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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland



28 June 2017

The sad history of Downpatrick brothers John and Joseph Clydesdale who fought and died in the trenches of World War 1 has been rediscovered by local Cadets and captured for ever for their family.

The brothers’ nephew, John Clydesdale, and his wife, Pearl, still live close to where John and Joseph grew up. However, apart from some family stories, they had little detail about the two young relatives whose names are inscribed on the cenotaph in Downpatrick.

The Cadets from Ballykinler Detachment ACF decided to research the history of the two brothers as part of a Local Heroes project designed to encourage Cadets to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War 1.  

What they discovered about Riflemen John and Joseph Clydesdale gave the teenagers fresh insight into the human costs of ‘The Great War’ and brought their school history books powerfully and poignantly to life.  Their research also encouraged them to stage a special reception for the Clydesdale family at which they presented their newly acquired knowledge, together with reflective music, poetry readings and a short service of remembrance.

Almost overwhelmed by the fruits of the research, John and Pearl Clydesdale were presented with a framed copy of the commemorative scrolls that would have been given to the families of those killed in WW1. 

The Cadets’ research took them to the Somme Museum in Bangor, as well as to the Cavan County Museum at Ballyjamesduff.  Two of the cadet team were also lucky enough to travel to Belgium and France with other cadets from across Northern Ireland on a fact-finding battlefields tour.

They discovered that Joseph Clydesdale was born in 1894 to Joseph and Annie Clydesdale of Downpatrick. He joined the 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles in Downpatrick in September 1914 and was deployed to France as part of the 36th Ulster Division in October 1915, only to be killed in action on 1 July 1916 on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, aged just 22. 

More dreadful news lay in store for the Clydesdale family.  The very next year they learnt of the untimely death of Joseph’s younger brother, John Alexander Wilson Clydesdale, at the Battle of Passchendaele.  The young man who had enlisted so eagerly with the 15th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and deployed to France in October 1915 alongside his brother, died  on 22nd November 1917, aged 19.   

The boys’ bodies were never recovered, but their deaths are recorded next to one another on the Thiepval memorial.  Whilst two of the Cadet research group were in Belgium they laid wreaths for the brothers, one on behalf of the family at home and another from the Ballykinler Detachment Army Cadet Force.

Sergeant Major Instructor Alan Douglas, Detachment Commander at Ballykinler, and host for the commemorative evening, spoke warmly of the Cadets’ involvement in the Local Heroes project.  He said, “I’m so proud of all of our Cadets who took part in the presentation to the Clydesdale family.  They really embraced the research into John and Joseph and were very moved by their stories, not least because the two young soldiers were so young when they died – not much older than our own Cadets in fact.

“Although the Cadet movement is well known for fun, activity and excitement, there is also a more serious side to the benefits that it offers.  As this project demonstrates, we also offer some important – and maturing – learning opportunities.”

Ballykinler Detachment meets every Wednesday evening at the Cadet Training Centre in Ballykinler. This September the Detachment will be open to new recruits, with boys and girls aged 12 to 18 years all welcome.  For more information, call 028 90 815223 or e-mail