Letters from the Western Front update: meeting Kenny McKeague, grandson of William James Milliken
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In previous online exhibitions we have told the story of an unusual collection of letters written by ten soldiers serving at the Western Front at Christmas 1917, who were also parishioners of the Church of Ireland parish of Dundela in east Belfast. The full story of their recovery, together with digitized copies of each letter and further background are available here: www.ireland.anglican.org/about/158
While other letters that were written from the Front are found in other repositories and in private custody, the survival of a collection in a parish context is rare. Subsequent collaboration between the Library (where the letters are now in permanent safekeeping) and local historians from the “East Belfast & the Great War Project”, has confirmed these are the only known such letters to survive relating to soldiers from East Belfast – a point made clear in a subsequent short documentary film about the team from the Project visiting the library to view the letters for the first time – available at this link: www.ireland.anglican.org/about/196
Now thanks to the ongoing research work of the team, in particular the painstaking efforts of historian and genealogist, Dr Hilary Kennedy, the stories of what happened to each of the ten letter writers (all of whom returned to Belfast at the end of the War) has been tracked, and in a few cases living descendants have been traced
One such person is Kenny McKeague, a trainer and part of the backroom staff with the first team at Linfield Football Club, and the grandson of William James Millikin. Now in his 80s, Kenny continues to live in Belfast and is a parishioner of Dundela, like his grandfather, whose poignant letter, written in France, on 12 February 1918, specifically thanked his rector, Revd Arthur Barton for the pastoral care he was giving his family at home.
William’s concern for his wife and young children was clearly assuaged by the safe knowledge that Barton as rector paid them regular visits, so as well as thanking Barton and the parishioners of St Mark’s for their gifts, he specifically acknowledged the former ‘for your own kindness to my wife and children as the letter I get from home from my wife says that you are very attentive…’.
The children whom he mentioned in the letter were Wilhelmina – Kenny’s mother (born 1906) and named after her father; James (born 1909) and Samuel Carson (born 1914), offspring of his marriage to Jane McCall, whom he had married on 15 January 1902. Before signing up for service in the army, William worked as a railway guard and after the war ended, he would return to work as a guard on the Belfast & County Down Railway. After their marriage in 1902, William and Jane were living at 7 Victoria Road, Sydenham, where Jane and their children continued to reside throughout the war whilst William was serving with the 8th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, as his army record records.
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914–1920 created by the Army Medal Office (AMO) of the UK in Droitwich; and UK WW1 Service Medal and Award Rolls 1914–1920, War Office and Air Ministry: Service Medal and Award Rolls, First World War. (WO329, The National Archives of the UK). Both available from Ancestry.co.uk
Jane died at 7 Victoria Road on 27 July 1935, and William remarried on 26 October 1937, Sarah Demptser the widow of James Dempster – a County Down railway worker. The couple moved to Sarah’s home at 34 Bow Street, Donaghadee. Two years later William died at this address (aged 62) on 17 October 1939 and is buried in the Sloan family grave at Dundonald parish church.
Kenny recently met with Dr Susan Hood to talk about his early childhood memories of his grandfather, of whom he is so proud. The full detail of his connection to William Millikin, as researched by Hillary Kennedy is available here as a PDF.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood