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Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
Northern Ireland


NEWS

PORTADOWN CADETS REMEMBER LOCAL WWI HERO LIEUTENANT GEOFFREY SHILLINGTON CATHER

30 December 2017

A challenge to find out more about the history of World War I by researching stories of ‘local heroes’ has connected Portadown brother and sister Ryan and Charlotte-Ann Hanlon with memories of one of the great heroes of the World War 1.

Cadet Sergeant Charlotte-Ann Hanlon (16) and Cadet Colour Sergeant Ryan Hanlon (17), enthusiastic members of Portadown Detachment Army Cadet Force, chose to focus their research on Victoria Cross recipient Lieutenant Geoffrey Shillington Cather – and the story they uncovered moved and impressed them in equal measure.

Ryan says, “We had both learned a bit about the Great War in school history lessons and at the Cadets and we had vaguely heard Geoffrey Shillington Cather’s name. We knew he had a Victoria Cross, but very little else … and we both wanted to know what he had done to earn the ultimate accolade for bravery.”

Geoffrey Shillington St George Cather was born on the 11 October 1890 in Streatham Hill area of south-west London. His father was from Portadown and his mother from Coleraine and, although he was educated at boarding school in England, he spent his school holidays in Portadown. He joined the army in 1909 and worked in Canada and America for a short time before enlisting into the 19th (2nd Public Schools) Battalion Royal Fusiliers in September 1914. On gaining his commission he served as Lieutenant, Adjutant, with the 108th Infantry Brigade, 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers (Armagh, Monaghan and Cavan Volunteers).

Almost immediately the young Lieutenant Shillington Cather was at the heart of frontline action and in 1916 he was found himself taking part in the first days of the Battle of the Somme, the “Big Push”.  It was here that he showed his courage and, sadly in doing so, lost his life, aged just 25.

The Citation which accompanies his posthumus VC says, “For most conspicuous bravery. From 7pm till midnight he searched ‘No-Mans Land’, and brought in three wounded men. Next morning at 8am he continued his search, brought in another wounded man, and gave water to others, arranging for their rescue later.  Finally, at 10:30am he took out water to another man and was proceeding further on when he was himself killed.  All this was carried out in full view of the enemy, and under direct machine gun fire and intermittent artillery fire.  He set a splendid example of courage and self-sacrifice.”

His Victoria Cross was presented to his family by King George at Buckingham Palace on March 31st 1917 and the medal is now on display at the Royal Irish Fusiliers Museum, Armagh.

Ryan Hanlon says, “It is hard to imagine just how terrifying the trench warfare of World War 1 must have been for the young soldiers on both sides. To act so bravely in those circumstances is astonishing and Lieutenant Cather showed not only courage, but also supreme selflessness.

“Perhaps the saddest aspect of our research was learning that Lieutenant Shillington Cather has no known grave, although his name is found on the Thiepval Memorial Pier and, of course he is remembered in the history books.” 

The information accumulated in the young people’s research will now become an important learning resource for others in the Cadet movement.

Pictured below showing off the certificates which marked their participation in the research challenge are, from left, Cadet Sergeant Charlotte-Ann Hanlon and Cadet Colour Sergeant Ryan Hanlon.