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16 October 2014
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The Peake Brothers at War 1914-18

Reuben, only 17, grew a moustache and succeeded in joining the 7th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles...

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Article by Harold Gordon (2005)

"When I heard that Down County Museum was mounting an exhibition about the County Down men who served in the First World War, 90 years after the outbreak of that terrible conflict in 1914, I took the opportunity to share the story of my three uncles, William John Peake (known as Jack), Reuben Herbert Peake and Joseph Hadden Peake, who all joined up in Newtownards" Harold Gordon

My uncles were the sons of John and Elizabeth Peake. John came from Glasgow to Downpatrick in the 1880s and eventually settled on the estate of Lord Dunleath at Ballywalter. John was a cabinet maker and French polisher, and survived to the grand old age of 93. He died on 25 June 1954 and was buried in Whitechurch Cemetery, Ballywalter.

John and Elizabeth had 8 children: Jack was the oldest, born in 1892, then came Dora, Mabel (my mother), Reuben and then Eddie, who died young. Next came Joe and Bobbie, who were twins, born on 11 January 1900 at the very beginning of the new century, and finally Kathleen arrived in 1904.

When the First World War began, Jack was old enough to join up. He joined the 13th Battalion, 36th Ulster Division of the Royal Irish Rifles, becoming a Corporal.

Reuben, only 17, grew a moustache and succeeded in joining the 7th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles.

Jack arrived in France in October 1915, and on 8 December he sent a Christmas card, which still survives, to his sister Mabel. After basic battle training, his unit headed for the Somme area, where it sheltered in the Avelvy Wood.

Christmas card from Jack Peake to his sister Mabel,  8th December 1915 (Courtesy of Harold Gordon)
Christmas card from Jack Peake to his sister Mabel,
8th December 1915 (Courtesy of Harold Gordon)

 

Jack Peake’s First World War medals (Courtesy of Harold Gordon)
Jack Peake's First World War medals
(Courtesy of Harold Gordon)

 

On the fateful 1 July, the opening day of the battle of the Somme, Jack was called into action. The battle commenced at 7.30am along a 20-mile front.

Jack distinguished himself by leading his men over the top after his sergeant was killed, and for that he earned the Military Medal. He was killed in action that same day, aged 24, and he was buried at Thiepval.

Two of his friends from Ballywalter, Edward Curry and Robert Regan, died alongside him. His highly prized medals were passed on to me by my aunt Kathleen, who died in 1985.

 

Rifleman Reuben Peake was wounded in action on the Western Front, and spent some time convalescing in a hospital in England before returning home for a short time in 1917.

A surviving photograph of him (right), with two fellow soldiers from the Leinster Regiment, was probably taken at the hospital where he was treated.

He later returned to Flanders and fought in the Third Battle of Ypres. He was killed near Ypres on Wednesday 8 August 1917, when the military hospital where he was lying wounded was bombed by the enemy.

His name is inscribed on the Menin Gate, Ypres, with a total of 55,000 names of those lost or killed in action.

The Menin Gate is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders, which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient. Reuben's and Jack's names are also inscribed on the War Memorial monument in their home village of Ballywalter.

Reuben Peake (right) and two soldiers of the Leinster Regiment in a military hospital, 1917 (Courtesy of Harold Gordon)
Reuben Peake (right) and two soldiers of the Leinster Regiment in a military hospital, 1917

 

Picture of Tommy Shields in tropical kit taken in the Red Sea just before war was declared in 1939
The Menin Gate, Ypres
The Menin Gate, Ypres

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