Wednesday, 28 April 2010

156 Squadron

I have done a fair amount of research into clan members serving in the military, particularly in the two World Wars, but until this week have found no reference to the Royal Air Force. A chance reference to 156 Squadron produced the name of Pilot Officer W. McIlhagga. An extensive search of the squadron's main web-site found him during just five months of 1942, after which he disappears, and strangely there were no personal details recorded, not even a Service Number, or even his full first name. But the site gave me his first and last 'mention', on 18th June and 18th November 1942 respectively and the fact that during that time he had been on 25 missions.

156 Squadron was a Founder Squadron of 'Pathfinder Force' in Bomber Command, in 1942 flying Wellington Bombers first from Alconbury then Warboys, in Cambridgeshire, England. It eventually moved to Upwood where there is now a Memorial to their tasks in the Second World War. The motto of the squadron was We Light The Way. From the Log Books of '156', on 12th June 1942 we can read, "Three new crews received from OTU [Officer Training Unit], including two officers (F/Lt. Wilson and P/O McIlhagga). One cross country practice carried out. One aircraft ferried from Wyton".

The records of the Squadron contain details of the 25 missions that P/O W. McIlhagga went on. The practice was to establish crews that continued to work together and McIlhagga was part of one which included Sgt (later W/O) J.M. Hodgson as its captain, Flt/Sgt E.R. Henry, Sgt L. Davies and Sgt W.J. James. The details include sortie departure times (always at night), the target place and the time it was reached, the height at which the plane flew, usually 10-16,000 feet, and the time of return. The Comments on each operation included the number of planes involved, how many took off and how many returned, with a note of any crews lost. Often there are comments on the experience of a particular crew and plane. Among the places to which McIlhagga flew, some more than once, were Emden, Bremen, Wilhelmshoven, Dursberg, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Mainz, Flensburg, Frankfurt, Kassel, Nurnburg, Saarbruchen, Karlsruhe, Essen, Krefeld, Osnabruck and finally Torino.

Some of the comments, some perhaps written by McIlhagga, are as follows: 'Sortie abandoned owing to port engine overheating'; 'This aircraft returned early with starboard engine trouble'; 'Attacked primary [target] 01.37 hours from 12000 feet... Burst observed but location uncertain. Two FW 190 approached in line astern about 2000 feet below - no attack made. Bremen 01.45 a/c seen go down in flames'; '02.50 hrs, 1000 ft, aircraft hit by light flak in base of turret and centre of fuselage. One s/lt. shot out by rear gunner'; 'Abandoned 01.05 hrs height 13000' due to failure of oxygen supply to rear turret'; 'Abandoned owing to engine cowling coming adrift and causing aircraft to vibrate badly'; 'Ypres 01.45 hrs, 15000 ft, A/C seen to go down in flames and break up'; 'A/C was coned by app. 20 s/ls and was hit by heavy and light flak. Starboard wing fabric stripped between engine and fuselage. Dinghy tore loose and ripped fabric to rear turret...'; 'E/A attacked from port and starboard alternately, each making two attacks. Rear gunner engaged four times. Slight damage caused to our aircraft and all bombs jettisoned live'; 'Target not attacked, unable to identify visually owing to thick ground haze'; 'At 23.03 another Wellington approached from starboard. Our a/c dived to avoid collision, but our rudder and fin were struck by its fuselage'; 'Abandoned owing to arriving 22 minutes late due to slowness of A/C and that A/C would not climb'; 'Arrived south of Geneva too late to reach target in time and abandoned sortie'.

One can only imagine the strain and frustration of engaging in such warfare. And who was P/O W. McIlhagga? The average age of the newly trained members of the crews was only about twenty-two! And there is one man who fits the timing. William, son of Andrew McIlhagga and Sarah Patillo Wilson, was born on 2nd March 1922 and in 1942 would have been twenty years old. In March that year he had been married at Westminster, London, to April [Ella] Smith, and presumably had joined up and gone straight to an Officers Training Unit. Then he was posted a mere fifty miles away to Cambridgeshire. What happened to him after November 1942? He appears to be no longer with 156 Squadron. If we are talking about the right man we know that at some stage he emigrated to Canada and transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force in which he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His descendants live in Canada to this day.

Friday, 23 April 2010

A Baker and a Glazier

Having just written my last blog on 20th Century Directories, by chance I came across an Internet site called 'Belfast City Forum'. There were four McIlhagga references worth noting, three about the same person. The first was in the 1959 Belfast Street Directory, a reference to Deacon Street, number 41: McILHAGGA, John, Baker. So we can add one more to the range of trades in which the clan was involved. Indeed we can add two, as you can see in the following entries.

It seems that the first of the three on the same person was in response to the maxim, 'You can take the man out of the market, but you can't take the market out of the man'. The comment is on a specific event in a firm of glaziers. "That washboard glass could break and need replacing? No, right, but Harry McIlhagga listened to a sharp salesman from the 'mainland' and bought a gross. They lay on the shelf for forty years." And haven't we all succumbed to good sales talk? The second comment is in response to a question about wages in the 60s. "In 1965 my wage in McIlhagga's, in Peter's Hill, was one shilling and sixpence an hour, but he paid us 100 hours for 40. He didn't want to upset his fellow masons by paying a higher basic wage." I think this sheds a good light on a man who wanted to play fair by his employees. The final comment is a wee insight into family life as well as endorsing work 'fair play'. It comes from someone about his first job. "1965, Henry McIlhagga glaziers, Peters Hill, wages one and sixpence per hour. The surprise came on the friday morning when the time sheets were filled in. I was unofficially told to book in 120 hours and got paid £7.50 (He must have meant £7. 10s.0!). This was the norm after that for a year. Also the mother's money was always paid discreatly (sic) behind the clock on the mantlepiece in those days by the young workers, no arguments. She got the £5 and you kept the odds". Isn't it interesting how the taboo topics of conversation have changed?

There are or were very few Henrys in the McIlhagga clan, and I have to admit that I do not know to which family Henry the glazier belongs or belonged. If there is anyone out there with this information I would very much like to know.

Thursday, 22 April 2010


A 'secondary source', which gives us some limited information about twentieth century clan members is Telephone (and other) Directories. From these we can have knowledge of the residences and in some cases occupations and business addresses of people from perhaps half a dozen families in Northern Ireland.

First there are the McIlhaggas whom we have met previously in the Ulster Covenant. By 1935 Flax Merchant 'W.J.' had returned from Belgium to Belfast, still as a Flax Merchant. However ten years later he, or perhaps his son with the same initials, had moved into the world of Cosmetics, where he remained until at least 1948. 'W.J' must have died by 1964 when his wife Norah is listed in his place. It was presumably for business reasons that this family, including Norah, moved across the Irish Sea to the Wirral Peninsula, living first in Prenton, Birkenhead and then in the town of Hoylake.

If 'W.J.' and son moved from Flax to Cosmetics, George R. McIlhagga and son moved from Cutlery to Glass and Paint. George R. McIlhagga and Company we have already noted in another blog when in 1934 they applied for a patent for the design of a razor blade (see 17th September 2009). Was this put into production? It is certainly a possibility for in 1935 the Company is listed as a Cutlery Merchant, ten years later becoming simply an 'Agent'. By 1950 Henry, working from the same address in Peter's Hill, Belfast, is dealing in Glass and Paint, in particular Ribble Paint. We may presume that Henry was George's son, and that he took over the firm which continued until at least 1964. Either the same Henry or another 'H' lived from 1935 through 1958 at 'Glencar', Mount Aboo Park, Finaghy, a leafy suburb of Belfast. By 1964 the address had been taken over by 'L. McIlhagga', probably a near relative.

Quite another line of business occupied another McIlhagga family. In 1935 we have another 'W.J.', a Fruiterer, in the Ormeau Road, Belfast. He and his wife were there when they signed the Ulster Covenant in 1912. Ten years later, in 1946 'J.W.' (possibly the same man?) was a 'Seed Merchant' and remained such, in Dublin Road, from 1946 to at least 1958. Again possibly the same person, (though now simply 'J') in 1964 owns a Pet Shop in Great Victoria Street. Was this the 'Jack', also mentioned in the Ulster Covenant, whose residence was at Tullygarley Bridge, Ballymena?

Two other McIlhaggas are listed in Telephone Directories. In 1946 Thomas was a 'Common Agent' in Alexander Terrace, Bushmills. In the 1958 and 1964 directories 'D.R.' lived at 'Ashley', Comber Road, Dundonald, Belfast.

Finally several of the McIlhagger family appear. We find 'G.E.', a Pharmacutical Chemist listed right through from 1935 to 1964, first at Ligonel then in Duncairn Gardens and lastly in Cliftondene Gardens, Belfast. David S. McIlhagger, Ph.D., is in Duncairn Gardens in 1946, then from 1950 to 1964 at 29 Ashgrove Park. Also in 1946 Mrs. E.L. McIlhagger is at Duncairn Gardens Post Office, presumably as the Post Mistress. Throughout the 1950s Miss Eva K. McIlhagger is at 16 Sunningdale Park North, and in 1964 James McIlhagger is listed at 20 Ormonde Park, Belfast.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Bootle M.I.

I have just returned from attending the funeral of a cousin on the maternal side of my family. Such an occasion gave me the opportunity of meeting relatives some of whom I haven't seen for five years (since the last funeral) and some I haven't seen for fifty years! My cousin was her family's genealogist, which didn't get an 'official' mention, though I am confident that all her work will not get lost.

I took the opportunity to visit the grave of my grandparents in Bootle Cemetery, Liverpool, really to check that it was still in good order. Sadly the cemetery in general is not in good shape, and its chapel has recently been demolished, but fortunately the Memorial Inscription is solid and undamaged. It is made of black Indian granite and is beautifully carved in Roman script highlighted in gold. There are three names on it - grandmother, grandfather and their daughter, my aunt. There is room for two more names and my sister and I took the decision to add the names of our parents, that is our grandparents' son and his wife.

The Bootle Memorial Inscription is illustrated above and reads:

Loving Memory of
Beloved wife of
William McIlhagga
Who died 19th May 1927
Aged 59 years.
Also William
Beloved husband of the above
Who died 18th January 1938
Aged 71 years.
Also Margaret
Dearly loved daughter of above
Who died 31st December 1940
Aged 43 years.

My sister and I visited the responsible Cemetery Office and established that they knew that I am the person now responsible for the grave. Their records said the responsible person was my grandfather, who died in 1938. Many such records must be well out of date. I must make sure that my eldest son knows that one day he will 'inherit' responsibility for the grave! Somewhere there must be a grave in Liverpool for the younger siblings of my grandfather. The Cemetery Officer kindly allowed us to search the 'Mc' Index in his records, but there was no other McIlhagga to be found. There was a James McLaggan, but having seen the relevant signature, this was clearly a different name.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Partick to Perth

Just six weeks ago I wrote about a family that moved from Ballyclug in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, to Partick, Glasgow, Scotland. Little did I think that a week ago I would get an email 'out of the blue' from a descendant in Western Australia. I had sent a Family Tree to his uncle some years ago and this has now been passed on. This family descends from two brothers, William and Clark, both of whom in turn married Agnes McClure. My correspondent is descended from the elder brother, William. As well as bringing me up to date about the current generations of the family he, and his uncle, are proving to be a wonderful source of photographs.

First, there is a picture of the tenement building in Dumbarton Road, Partick where the family lived up to the end of the Second World War. Interestingly there is a bread shop shown belonging to Macfarlane Lane, the famous Glasgow biscuit manufacturers. This housing has we think been replaced by a modern development. As I called my blog of 9th February Ballyclug to Partick I have added this photo to what I wrote then. At the head of today's blog I have put the photos of William and Agnes McIlhagga's son John (born 3rd Jan 1897) and his wife Jeannie Anderson Hay. I said in February that they had two children, Agnes and John and I have learned from my correspondent that Agnes passed away in 2008. It is always interesting to know whether the McIlhagga name continues in any of our families and we know that in this 'Partick', now 'Perth', Western Australia family there is indeed one male McIlhagga, though as far as I know he has no offspring.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Confusion between James and James

My last blog led to an interesting exchange of emails with a correspondent which has encouraged me to point up a possible confusion between two Jameses who were both living in the 1850s. They were born only about seven years apart, one in 1840 in either Ballyportery or in Carnmoney - it appears he was baptised in Carnmoney, and the other probably in Ballee. They can be confused because they both married a 'Jane M'. James of Ballyportery/Carnmoney married Jane Maitland in about 1865. The other James married Jane Middleton in 1853 in Ballymena. They were both Labourers at the time of their marriage, and they both lived long lives, into their 70s and they both had a son called Robert.

There are however clear differences between the two. James of Ballee's son Robert married Margaret Craig in 1876 and this family were all Anglicans (Church of Ireland). James of Ballyportery's son Robert married Annie Thompson in 1900 and this family were all Presbyterians. The father of the first James was William and of the second (probably) Nathan. And I have to admit that there are some uncertainties in the situation. I don't yet have the marriage record of James to Jane Maitland, so cannot be absolutely certain of his father's name, though I do have records of no fewer than nine children born to them. I do have the marriage record of James to Jane Middleton, though only have knowledge of one child born to them. And I haven't yet mentioned their surnames. The fact is that they both go under a number of variations of the clan name, viz: McIlhagga, McIlhagger, McIlhaggar and McIlhaggart.