Private William Henry Morton


William Henry Morton was born on 28 July 1889 at Annagh, Portadown, County Armagh, the fourth of nine children of farm labourer William Morton and his wife Mary Jane (nee Dogherty). After growing up at nearby Derrymacash, by the time of the 1911 Census he was living on the farm of James Sullivan at Corbracky, Drumcree, where he worked as a farm labourer.

Morton enlisted in the North Irish Horse between 26 October and 10 November 1911 (No.632 – later Corps of Hussars No.71049). He embarked for France with A Squadron on 17 August 1914, seeing action on the retreat from Mons and advance to the Aisne. A letter written by Morton describing his experiences was published in the Belfast News-Letter on 29 December 1914:

In the course of a letter to Miss Fforde, Raythan, Lurgan, Trooper William Morton, A Squadron, North Irish Horse, says:

“I now take the opportunity of writing you a few lines to let you know how we have come through the campaign so far. Well, the 1st squadron of the North Irish Horse have taken part in nearly all the principal battles, including Mons and the great retreat which lasted over a fortnight. That was a fortnight which will never be forgotten by anyone who had the honour of taking a part in it. On the night of the 22nd August our squadron was divided into two lots to act as infantry scouts, one lot under Major Viscount Cole and the other under Captain Herdman. I happened to belong to Major Cole’s lot, which had some exciting experiences, as also had the other lot with Captain Herdman. We never met again until the battle at the Marne River, almost a month afterwards. I shall never forget the day we had the bayonet charge with the Inniskillings. My troop, under Lieutenant Hughes, took up a position on the railway line. The enemy was about 500 yards away, when suddenly their artillery opened fire and we had to retire in the open under a heavy shell fire. I shall never forget the sound of the bursting of their 'Jack Johnsons,’ as the Highlanders call them. When we took up another position with the Gordons and Inniskillings we made our rifles tell on the advancing German infantry. It was horrible to see the heaps of dead and dying, both men and horses. Another experience I had was when we were doing a flanking movement. When we came in contact with a patrol of the enemy we dismounted, and, taking up a position, opened a rapid fire. We succeeded in bringing down about fifty of them, and the remainder, who galloped round a wood, were finished by some infantry on our left. Immediately then the German big guns and Maxims began to play on us, and again we had to retire through a village which was in flames with burning shells. That was the day of the famous charge of the 9th Lancers, of which, I am sure, you have heard. It was terrible to see the poor refugees in that awful retreat. Our food was very scarce; for days we lived on a few biscuits, but the French were very good, and gave us lots of fruit and wine. Want of sleep and marching at night also came hard on us. We lost our transport, which was shelled to pieces, so there was no way of bringing provisions along. We were very glad to meet the other two troops, which had also some exciting experiences in the retreat. I believe they were nearly captured at St. Quentin by holding a position too long, but Captain Herdman, with two other officers and Sergeant-Major Burns, outwitted the enemy and got clear in the nick of time. They retreated about 20 miles, but the enemy was again on their track. I heard they nearly lost their transport by a horse giving up, but succeeded in gaining a bridge in time just before it was blown up by the Engineers. The squadron had been all together since we started to advance. We have had some exciting battles and our turn in the trenches, as had all the cavalry. We are proud of our little regiment of N.I.H., which has made a name for itself, as well as being the first regiment, other than regulars, to go into action. We are well off for food and everything now; lots of tobacco and cigarettes, thanks to the people of Ulster, who have sent presents to us. I thank you for the kind present you sent me.”

Morton was also mentioned in a letter written by one of his pals, Isaac Walker of Seagoe, which was published in the Portadown News on 13 March 1915:

I arrived back here all right, and am going on just as usual, I am sending you a little cutting from the paper which concerns us. Other voluntary regiments claim to be under fire first. It is contradicted and explained, that we were the first to be under fire. I and Walter Vaughan were the ones out of Seagoe Parish who were with the N.I.H. on the retirement from Mons. Milton Boyle, of Drumcree Parish, and William Morton, of Ardmore Parish, were also with us. So there were only four from Portadown serving with the N.I.H. I am glad to say we are all safe and sound yet. We had a Church service today, but I did not get to it. Everyone likes to attend, but we can't all get. I think this is all at present. Thanking you for your kindness. I only wish this war was over till we all get back.
(From Richard Edgar, A Call to Arms, Portadown in the Great War)

In March 1915 Morton fell ill with an inflammation of the glands in his neck. Initially treated at the 2nd General Hospital at Le Havre, on 4 March he was evacuated to the UK.

Whether Morton saw any further overseas service, or remained at the North Irish Horse reserve depot at Antrim, is not known at present. On 3 January 1917 he married Jeannie Gordon of Ballycraigy at Fountain Street, Antrim.

Morton was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve, on 25 February 1919.