Lieutenant Robert James Downey, SRLSGCM




Robert James Downey was born on 7 March 1888 at Kildartin, Armagh, son of national school teacher George C. Downey and his wife Rebecca (nee Conn). He was educated at Drelincourt National School, Armagh, afterwards being employed as a law clerk.

On 7 March 1907 he enlisted in the North of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry. When the regiment was disbanded, Downey joined its replacement, the North Irish Horse, at Newbridge on 6 July 1908 (No.41). He was promoted to the rank of lance sergeant on 30 November 1908 and squadron quartermaster sergeant on 7 March 1914.

Downey embarked for France with D Squadron of the North Irish Horse on 1 May 1915. The following November he was promoted to squadron sergeant-major. In 1916, when his period of service expired, he re-engaged for the duration of the war, collecting the £15 bounty that came with it. Through December 1916 he acted as regimental sergeant-major.

On 5 January 1917 Downey applied for a commission, the application supported by his commanding officer Lord Cole, who wrote that he was "a keen and capable man & thoroughly capable of commanding men". He arrived at No.1 Cavalry Cadet School at Netheravon on 22 February. On 17 April 1917 he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant and posted to the North Irish Horse reserve at Antrim.

Downey was Mentioned in Despatches on 9 April 1917 and in the same year was awarded the Special Reserve Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. He remained at Antrim until near the end of the war. On 8 September 1918 he joined the 1st North Irish Horse Regiment in the field and was posted to E Squadron. The squadron war diary mentions that at the beginning of October he led a patrol  "to reconnoitre Canal de St Quentin ... preparatory to small raiding operations on following night which, however, never took place." A week later he led a troop which was attached to the 1st Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. He was promoted to lieutenant on 17 October. When the war ended Downey was attending the Lewis Gun school at GHQ.

Through 1919, officers and men of the regiment were released for home. By June, Downey was the last remaining officer in France. Briefly in command, he returned home with the cadre at the end of the month. He was demobilised on 17 July 1919 and relinquished his commission on 19 March 1920.


The first of these images shows Sergeant Downey in 1909, wearing the old North of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry piping, with North Irish Horse shoulder title and service dress cap. The second image, in 1914 marching order, shows him as squadron quartermaster sergeant. Downey appears in a number of group photos on this site - with the regiment's sergeants in 1912, with D Squadron sergeants in 1914, with North Irish Horse NCOs in December 1914, and D Squadron sergeants in 1915. He can also be seen as an officer at Vignacourt in 1919 here and here.


Downey 2


Images courtesy of the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (Cat. Nos. D1482/5 and D/1482/10).