People on board
James Neill was born on the 16th September 1873 in Portadown, Co Armagh to Edward Neill, a ‘Shoemaker’ and his wife Mary Cooke. The birth of a sister, Mary, was recorded in 1871 and there may have been other siblings. In August 1890 James enlisted in Armagh in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and after training in Aldershot, he was posted to India. He suffered from a tropical disease there but recovered to fight in the Boer War in South Africa. He fought in the siege of Ladysmith and was injured in the attack on Pieter’s Hill.
He returned to Ireland when the war ended in May 1902 and in September he married Elizabeth Hurst. Both gave their address as Fowler’s Entry in Portadown, where the Neill and Hurst families had been living for some time. Fowler’s Entry, nicknamed ‘the Orange Cage’, was a cul de sac of twenty-eight houses, with a close-knit Protestant community totally loyal to the Orange Order. Six of the families had sons who were killed in WW1. James Neill used his wartime gratuity to emigrate to Philadelphia with his new wife. There, three children were born and a good life was being established when war broke out, and James was again liable for service.
The family returned to Fowler’s Entry in Portadown and James returned to the Royal Irish Fusiliers. He later transferred to the Labour Corps, to the 195th Prisoners of War Company. These POWs were used for heavy labour duties throughout Britain. It is not known if James Neill was on duty or returning from leave on the 10th October 1918 when he travelled on RMS Leinster. He did not survive the sinking of the ship but his body was recovered and returned to Portadown, where he was buried in Seagoe cemetery.
Another soldier, also in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, Thomas James Neill, also from Portadown whose father was also a ‘Shoemaker’ died in France in 1915. His name was recorded on his parent’s grave in Seagoe cemetery, though he was buried in France. For ninety years the Commonwealth War Graves Commission believed that there was only one James Neill and that his name was recorded. It was only recently that research in the regimental museum showed that there were two men. Now James Neill of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and Labour Corps has his own CWGC headstone in Seagoe cemetery. Both men are also remembered on the Portadown War Memorial in the town.