.

Nesbitt embarked for France on 25 September 1918, posted for duty for prisoner of war escort. On 23 October he was transferred to the Labour Corps (No.657792) and posted to No.1043 Area Employment Company. On 25 February 1919 he returned to the UK where, on 25 March, he was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve.

On 19 January 1920 Nesbitt married Martha Taggart in the Cliftonville Presbyterian Church, Belfast. Their child, Mary, was born later that year. (She died two years later.)


Nesbitt's brother Agnew, and possibly also his brother William, also served in the war, in the Royal Garrison Artillery.


This page last updated 22 June 2023.