John T. Adams is the grandson of John Adams.

Death of William McKnight

William McKnight was John Adams’ cousin, and served with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He was killed near Ploegsteert Wood on 14/11/14. This was a quiet day in the area, and we have no further details of his death.

He has no known grave, but is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial.

William McKnight was from Drumhoney townland near Whitecross, not far from Lisadian.

Co. Armagh Route March

In early February 1915 Col Fitzgerald led a large party of 220 men of 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers through County Armagh on a recruiting march. John Adams was one of the men chosen for this trip. His personal notes have enabled us to trace the possible route of the march:

Friday 5 February Lurgan to Birches 16 miles
Saturday 6 February Birches to Loughgall 9 miles
Sunday 7 February Loughgall
Monday 8 February Loughgall to Armagh 5.5 miles
Tuesday 9 February Armagh
Wednesday 10 February Armagh to Richhill (via Hamiltonsbawn) 7 miles
Thursday 11 February Richhill to Tynan 13.5 miles
Friday 12 February Tynan to Newtownhamilton 16 miles
Saturday 13 February Newtownhamilton to Bessbrook 10 miles
Sunday 14 February Bessbrook (including being at home in Lisadian)
Monday 15 February Bessbrook to Poyntzpass 9 miles
Tuesday 16 February Poyntzpass to Markethill 12.5 miles
Wednesday 17 February Markethill to Tandragee 10 miles
Thursday 18 February Tandragee to Portadown (and train to Belfast) 6 miles

We have traced the route on Google Maps below. They covered a fair distance, we estimate approximately 115 miles in 2 weeks. It was probably a foretaste of the footslogging they were to do through France through the rest of the war.

(unfortunately Google maps only allows 10 layers, so we couldn’t show the last leg from Tandragee to Portadown!).

Transferred to No 18 Ambulance Train

John Adams had been readmitted to hospital with a recurring infection and inflammation of the wound as indicated in his letter of 14th June.

Records from are available from No 3 Casualty Clearing Station, then at Puchevillers behind the lines at Hamel. See

These records indicate the following

Index number of admission: T1051

Ailment: S[ick]. Inflammation of connective tissue, hand

Date of Admission for Original Ailment: 17/06/1916

Date Transferred to Sick Convoy: 18/06/1916

Number/Designation of Ward: A1

Notes written in the Observations Column: 110th Field Ambulance. To No.18 Ambulance Train.

110th Field Ambulance was part of 36th Ulster Division, and in June 1916 was located at Clairfaye Farm between Varennes and Léalvillers.

For more on No 18 Ambulance train see

Archive Reference: MH106/311 can be found at The National Archives in Kew, and contains First World War Representative Medical Records of Servicemen from No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station


Jimmy: “I suppose Johnnie has gone by now”

[postcard – Mizpah The Lord watch between me and thee…]

Postmark 21 JU 18

Dear Mother

This is just to say I hope you are all well. I hope you will write soon. I suppose Johnnie has gone by now. Write soon and let me know […?…] Arrived here on Tuesday morn. All is well. Love [?]

Written in Granda’s usual blue pencil, but apparently not from him – wonder if it is from Jimmy?]

Approval for Training



Grand Central Hotel

Royal Avenue



Reference. “C” BRANCH P/2326



I am directed to inform you that you have ben approved for a course of training in Motor Mechanics at Messrs G.B. Rowland & Harris starting on 28-4-20 and I am to request you to report yourself there on that date at 9 am. Course of training will terminate on 27-4-21.

2. As this will be a Wednesday, you will draw your Pension and immediately bring or send your Ring Paper to this Office, or if not in possession of it, go immediately on receipt of this letter to your War Pensions Committee, and obtain a certificate from them that your Ring Paper has been forwarded to the Pensions Issue Office, or elsewhere.

It is to be distinctly understood that if the Ring Paper or Certificate is not received on the day training commences, such training will be immediately cancelled.

3. Your training will take place under the following conditions:-

Period: 12 months

Trg. with Maintenance: 12 months

Minimum wage payable by Employer: 1st 6 mos. nil. Next 6 .. 10/2 p.wk

Personal maintenance allce. for Single men. 1st 6 mos. 46/8 p.wk. Next 6.. 36/8 p.wk

Total weekly sum: 46/8

4. In addition you will receive any supplymentary allowances claimed on your Declaration Form M.L.T. 22, for which it may be considered that you are eligible, together with an efficiency bonus of 5/- a week, payable on the satisfactory completion of training under maintenance, under the condition set out on Form M.L.T. 23.


[signature] Lieut.

For D/Controller, A.T.B.I Belfast



Mr John Adams,



Co. Armagh.




Reference from Rowland & Harris Ltd.


Rowland & Harris Ltd.

Railway Avenue


6 November 1921

To. Whom it may Concern


John Adams of Whitecross has been in our employment as Motor Mechanic for the past Eighteen months. He is a good worker, honest, sober, and trustworthy, he now leaves owing to depression in trade, and we can highly recommend him to anyone requiring his Services.

For and on behalf of Rowland & Harris Limited

Geo B Rowland, Director

Preparing for the trip

We are off to Flanders on Monday. Which means the house is full of maps and plans for what we want to see. I’ve been able to overlay some of the trench maps used in Blacker’s Boys on top of modern French and Belgian 1:25000 and 1:20000 maps. That means we can have a fair idea where the 9th RIF were at key moments.


Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916

We are most interested in four events:

  • Battle of the Somme 1 July 1916 – John Adams missed this because he had been wounded earlier in the spring. That probably saved his life.
  • Battle of Langemarck 16 August 1917 – an ultimately futile event in the bloody muddy swamp east of Ypres.
  • Shoddy Farm Raid in 1918, where John Adams won a bar to his MM.
  • The events of 29-30 September 1918 in Dadizeele, where John Adams was seriously wounded.

The weather isn’t looking too good for the Ieper and Albert areas next week so it means we may get a bit wet while exploring the battlefields and cemeteries. Maybe a bit of mud will be appropriate…


Today was our first day in Belgium. We did the usual tourist things like visiting the In Flanders Fields Museum in the restored Ypres Cloth Hall, and attending the moving Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate.

But the most surprising thing of the day was visiting the Bandaghem cemetery at Haringhe, just inside the Belgian border. Roger spotted this last night while researching where Granda was evacuated after his serious injury in September 1918.


Entrance to Bandaghem cemetery

We knew from the telegram that he had been evacuated to the 3rd Australian Casualty Clearing Station. At the time the CCS was based at the “Bandagehem” hospital site. This is about 20 km from Ypres, and not far from the other aptly named “Mendinghem” and “Dozinghem” hospitals.

Several of the members of Granda’s battalion were less fortunate and died at the hospital, and are buried in the nearby cemetery.


RIF graves in Bandaghem cemetery, of people fatally wounded at the same time as Granda.

It was sobering to realise that others wounded in the same action as Granda didn’t make it.

The Somme landscape tells a story

At 0730 on the 1st July 1916, the first wave of soldiers from the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers climbed out of their trenches just north of the River Ancre and began to move towards the heavily defended German lines a few hundreds metres away. Over 500 men of the Battalion were killed or wounded that day. 

The Somme was different to how we expected it to be.

All three of us grew up with “The Somme” as one of the base narratives of our Ulster Protestant culture and the 1st July as a significant date in the calendar. After all, our grandfather’s generation were the young men who fought there, but, for obvious reasons, they didn’t tell their story. So the myth grew out of the facts of mud, slaughter and heroism. And we built our own narrative on top of that.

Growing up and leaving that culture leads to a more objective view. But being in the actual landscape changes perspective even more. Here are some reasons why:

  1. The trenches were dug into solid chalk, about 15cm below the surface. Yes, the continual shelling would have churned it up a bit, but it wasn’t the sea of mud that we associate with Passchendaele (more of that tomorrow). The advance was over relatively dry terrain, and that was probably why the leading companies made it so far.

    Ulster Division trench from Thiepval Wood

    Ulster Division trench from Thiepval Wood

  2. There is significant relief over the battlefield. Being on chalk, the landscape is remarkably similar to parts of Hampshire. The Ancre is a chalk stream not unlike the Test or the Anton. And that means rolling hills. That relief caused significant problems on 1 July 1916 as it meant that the Germans could fire machine guns and shells from great vantage points (enfilading fire).

    The 9th RIF attacked along the slope from left to right in this image, taken from the German position on the other side of the valley.

    The 9th RIF attacked along the slope from left to right in this image, taken from the German position on the other side of the valley.

  3. The ravine where the Ancre Cemetery lies now was a significant barrier to cross. Many soldiers who got into the ravine found relative safety there but couldn’t break out. Many didn’t make it back. Some have their graves in the Ancre ravine, many many more are listed on the Thiepval memorial to the missing.

    Graves of men from the 9th RIF in Ancre cemetery, the ravine where they died.

    Graves of men from the 9th RIF in Ancre cemetery, the ravine where they died.

  4. And finally, the landscape shows the potential for post-conflict restoration. The fields we walked across today are being used to grow rape, peas and wheat, and there are few clues that such terrible events took place 98 years ago.

Many thanks to Teddy from the Ulster Tower (Somme Association) for the tour of Thiepval Wood. I would highly recommend it if you want to know more about the real rather than mythical Somme.


We spent most of today following Granda’s war in 1917, in two key places:

Battle of Messines 7 June 1917
This was one of the very few tactically successful battles of the war. The attack commenced with the detonation of 19 large mines followed immediately by an attack up the low ridge from Wijtschates to Mesen. The 9th RIF were involved as a Reserve Battalion so were not directly involved in the fighting but relieved the Royal Irish Rifles following the first day’s fighting. The little cemetery at Spanbroekmolen is full of RIR soldiers killed that day.

Royal Irish Rifles graves at Spanbroekmolen, Battle of Messines

Royal Irish Rifles graves at Spanbroekmolen, Battle of Messines

We have very little from Granda during that time, mainly a few field postcards.

Today, one of the mine craters in the sector where Granda was has become a Pool of Peace, as a memorial to the people killed in that area.

Spanbroekmolen Pool of Peace, a filled in mine crater

Spanbroekmolen Pool of Peace, a filled in mine crater

Battle of Langemarck 16 August 1917
This was a different story. The 9th RIF were almost completely wiped out and were forced to retreat to their original lines. It is impossible to imagine the horror of the liquid mud of the Passchendaele battlefield from the fertile farmland (arable, a lot of cabbages) of today. But the one thing we did notice was how dominating even a little relief was – a few metres made all the difference.

This is taken from the flanks of Hill 35. The 9th RIF attached towards us here, but the landscape was a sea of mud.

This is taken from the flanks of Hill 35. The 9th RIF attached towards us here, but the landscape was a sea of mud.”

The horror becomes more tangible in Tyne Cot cemetery and memorial, where there are 168 names of men from Granda’s Battalion on 16-18 August alone.

William McKnight

In a side-stop during the day, we found the memorial reference to Granda’s cousin William McKnight, killed in November 1914. He is the only relative I know of who was killed in the Great War, although I’ve not researched my mother’s side of the family in detail.

William McKnight on the Ploegsteert Memorial

William McKnight on the Ploegsteert Memorial

He is listed on the memorial at Ploegsteert Wood. He had only been in France 2 weeks.

Shoddy Farm

Granda was awarded the second of his Military Medals during the raid on Shoddy Farm during the night of 22 July 1918. We knew very little about Shoddy Farm until Blacker’s Boys came out last year.

Trench raids were brutal affairs involving hand-to-hand fighting in the dark – this one resulted in the killing of 30 German soldiers and the capture of one for intelligence purposes. As a Lewis Gunner, Granda would likely have been providing machine gun cover for the raiding party. The raid lasted less than 1 hour.

For the final stop of our Flanders tour and using the detailed maps in Blacker’s Boys, we were able to trace the plan of the raid on Shoddy Farm and get a feeling for the terrain, distances and potential challenges. It was a surreal experience to be walking along a track where our Granda once fired a machine gun at other human beings.

View of Shoddy Farm from the approximate line of the RIF trenches

View of Shoddy Farm from the approximate line of the RIF trenches. The “trenches” would likely have been isolated outposts rather than a fully developed trench system.

View from the position of the Lewis guns during the raid. Obviously during the raid it would have been dark, but there were crops in the fields.

View from the position of the Lewis guns during the raid. Obviously during the raid it would have been dark, but there were crops in the fields.

Shoddy Farm today. As a German strongpoint, it would gave been rubble on top of cellars.

Shoddy Farm today. As a German strongpoint, it would gave been rubble on top of cellars.

16th August 1917

In August 1917 the worst place on earth to be a human being was the Ypres Salient. Due to two weeks of rain and many weeks of shelling, the low lying ground east of Ypres had become a morass of porridge-like mud, the with no shelter or protection.

And yet men of the 36th Ulster, 16th Irish and many other units were tasked to advance across this ground and take territory from the defending German army.

One of those men was Sgt John Adams of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers. John Adams was our grandfather.

He was a Lewis gunner, in a team of 5 men supporting a light machine gun, providing much needed mobile firepower. His was an assault role, intended to provide covering fire in support of the advance against concrete strongpoints around Gallipoli Farm.

Harry Patch, the oldest surviving WW1 veteran, also served as a Lewis gunner on 16th August and described his experiences in 2007.

The attack failed miserably. It started at 0445 and by mid-morning the attackers were back where they started. Nick Metcalfe describes the situation in more detail.

‘The Boche had beaten us, and the slaughter terrific.’

The 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers suffered terrible casualties, 20 out of 23 officers were killed or wounded. 60% (421 out of 640) of the men were casualties, with 151 (24%) killed. The battalion only remained because of a merger with the North Irish Horse.

From 100 years distance, it is almost impossible to appreciate the horror of Passchendaele. In wearing a Passchendaele 100 poppy today, I am reflecting on the experiences of my Granda and how it shaped the rest of his life.