Monday, November 5, 2012

It all began with a bronze plaque: Remembering William Dunne 1880-1914

Uncovering the history of a life can begin quite simply with an object such as this one.  Once tucked away with other family mementos, carefully kept to mark the passage of such lives, this large coin-like object is a 'Next of Kin' plaque.  Along with a scroll commemorating the service of a lost loved one, these plaques were given by the British government to families whose loved ones died on the battlefield during the first World War.  When I first set eyes on this bronze 'penny' in August of 2010, I knew the William Dunne commemorated on it was the brother of my paternal great-grandmother Mary Dunne Magee, but I had not yet uncovered the whole history of his life.  With the existence of the 'Next of Kin' plaque as a starting point, I had to find evidence to fill in the unknown details of William Dunne's history.

The 'Next of Kin Memorial Plaque in recognition of William Dunne's sacrifice in service.
William Dunne was born in Rathmines, Dublin 20 April 1880.  On the 1911 Census of Ireland, he is noted as a boarder in the family home of my great-grandmother Mary Dunne Magee. Between tours of duty William lived with his sister Mary, her husband Patrick, and their four young children. Only five years after the census, one of those children, Michael Magee would fight with the Irish Volunteers in the 1916 Easter Rising, serve as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Dublin Brigade during the Irish War of Independence,  and ultimately lose his life in the fight to free Ireland from British rule.  His uncle William Dunne was a Private in the British forces and fought in the Second Boer War campaign — also known as The South African War or The Second Anglo-Boer War — and in Europe during World War I.  As I noted in the post Military Monday: Remembrance Day Posts, this apparent contradiction with family members on both sides of the battle equation, as it were, existed within many Irish families.

William Dunne, Private, 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers
My research led me to the discovery that the original documents of almost the entire military service record of William Dunne are still extant (apparently a rarity).  According to British Army World War I Service Records, William Dunne enlisted on 16 July 1900.  The recruiting officer observes him to be "about 18"; he was in fact 20 years of age. Standing only 5 feet 5 inches tall, and weighing barely 118 pounds, he was not a physically imposing young man. The enlisting officer noted his complexion as 'fresh', and recorded his features of grey eyes and black hair.

William Dunne served in the regiment of The Royal Dublin Fusiliers; his regimental number was 7190.  He served in the Home sector until November 1900 and was then sent to South Africa from 22 November 1900 to 11 February 1902, during the Second Boer War Campaign. For this service he was awarded Boer War Campaign Medals.  Following his assignment in Africa, William Dunne was sent to the West Indies until 8 November 1903, and then brought back to the Home front.  On 22 August 1914 he was sent to France.  On this date, as a Private in the 2nd Battalion, he landed at Boulogne as part of 10th Brigade, 4th Division. William Dunne was killed in action 20 November 1914, having completed 14 years and 126 days service to the Crown. He was only 34 years old.

The casualty form for William Dunne
With the knowledge that William Dunne had fallen on the battlefields of Belgium, I searched for evidence of his final resting place. A stroke of good luck brought me to a photograph of his grave, and the graves of two of his comrades who fell as he did on 20 November 1914. The photograph appears on the Prowse Point Cemetery information page of the World War I War Graves website. William and his comrades, Private James Gallagher and Private James Maguire, were among the first casualties interred in the Prowse Point Military Cemetery about ten miles south of Ieper, West Flanders, Belgium. The three men are interred right beside one another near the entrance, and close to the large cross and the pond which fronts the cemetery. Prior to my visit to William's grave in Belgium, through the Commonwealth Graves Commission and The War Graves Photographic Project, for a small donation, I was able to acquire this photograph of William Dunne's grave.

Copyright© The War Graves Photographic Project. Appears with permission.
Prowse Point Military Cemetery, Belgium .
Copyright© The War Graves Photographic Project. Appears with permission.
William Dunne's military record with the British army was not spotless, few are.  The men who were sent to fight across the world were real flesh and bone individuals, not two dimensional cinema heroes.  His file reveals a few entries for army offenses.  While he was stationed at Fermoy, Ireland, and Dover, England, he was cited for drinking alcohol and thus "creating a disturbance in the barracks room", and using "obscene language"; for these he was fined 10 pence and 5 pence.  He was also cited for the more serious offence of "missing roll call at 8:30 am"; it is stated that he arrived at 10 a.m..  For this he was docked 14 days pay.

In addition to his Boer War medals, William Dunne was awarded the 1914 Star, the Victory Medal, and the British War Medal.  On 21 October 1919 my great-grandmother Mary Magee signed a form in receipt of the 1914 Star awarded to her brother; that receipt remains a part of William's file.  Less than two years after she signed for that medal, Mary Magee would lose her son Michael to war. A brother lost fighting for the British in Europe; a son lost fighting against the British in Ireland.

For complete information about the 'Next of Kin Memorial Plaque' visit the The Great War 1914-1918.
Click on Photographs to view a larger version.
Unless otherwise credited, All Photographs Copyright©irisheyesjg2007-2012.


  1. Your post is a great tribute to your relative William Dunne. His Memorial Plaque is such an interesting item to have. I didn't know something like that existed.

  2. Jenn you are fortunate to have the memorial 'penny' (that's what my uncle used to call them). Do you have the medals too. You've done a great job researching his story.

  3. Hello Yvonne and Hello Charlotte,

    Thank you to each one of you for your comments. They are much appreciated. I feel honoured to have been able to uncover so much of William Dunne's story so he is never forgotten.

    As far as the plaque and the medals: Although I actively covet such items, I have neither the plaque nor the medals. The plaque and other such items were inherited by descendants in the Magee branch of the family tree. They very graciously welcomed me into their home in 2010, showed them to me, and allowed me to photograph the plaque.

    Cheers to each of you,

  4. so sad, so typically Irish, you tell the story well.

    1. Hello Dara,

      Thank you for your comments. They are much appreciated. I agree it is a very sad story. It reminds me that my great-grandmother must have been a very strong woman to be able to deal with the loss of her brother to one conflict and the loss of her eldest son to another.

      Cheers to you,


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Cheers, Jennifer

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