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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland



04 December 2016

Tales of past heroism are being rediscovered by a new generation, thanks to a fantastic competition organised by the Army Cadet Force. The competition, open to all cadets from across Northern Ireland, involved a research project and a presentation on a "local hero" who served in the First World War. The teams, consisting of 2 or 3 cadets, were narrowed down to a final 11 who presented to a panel of judges. 

The judges were hugely impressed by the amount of work that all of the cadets had put into their projects and the amount of thought and consideration that they had given to the personal stories of their heroes. In an age when there is so much emphasis on celebrity, wealth and even exam results, it is important that our young people should appreciate the importance of qualities such as integrity, self-sacrifice and courage.  

The cadets' enthusiastic response to the research challenge was fantastic; both thoughtful and thought-provoking.  They unearthed some amazing stories of individuals who have truly earned the right to be celebrated as true ‘Local Heroes’.

The overall winners of the competition were the team from the Royal School Armagh Combined Cadet Force (CCF), pictured above.  Their project was about Lieutenant Jasper Thomas Brett.

Lt Jasper Thomas Brett was born on 8 Aug 1895 in Dublin, to William and Mary Brett.  He was one of 7 children and his father was a solicitor, practising on Bachelor’s Walk. Jasper was initially educated at Monkstown Park School, then at the Royal School, Armagh, where he excelled at sport, especially rugby.

In 1912 he left school and became apprenticed to his father at the age of 17. But he continued to play rugby and he travelled with the Ireland rugby team to Paris and London in 1914 and made his debut against Wales on 14 March 1914. 

Frank Browning, President of the Irish Rugby Football Union, called on all players to join the army and at age 19, Brett joined the “Pals” unit – made up of young men who joined with their friends and fought together. Hundreds of men took up the call and joined the 7th Bn, Royal Dublin Fusiliers.  Many of them refused commissions and Brett was one of them.

The Pals carried out trench warfare training in Phoenix Park and used the Royal Dublin Golf Club course on Bill Island as a shooting range.

Jasper was one of the 239 men who sailed to Gallipoli in 1915, landing at Suvla Bay on 7 August.  They arrived in Gallipoli without any maps and any orders. They were without artillery and water was in very short supply. When the fight did begin, they even ran out of ammunition and resorted to throwing stones at the Turks. However, they still succeeded of taking Chocolate Hill, which was a Gallipoli trench and they held their position there, despite the counter-charge by the Turks.
On 15 Aug, they regrouped and only 79 of the Pal’s company – out of 238 who landed – were still alive by then.  Jasper was one of the lucky ones to survive but his health was very poor. He suffered from enteritis and colitis, to the extent that he had to be hospitalised.

In Sep 1915, Jasper arrived in Greece a damaged man, both physically and mentally.  Many of his friends died in Gallipoli. He had survived harrowing conditions, through a boiling climate.  Then suddenly he was plunged into mountainous warfare in freezing conditions, near Lake Dorian in Serbia.

In early 1916, 20 year old Brett slipped into a state of shell shock, better known today as PTSD.  It was decided to ship him back to England where he was admitted to hospital.

He was released from hospital and returned home, but in 1917, he left his family home and walked along the railway at Dalkey to the tunnel known as “Khyber Pass”, where he lay on the track and committed suicide.

Jasper’s name appears on the role of honour on the west wall of the south transept of his local church in Christ Church, Dunlaogharie (photo below left) and on the WW1 memorial at the Royal School (below right).


Jasper’s story reminds us that even those who returned from the War never really recovered from the effects of it.  All of these men were true heroes.

In a series of articles we will commemorate the other local heroes selected by our cadets.