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WWI - The Gunning family

All four brothers joined up at the outbreak of war in 1914. Jack into the Navy, Cecil and Douglas into the army, Willie into the Royal Navy Reserve. .


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Reporter Marion Maxwell - Nov '05

The Gunning children grew up in Enniskillen with a love of sport, especially rugby, and, living by the lake, were accomplished swimmers and oarsmen.

All four brothers joined up at the outbreak of war in 1914. Jack went into the Navy, Cecil and Douglas into the army, Willie into the Royal Navy Reserve. Their young sister Kathleen remained with her parents.

Cecil and Douglas, then aged 21 and 19 left jobs in the bank to join up. Douglas, then working in Sligo, cycled fifty miles on an old pushbike to be in time to join up with his elder brother in ’D’ Company, Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

’D’ Company, Royal Dublin Fusiliers
'D' Company "Pals" - Royal Dublin Fusiliers
Back row left - Douglas Gunning
Front row left - Cecil Gunning

Immortalised as the ’Pals’ it consisted mainly, though not exclusively, of young professional men, many from Dublin, all sharing a strong pride in their Irishness. Referred to as ‘The Footballers’ , many of them were bound by a passion for rugby - a large element had formed up on the rugby pitch at Lansdowne Road to volunteer. On a point of honour, most declined commissions, choosing to serve as squaddies. Because the Dublin Fusiliers - ’Dubs’ for short had a reputation for toughness, ‘D’ company were wittily dismissed as the ‘Toffs among the Tuffs’. History would prove otherwise.

Audio Clip 1:

After training at the Curragh and Basingstoke, the two Enniskillen brothers set sail with the 7th Batallion the Royal Dublin Fusiliers for Gallipoli. They kept a diary of their experiences, part 1 written day-about by Cecil and Douglas on the month long outward voyage, part 2 by Douglas after being invalided home. Fused with excitement, the outward journal reads like a Boys Own adventure.

Saturday 10th July saw us steam out of Plymouth in up-beat mood aboard the Alaunia. ‘D’ company were stuck at the bottom of the boat, but-good food, salt water baths and sea air had already combined to make us feel fit.

Each day began with a run at-the-double round the deck. They relished the luxury of ice cold oranges from the refrigerator, took part in swimming races, witnessed splendid sunsets and saw porpoises swimming by moonlight. Typical of the close camaraderie among the ‘Pals’ Batallion the two brothers and their best friend Guy feature in the diary under their nicknames Golly, Mollie and Gertie. 13 platoon quickly developed a reputation for schoolboy-like rascality.

The voyage opened up a whole new world - one highlight was a route march round the magnificent harbour at Alexandria, the ‘Dubs’ taking their leave with a rousing rendering of ‘Tipperary’.

However, the sight of Red Cross boats returning from the Dardanelles full of wounded soldiers gave a hint of what was to come.



Audio Clip 2:

The 7th Batallion landed at Suvla Bay on 7th August 1915. Provided neither with maps nor clear orders, their artillery guns sent to France by mistake, they arrived to a barrage of Turkish fire from the towering heights above the bay. On those slopes, ‘D’ Company - the ‘Pals’- would earn a lasting reputation for bravery, but at a terrible cost: of its 239 men who landed, only 79 remained after 8 weeks.

Douglas later described the scene:

At 4 a.m. I awoke off the Gallipoli coast. We could hear the boom boom and see the flash from Turkish guns coming from the big ridge of mountains, shells bursting, our men landing from the lighters and stretcher bearers bringing down and collecting wounded on the beach. The whole bay was quivering with the vibration. Mind you, just before this, Gertie and Mollie had been up playing a little tune on the small piano in the saloon - I’m sure that was quite a unique event to have occurred in the Gallipoli campaign.

Somehow, we got on to the beach safely. It was remarkable how quickly you got used to it and soon we never bothered ducking unless the shell was quite close. I must say the discipline stood to us marvellously.. for we were more or less stupefied.

We got on past stretcher bearers, wounded, dying and dead ..and arrived at a long strand, shells dropping, men groaning and the medical corps bandaging like fury. We lay like sardines under the cliff. The Inniskillings were there also and who was with them only our uncle Captain Bob Stevenson from Moygashel!



Audio Clip 3:
After one frightening near miss, the brothers separated to minimise the chance they would both be killed .

Respite came at night fall, as the Turks were, for the moment, driven back over the summit .

We were so tired, some of us didn’t eat as much as a biscuit or take a sup of water . It was absolutely miserable in the dark to hear the moaning of the wounded and dying, both of our own brave men and the Turks. I slept for an hour and woke, my teeth and knees shivering cold.

Despite the efforts of a human chain passing buckets up and down the mountain side, thirst soon became a torture. Nearby was a big lake of dry salt for all the world like frozen snow. The hot air rises off it in the day time and you could see a rim of white scum formed on our lips by it. In this state, you could drink anything and it was a maddening thirst, I’m sure, that helped me to get dysentery. After a few days, the wells dried up we were drinking mud and gravel as well; our teeth used to be black with the dirty water.

Reunited during a lull in the battle, the trio, Golly and Mollie and Gertie exchanged experiences and shared a ‘gloriously sweet’ tin of condensed milk. Someone had found the body of a young Turkish girl sniper with fourteen chilling trophies round her neck - identification tags mostly from the Munster Fusiliers. Another find was a bag of clothes: they all bagged a Turkish waistcoat and one joker put on a Fez and peeped into the next trench for a bit of crack!

Anything that brought a bit of cheer helped to alleviate the sense of horror: Responding to the constant call for stretcher bearers, there to the fore would come their good-humoured friend Fatty Clements, a clergyman’s son from Moira, leading the way with a broad grin on his face.



Audio Clip 4:
Day after night passed in a blur of exhaustion: Just when they thought they were going to base for a rest, they were ordered to undertake a five hour hike to reach the beach where they had landed. Stumbling over make-shift burial mounds in the dark, the two brothers found each other again and slept for two hours under a rock. Rubbing sand over their bodies to remove the dirt, they surveyed the scene: shells bursting, mules shifting supplies, a steamer condensing sea water into fresh. Then, off up the slopes again. It was exhausting carrying dixies of water, then having to dig themselves in.

A mail bag from home brought a letter that made them terribly home sick. Also enclosed was the Punch Summer Annual :

I thought it awfully tragic for people at home to be laughing over such silly things while we were in a game of life and death. Sunday. Our hope of sharing divine service with our Catholic friends and good old Father Murphy, vanished before dawn as we came under Turkish shell fire that lasted all day. At one point, a cheer went up in front - the gallant Munsters had taken a ridge of trenches at bayonet point and were yelling like madmen.

Often, the men in the front line were to be seen catching the bombs and throwing them back but their heroism was never recorded because their officers were practically all killed. The brothers witnessed terrible woundings, but actually only a third of casualties at Gallipoli were due to injuries: the rest contracted illnesses caused by extremes of heat and cold, plagues of flies and lack of clean water.



Audio Clip 5:
By roll call on 17th August, over 100 of ‘D’ company were absent.

That evening we sat looking at the sun setting in the west and thinking of home. Although we couldn’t, I’m sure a ‘blub’ would have made us feel better.’

Next day, Douglas felt the symptoms of dysentery and joined the line of men being sent down to the field hospital. - a rough and rocky journey. In daylight, they were brought down to the beach and labelled like parcels. They lay under a shelter until put on board the Alaunia - now refitted as a hospital ship accommodating 2,000 cases. The attention of nurses and luxuries like hot milk brought comfort and as he improved, Douglas helped the hard-pressed medics. There were 68 burials at sea.

Back in London, Douglas spent a week in hospital, but, determined to get back to Ireland, he discharged himself.

Douglas Gunning with his mother, Mrs Kathleen Gunning whilst home on leave.

I was up since dawn for a first glimpse of Ireland, then to Enniskillen to my dear, dear Father and Mother who met me at the station with open arms.

Just weeks later, Douglas helped shoulder the coffin at his father’s funeral. Cecil was still far from home, by then invalided to a hospital in Alexandria.

To the distress of the family and against medical advice - for he was still traumatised - Douglas answered the appeal for trainee officers and took a commission as a sub lieutenant in the 6th Inniskillings. They left for France on 16th June 1916.

Douglas Gunning with his mother, Kathleen whilst home on leave.


Audio Clip 6:
Writing two days later to his mother, Douglas assured her:

As long as I left you without any tears, dear, my heart did not ache. I did feel proud at Charing Cross to be one of that noble lot going out.

On 30th June, the eve of the battle of the Somme, he wrote:

Well, here I am in the thick of it all and talk about Suvla Bay, why this is a thousand times worse. The noise would put you astray in the head. For the sake of us all, pray for a speedy and victorious peace. Mizpah.

The next communication came from the War Office:


Deeply regret to inform you that your son is reported missing,

believed killed in action, 1st July.


F Douglas Gunning - 6th Inniskillings - Photo dated 16th February


According to the official citation, Douglas was leading the Enniskillen platoon when a bullet took off one of his fingers. As he was binding it up, his men urged him to go back to the dressing station. Insisting that his place was with them, he refused and went on until a shell extinguished his bright and noble spirit.

Douglas’s name appears on the Thiepval memorial along with those of more than 72,000 men who died at the Somme and have no known grave.

Cecil survived to resume his career in banking. He talked little of his experiences, but retained a strong dislike of barbed wire.

F Douglas Gunning
6th Inniskillings




Clark - May '08
Alexander James Gunning married Margaret McGovern in Belfast, Ireland and settled in Detroit, Michigan. He is the original ancestor to all the Alexander Samuel Gunnings I found his cemetery site as well as obituary, etc. Contact me for more information via this site.

Thomas Gunning - Mar '08
My father Thomas Gunning (RCN) was born in Newtownards, Ireland. He was born in 1926. His parents were Thomas Gunning and Mary nee McCracken. My father had one older brother, William (Bill), and three sisters. My grandfather Thomas was in the British Regular army. The family immagrated to Canada in the early 1930s. Beyond these points, I know very little. Can you help?

Alexander Theodore Maxwell Gunning - Mar '08
Hey, hey okay so I made a comment last year and if there are any Gunning's out there that want to get in contact with the Gunning's down here in South Africa use this address dubbelodub1on1athotmaildotcom

I am of Irish descent.

Alexander Theodore Maxwell Gunning (me)
Gary Darryl Gunning (my dad)
Nolloth Edward Desfountain Gunning (my Grandfather) Edward William Gunning

Alexander Samuel Gunning - Feb '08
I am Alexander Samuel Gunning. I am the fourth with my name to live in the US. My great, great, grandfather was born in Ireland around 1817 and came to the U.S. around 1849. I am related to Sharon who left a message in 06. Can anyone shed any light on my branch of the family in Ireland?

Janice Hosking nee Gunning - Jan '08
Came across this site by accident. My great grandfather came out to Australia in 1870s. His name was Henry Gunning, married and Aussie girl and had 4 sons, one of these being my grandfather Egbert, (and he did have brothers.) There are not many out here that are related directly to me, but I guess we could all be related down the track.
Janice Hosking nee Gunning.

Bernadette Sweetman (nee Gunning) - Dec '07
My father's (John Gunning) family are from Williamstown, Galway and go back a numer of generations in this area. I believe a few of the previous generations emigrated to America. It is fascinating to read about our family name. Thankyou

Mairaid - Apr '07
So interesting to read of the courage of these young men.
My Uncle Charlie DONNELLY from Lisnaskea also joined up for WW1. He was found to have enlisted "underage" and sent home. But,he returned to the fray later. He survived the Somme and returned to Ireland. Later,he left Ireland and bought a farm in Wales,where he later died. Nort sure what regiment he was in ,but my mother used to refer to the "cavalry" He often took part in the Rememberance Day parade in London,until he was no longer able to make the journey up to the city. Does he figure in any wartime archives or memories.
His parents were Michael and Catherine and he was one of 12 children. Any information you have would be most welcome

Heidi Mongo - Mar '07
This is a fantastic article it really shows how hard it was for some people. And some who are still missing. It is great for children so they understand what is going on and what happened

Steven Miller - Mar '07
Alexander Gunning was reported to have died of scurvey on his travels to the United Stated in 1849

Shereen Murray - Feb '07
I am from Jamaica and my grandfather name is Gunning, was there some connection between the Carribean gunning and the British gunning? It is a very unusual name in Jamaica and people with that last name are all related. I am just trying to find out more about my grandfather descendant.

James Gunning - Jan '07
Hello everyone, My name is James Gunning and I live in Philadelphia. I am 25 yrs old and have lived in Philadelphia all my life. As far as I know so has my father and my Grandfather (Richard Gunning). I was always informed by family that we were of Irish descent, it was not until recently that I learned the Gunning name originated in England. I was wondering if anybody had any interesting information about the family name and how Gunning's eventually migrated to the United States.

Samuel Nigel Gunning - Nov '06
I rarely visit the BBC Ulster site but on Rememberance day came accross this site. Very well done I wonder if I'm related? Perhaps someone out there can please contact me to see if I can add a bit of my family tree to whats already been done. I'm originally from Belfast Kind Regards Nigel Gunning.

Lindsay - Nov '06
I am not sure whether you will be able to help me, I have started my family tree and so far I have managed to go back to my great, great, great, grandad, who is William John Gunning born 1821, not sure where. Although once married to Mary Jane Clelland lived in Barr,Ayrshire, Scotland. If anyone can help me with any other branched this would be greatly appreciated.

John Gunning - Oct '06
Also Gunning's in Australia - Irish/English Catholic from a long way back 1800s. Gunning Shire is near the nation of Australia's capital, Canberra.

Amy - Aug '06
Hi I don't really have any interesting information just that I share the same surname as you, but I actually come from north west England. I don't know whether I may be related to any of you, but it would be nice to talk to some new relatives.

Charleen Thom Nee Gunnung - Aug '06
Ok here is the thing. My grandfather's name was Jack Gunning his eldest son is named John Gunning, this seems to be a family name that is used throughout the Gunning family, that is now living in South Africa. I know that my great grandfather who was also called Jack brought his family out here from Wales. What I want to do is trace the family history as far as I can thing is that this is the only site that I have found that could maybe help me. Could you please leave me an email address for communication. Thank you.

Debbie Gerrard - Aug '06

Hi! My name is Debbie Gerrard. I'm form Canada. My Grandmother was Catherine Gunning, form Mold, Wales. I have 12 Generations of Gunnings (14 if you count myself and my kids) back to 1569, more when we go back to 1437. John Goulstone's booklet "The Gunnings of Cold Ashton in Gloucestershire, England" gives alternate spellings and traces back to 1216. Alternate spellings: (in Bristol) 1216: Godewyn, Gundewine, Gundwyne, 1260:Gundwyn, 1608: Gundevine, 1610: Gunwin, 1613: Gunwinn, 1624: Gunwyne. In 1548, there was a Thomas Gonnyng, 1581 a Henry Gonning, in 1610 a Robert Gunninge. He also mentions..."The doubtless related Gunning family of nearby Cold Ashton is reasonably well documented since the med 15th. Century. Three successive generations seem to be covered by the Cold Ashton manorial court rolls published in volume 9 of the "Gloucestershire Notes and Queries".
Gunning Family in England
The Gunning family can trace their ancestors back to the ancient territories of England between the 11th and 12th centuries. The Gunning family traces their ancestral roots back to Anglo Saxon origin, and first appeared in ancient medieval records in Surrey.
GUNNING Shield: Red with three doves and three crosses.
GUNNING Crest: A dove holding a crozier.
GUNNING motto: "Imperio Regit Unus Aequo"
I have:
-Descendants of David Gunning ( presume from the USA), Descendants of William Gunning of Ireland 1755 +Jane Akis, Descendant Trees, Genealogy Reports, Kinship & Merged Descendants Thomas Gunning & ANN GUNNING 1794 (in Bitton, England), Descendants of John Gunning +Dionisia, John Gunning +Joan Chambers of Wick Abson, Gloucestershire, England 1572, Descendants of Thomas Gunning 1437, Descendants of Thomas Gunning & ALICE BRYANT of Torneys Ct. (died 1603) -Plus I have a photo of Cold Ashton Manor, Gloucestershire, England, a photo of Cold Ashton Holly Trinity, Gloucestershire, England, a photo of Torneys Court, Gloucestershire,England, All on my web site: Debbie’s Genealogy Page! -


Hannah Gunning - July '06
Hi, I'm Hannah Gunning. I'm 14 and from South Wales, UK. My Dad has been working on our family tree for a while now and we thought we were doing pretty well - until I visited the battlefields of Somme and Ypres on a school trip. I found lots of other 'Gunning's and then found this site while I was looking them up. There is a chance that we also have Irish family and we thought maybe somebody could give us some help!

Alexander Gunning - July '06
Hi, my name is Alexander Theodore Maxwell Gunning, i'm seventeen and come from South Africa. I'm not sure if i'm tied in with you guys but anyways, our surnames are the same if you think we are related then reply to this message.

Sharon - June '06
Wonderful article, My great great grandfather was Alexander Gunning. Still searching for information on the Gunning family, He came to the United States around 1849.

Bertie Martin - May '06
Many years ago my brother and I had a long established family business in Portadown and our Bank Manager was a Mr Gunning in what was then the Belfast Banking Co in High Street. I remember him as a quiet friendly man, and this programme revealed to me what he and his brothers endured. Your article said one of the Gunnings went into Banking and I am sure this is the man referred to. He was probably heading to retirement when I knew him.

Joey Brooks - March '06
I think whoever set up this site is a momentous and truly wonderful person, people of the great war should be remembered not only because they gave the most important thing in their live, but also because of the bravery they had, in the face of certain death they still did their duty, and died like men, like soldiers and like heroes. These men were given a order, a gun and a direction and charged, without question, this shows that they had an absolute trust in the officers, maybe to much, but they still had it, they believed they were the ignorant and thick ones, but really they were the greatness and the heroes, they were the ones that made it world war 1, the were the ones that made it a historical war, they made it a great war, not just any war, but the great war, they my be gone, but definitely not forgotten, and people never really go, they are always in our hearts and they will be remembered.

Kevin Donnelly - Dec '05
At last a bit of info to help my research on my father, a James Patrick Donnelly. He was a regular soldier, born in Tralee Co. Kerry, joined the 1/Royal Munster Fusiliers pre 1914 and found himself in France in the third week of August 1914 involved in the retreat from Mons. That's family folklore, some from my father, some from my mother, for Dad never talked at length. In the retreat from Mons his battalion was covering another unit, and never got the order to fallback and they were bypassed by German units. Dad and a few others escaped by taking bicycles from a shop and riding towards the south west through the evening confusion as German units were setting up camp for the night. From later authors like Barbara Tuchman (Guns of August) and others, I'm pretty sure that 1/Royal Munsters (some writers say it was 2/Munsters) was heavily involved in the action at Etreux on September 27th, and had ceased to exist by the end of September 1914. From the web I understand that there's a small cemetery at Etreux with some Munsters buried there, but I've never visited it. Dad was wounded at Ypres in November. He must have been drafted into the Dubs for his war service medals including the Mons star, all now lost but which I remember gave his regiment as the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The medals would have given his army name, rank and number, which is info I'd like to find from somewhere. I know he was later in the Salonika campaign, and then Egypt before coming home to demob and reunite with my mother whom he married in Manchester in 1917. My only other clue is that an officer escaped with the others in the bicycle story; one Lt. Dan Godfrey but was shot and killed and never reached the BEF lines.

Angela Crookes nee Devlin - November '05
Found this account very moving as I have discovered that my great uncle Private Thomas Craig died at Gallipoli on 22nd June 1915 and probably endured similar hardships. He was with the 1st battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Does anyone know if he would have been in the same part of the battle as 10th battalion? Thanks.

Mr. R Lindsay - November '05
Really interesting, what a story and sacrifice all these men of the 1st world war made on behalf of us all makes one feel very humble indeed. Thanks for making this info available for all to appreciate.

Stephen Gunning - November '05
Excellent! Thank you so much Marion Maxwell for producing this excellent historical account. My wife and I heard you on the radio this morning and then looked up the web site - very impressive piece of work it is too!

As Gunnings living in Belfast, with ancestors from Enniskillen, my father and I would be very keen to make contact with you and your husband, John, to see if there is any connection. My father (aged 82 and ex-RAF) has been working on our family tree for some time and is missing some vital information about the Enniskillen period. It would be nice to touch base and see if you can help fill in any gaps.

Many thanks



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