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Captain The Hon. Arthur Edward Bruce O’Neill M.P.


Arthur O'Neill Ulster Unionist MP for Mid Antrim

Menin Gate Memorial Panel 3

‘A’ Squadron, 2nd Life Guards, 7th Cavalry Brigade

Age 38

KIA 6.11.14

Husband of Lady Annabel Hungerford O’Neill, she was the eldest daughter of the Marquis of Crewe, who he had married in 1902. They had three sons and two daughters. Two of his three sons Brian and Shane were killed in the Second World War and his third son Terence was to become Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1963 to 1969. His wife later remarried. He was the first MP to be killed in World War 1.

 

Early Life

Born on 19 September 1876 Arthur O’Neill was the second son of Edward Chichester, 2nd Lord O’Neill, conservative MP for County Antrim from 1863 to 1880. He resided at Shane’s Castle, Randalstown, Antrim and entered the House of Lords in 1880 as a Baron.

 

Arthur was educated at Eton and was by all accounts a talented musician and sportsman. He served as an officer with the 4th Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, this was a Militia Battalion, and in 1897 he joined the 2nd Life Guards as a 2nd Lieutenant and received his Captaincy in 1902 and was the Battalions Adjutant. He saw service in the south African war, 1899 – 1900, and was present at the relief of Kimberley, and in the operations at Paardeberg and Driefontein. He also saw service south of the Orange River and at Colesberg. He received the Queen's Medal with three clasps.

 

Political Career

In January 1910, while still serving with the Life Guards, he was elected as the Unionist MP for Mid-Antrim, succeeding his uncle Robert Torrens O’Neill. As an MP he very rarely spoke in the House of Commons and as a Unionist was vehemently anti-Irish Home Rule. He played a major role in creating the Ulster Volunteer Force.

 

World War 1 and his War Service

He landed in France in October 1914 and saw action during the First Battle of Ypres.

 

Capt the Hon Arthur O'Neill 2nd Life Guards

His Death

On the 6 November 1914, the 2nd Life Guards were supporting the Irish Guards and the 2nd Grenadier guards at Klein Zillebeke. Accounts of his death, like his later burial place, are confusing. One account reports that he was shot and wounded while directing his men at Klein Zillebeke and while being carried out by stretcher bearers was it again. Another account in a letter to his family suggests that he was killed with another officer while providing covering fire and continued to give covering fire while he was wounded. It is claimed that the Germans cam on his wounded body and shot him. Another version comes from a member of the Household Cavalry Staff in which he states that O’Neill was mounted on his horse at the time he was shot and killed and was buried in Zillebeke churchyard.

 

Burial Location

Controversy surrounds the location of the burial of O’Neill. His name is listed on the Menin Gate with accounts of the time suggest that he was buried in Zillebeke Churchyard however, the CWGC remain non-committal as they hold no records of his burial. The contemporary 1914 accounts indicate that he was buried next to Grave B.2 Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon Chesney Wilson, Royal Horse Guards, and Grave C.3 Second Lieutenant William Sinclair Peterson, Royal Horse Artillery, attached to the 2nd Life Guards. All three were killed on 6 November 1914. Killed in the same action was Major the Hon Hugh Dawnay, commanding 2nd Life Guards, he was only in command for twelve days before he was killed. He was a close friend of Winston Churchill with whom he had served at Omdurman. Both Dawnay and O’Neill were thought to have been buried in the churchyard however, Dawnay’s body was identified in 1924 as the unidentified Life Guards officer found in Harlebeke New British Cemetery therefore casting doubt on O’Neill being buried in Zillebeke Churchyard and why the CWGC remain non-committal.

IWM Q 57191 Red Cross post in Zillebeke a day or so before the village was destroyed, October 1914.

Captain Sir Morgan Crofton, an officer with the 2nd Life Guards, 7th Cavalry Brigade, wrote in his diary on Wednesday 11 November of the deaths of Dawnay and O’Neill: ‘Saw the account in the Daily Mail of Dawnay’s and Arthur O’Neill’s deaths. They were killed in the counter attack at Zillebeke on Nov 6th when the Regiment was brought up to fill a gap in the line. We had several Casualties that day. Dawnay had only just returned from the staff to take command as we had had so many losses. A very fine soldier and a delightful man. Arthur O’Neill returned to the Regiment on the outbreak of War from being a Member of Parliament.’

 

It may be that O’Neill was buried in Zillebeke churchyard and that his body was subsequently lost. Morgan Crofton passed the village of Zillebeke on 20 November 1914 and wrote in his diary: ‘… found a fearful state of wreckage. Every house had been hit; whole fronts were torn away. The steeple had been knocked off the Church which was filled with Bricks and rubbish. The Altar had been hit and was covered with rubble under which the Altar cloth could be seen torn and stained. All the Candelabra, Pictures, statues, etc were lying on the floor, broken, and torn off the walls. In one corner a cupboard had been broken open, and the gold embroidered vestments were lying about on the floor covered with Bricks and Mortar. All the windows were broken but the Organ was untouched….. Outside in the Churchyard, marked by rough wooden crosses were the newly made graves of Lord Bernard Gordon-Lennox, Lord Congleton, and Symes-Thomson, all of the Grenadier Guards, also Lt Peterson of my Regiment, and about 20 others all of whom had been killed in the attack of Nov 6th when Dawnay and O’Neill were also killed.


IWM Q 17848 View of Zillebeke in 1919. The mound is all that remains of the Church.

He next visited the Church on 9 February: ‘The body of the Church had almost disappeared, and so had the steeple, the ruined tower alone remained… In the porch of the church, the only habitable place, lived a French Guard of a corporal and four men, though for what reason they were there nobody knew. Inside the church lay remnants of a 10th century font, and several broken plaster saints. The Church Yard had several enormous shell holes in it, which had uprooted the monuments, smashed open the vaults and laid bare the coffins and the dead. These vaults were half full of rainwater, and in many cases the zinc or tin coffins were floating about, with their occupants exposed or bobbing over the sides…. I was very glad to see that the graves of Bernard Gordon-Lennox, Congleton and Stocks of the Grenadiers, and Peterson of my Regiment were untouched, though their names, which had been written in pencil on wooden crosses, were in danger of being washed out by the rain and bad weather.


CWGC Cemetery at Zillibeke Churchyard today. Authors image.

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