Sergeant Samuel Espie


Samuel Espie was born on 2 December 1885 at Killyberne, Magherafelt, County Londonderry, the second of five children of farmer Richard Espie and his wife Jane (nee Bell). His mother died when he was seven years old, and two years later his father re-married, to Margaret Irwin, at Cookstown. By 1911 he was living at Tullyboy, County Londonderry, with his father and four siblings and working on the family farm.

Espie enlisted in the North Irish Horse between 30 July and 19 August 1912 (No.730). He embarked for France with C Squadron on 20 August 1914, seeing action on the retreat from Mons and advance to the Aisne. In October he was hospitalised at Rouen with blood poisoning, but by December had recovered and was able to rejoin his squadron.

On 28 November 1914 the Mid-Ulster Mail reported that:

Driver W. J. Arbuthnott, of the North Irish Horse, son of Mr. W. J. Arbuthnott, Drumbonaway, writing to a friend says:--"... I have come through a few battles safely. All the rest of the boys are well and doing good work at the front, especially the Cookstown chaps. We are very well looked after with food and clothes, and we never want for anything, and not one of the Cookstown party of the North Irish Horse has got a wound, though all have shown up bravely at the post of duty. Sergeant Ashcroft, John Maxwell, Samuel Espey, Willie Crooks, Willie Anderson, George Henry, and Albert James McKenna, are the Cookstown fellows in the same troop as me.

Espie was also mentioned in a letter published in the Mid-Ulster Mail on 12 December 1914:

Trooper Robert Averall, of the North Irish Horse, writing to Mr. John G. Gamble, of Magherafelt, in 2nd inst., says – "We are having a badly needed rest just now, as our horses were nearly played out. Cavalry is not much use in the trenches, but we hope to get plenty of work when the Germans get on the move again, and I hope the next halt will be in Berlin. It is hardly likely we will be home for Christmas, but I hope we will be there for the 'Twelfth!' Four Cookstown fellows are here in my troop – Sergeant Ashcroft, Corporal Espie, Lance-Corporal Henry, and Trooper Willie Crooks. We are visited by the enemy's aeroplanes almost every day. They fly over our lines and drop bombs all over the place but do not do much damage, and we usually manage to bring them down in the end. We were on guard during the King's visit, and were on the look out for spies. We succeeded in capturing two disguised as shepherds. They had some sheep and a dog. We are getting tired of mutton chops, so we will perhaps try dog-flesh for a change!! Remember me to all the comrades in the U.V.F., and tell them I am hoping to rejoin their ranks soon.

At the end of 1915 Espie came home on a short furlough. The Mid-Ulster Mail reported on 4 December:

Troopers Wesley McClelland, Cookstown, and Samuel Espy, Tullyboy, both of the North Irish Horse, have been home on a few days' furlough, and are looking fit and well. They have been for a considerable time on the bodyguard of the Commander-in-Chief, and consequently some distance from the firing line. They seem to feel that there would be more life in being engaged in the active hostilities.

And a week later:

Trooper George A. Henry, son of Mr. Wm. James Henry, Cloghog, has arrived home for a few days from France. He is looking fit and has increased considerably in weight since his last visit some seven or eight months ago. He has been engaged on the bodyguard of the Commander-in-Chief, with a number of other troopers of the N.I.H., their duties being military police work, carrying despatches, and conducting German prisoners back from behind the firing line. Some of the N.I.H. are doing their turn in the trenches, but Trooper Henry has not yet had the privilege. One of his companions, Trooper Sam Espy, has at his own request being engaged in the trenches for a considerable time.

This article sparked an indignant response from three of Espie's comrades in France, who resented the suggestion that they were not often in the firing line. Their letter was published on 15 January 1916:

Dear Sir, – We would respectfully draw your attention to a statement which appeared in a recent issue of your paper, just come to hand, namely, that Troopers S. Espie and G. Henry were home on leave from the Squadron of North Irish Horse (A) acting as bodyguard to Sir John French at General Headquarters.

The above-mentioned are corporals and belong to C Squadron, which as been acting as Divisional Cavalry since coming to France on August 22nd, 1914, with the exception of a few months last winter, when the squadron was broke up to work with different Corps Headquarters. Owing to absence of real cavalry work, the chief work of the Squadron has been in the nature of pioneer work, viz., trench digging, barb-wiring, and sand-bagging redoubts, etc., and on several occasions the wiring has been done outside the front line parapets, not fifty yards from the German trenches; also carrying wounded from trenches to advanced dressing stations; escorting German prisoners to nearest rail-head from reserve line, and taking their turn in the trenches as infantry when required. In fact this Squadron has not been out of the firing line (proper) since they came out, and a good many of our comrades out here have rather resented the statement, that has so often erroneously appeared in your valuable paper, that the Squadron was on Headquarters work.

Esteeming the favour of a correction at an early date, with best wishes to the good old Mail for the New Year. We remain

Yours faithfully,
R. Averall, 485; H. Bradley, 978; Corporal S. Brown, 583.
No. 1 Troop, C Squadron, N.I.H.,
3rd Division Cavalry, B.E.F.
1st January, 1916.

Espie remained with C Squadron in France and Belgium until September 1917, when the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment, including C Squadron, was dismounted and the men transferred to the infantry. Like most, Espie was transferred to the 9th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers – renamed the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion – on 20 September (No.41386).

However later that year he was transferred again, to the 10th (Service) Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (No.42667). This battalion was disbanded on 21 January 1918, with most of the men posted to the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Espie's later experiences during the war are not known at present.