Signaller James Thomas McMaster


James Thomas McMaster was born on 22 July 1882 at Inshaleen, Errigal, County Londonderry, the last of ten children of farmer Samuel McMaster and his wife Catherine (née Kennedy). By the time of the 1901 Census he was living as a boarder in Society Street, Coleraine, and working as a compositor. Soon after, he moved to Ballymoney where, on 4 October 1905, he married Jeannie Donaghey in the Trinity Presbyterian Church. The couple had six children over the next thirteen years. At the time of the 1911 Census they were living at 6 Henry Street, Ballymoney, James working as a foreman compositor.

McMaster enlisted in the North Irish Horse between 2 and 11 December 1915 (No.2029). He trained at the regiment's Antrim reserve camp before embarking for France in 1916 or the first half of 1917, where he was posted to one of the squadrons of the 1st or 2nd North Irish Horse Regiments.

In August-September 1917 the 2nd NIH Regiment was disbanded and its men, together with some surplus to the needs of the 1st NIH Regiment, were transferred to the Royal Irish Fusiliers, an infantry regiment. Most, including McMaster, were transferred on 20 September and posted to the 9th (Service) Battalion – renamed the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion – joining it in the field at Ruyaulcourt five days later. McMaster was issued regimental number 41194 and posted to D Company.

He saw action with the Battalion at the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917. According to a later report, in the Ballymoney Free Press:

Signaller J. T. McMaster, Royal Irish Fusiliers (late North Irish Horse), has rejoined his unit after two months' convalescence in France. He had been suffering from slight shell-shock and rheumatism received whilst engaged in the trenches on the Cambrai front. Signaller McMaster was put down by the concussion of the shell which killed his captain [Robert Samuel Flood MC] and mortally wounded Trooper William Thomson of Conagher, whom he spoke to for the last time on the stretcher.

McMaster was one of the many posted as missing following the 9th (NIH) Battalion's fighting withdrawal from St Quentin from 21 to 28 March 1918 during the German spring offensive. It was later learned that he had been captured on 27 March at Erches, near Roye, when much of the battalion had been overwhelmed by the fast-moving German advance. He remained a prisoner until the end of the war, initially held at Bohain in France, then in a camp at Giessen in Germany.