The cookie settings on this website are set to ‘allow all cookies’. Leaving your settings to ‘allow all cookies’ means you consent to a website remembering your preferences and generally enhancing the user experience. If you prefer a website to not remember your preferences, you can change your settings at any time by changing the privacy settings of your browser.

Find out more about cookies >

Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland



06 December 2016

Cadets from the Royal Belfast Academical Institution honoured the life and service of a former pupil at the Northern Ireland 'Local Heroes Project' finals this weekend.

Proudly displaying their research from the left is Cadet Lance Corporal Issac Greer, age 15; Cadet Lance Corporal Ben Murray, age 14 and Cadet Lance Corporal James Armstrong 

Sir William Tyrell was born on Nov 1885, the eldest of 9 children. He was educated at Friends School and later at RBAI, for just 1 year, from 1900 where he appeared to be more interested in rugby than in academic achievement.

He spent the best part of a decade at Queen’s College attempting to qualify as a doctor. However, he was particularly active in student politics and in sport, particularly rugby. Indeed, between 1910 and 1914 he gained 23 international caps for Ireland.

In 1913 he graduated from university and, on the outbreak of war he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Sir William went on active service in France, initially attached to the 2nd Lancashire Fusilliers,as Regimental Medical Officer. By the end of the war he had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was decorated for bravery, efficiency and organisational ability, being awarded the Military Cross in 1914; the Croix de Guerre (Belgium) in 1916; the DSO (the second-highest British decoration) in 1917 and the bar in 1918.  He was also mentioned in despatches 6 times.

His DSO citation read:
‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in charge of a line of evacuation. He worked continuously for six days and it was due to his gallantry, organization and energy that touch was maintained so efficiently with the brigades, and many casualties evacuated. He displayed great courage and coolness throughout, and inspired those under him by his fine example.’

He never talked much about his bravery in the field and in later years he often made light of his war service, preferring to recount humorous stories and episodes rather than accounts of courage and hardship.

Yet the war tragically touched Tyrell and his family as two of his younger brothers, Marcus and Walter, both old boys of Inst, were killed on active service with the Royal Flying Corps. In memory of his sons, Tyrell’s father donated a silver cup, the Tyrell Cup, to the school, which he stipulated was to be awarded annually to the best cadet section within the RBAI Officer Training Corps.

Maybe because his two brothers had served and died in the Royal Flying Corps, William Tyrrell joined the newly founded RAF at the end of the Great War. It is generally accepted that he was instrumental in its organization and direction, not only within its medical services but in general. Over the next twenty years he served in Somaliland, Iraq, Palestine and Cranwell and by 1939 he achieved the rank of Air Vice-Marshal, just as the 2nd World War broke out. He served in high administrative posts throughout the war.

On leaving the RAF he served as Director of Medical Services with the new commercial airline company BOAC until he retired in 1947.  

Even on retirement he lived a busy life – he was a Governor at RBAI, president of the Belfast Old Instonians Association and President of the IRFU in 1950-1951.  

Sadly, he was blighted by illness in the 1960s and he died on 29 Apr 1968, aged 83.