HUGH FLYNN 1891 – 1915
9602 Rifleman Hugh Flynn, 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles died of wounds 5 January 1915, aged 25. He is buried at Estaires Communal Cemetery and Extension, France  and commemorated on the Witton Park war memorials.
Hugh Flynn was born in 1891 at Bishop Auckland, the son of Hugh and Catherine Flynn. In 1891, the Flynn family lived with Catherine’s uncle, 55 years old Daniel Macdonald, a “retired coke drawer”, originally from Ireland, at 18 Thompson’s Cottages, Witton Park. Hugh senior, aged 30 was recorded as a, “drainer”. Hugh junior was 3 months old. By 1901, 51 years old Hugh, recorded as a “general labourer” and 41 years old Catherine, together with their 5 children Hugh aged 12, May aged 10, Joseph aged 8, Jane aged 7 and James aged 1, were housed in the Union Workhouse, Bishop Auckland.
By 1911, Hugh and Kate Flynn lived at 24 Carwood Street, Witton Park. Hugh was employed as a labourer and they then had 5 children at home:
- Hugh aged 20 at Bishop Auckland
- Joseph aged 17 at Bishop Auckland
- James aged 11 at Witton Park
- Annie aged 9 at Bishop Auckland
- Rose Ellen aged 4 at Witton Park
Hugh junior worked as a labourer and Joseph as a miner (putter). With regard to Hugh’s “missing” sisters, Jane Flynn was employed as a general servant for the Burrell family at St. Andrews Place, Bishop Auckland and no record has been traced for May Flynn. 
Hugh Flynn served under the name of “Michael Fury”. He was a member of the Regular Army, the 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles, service number 9802. The battalion came under the command of 25th Brigade, 8th Division. Other battalions in the 25th Brigade were:
- 2nd Bn., The Lincolnshire Regiment
- 2nd Bn., The Royal Berkshire Regiment
- 2nd Bn., The Rifle Brigade
- 1/13th Bn., The London Regiment
The following details are taken from the War Dairy of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles:
27 September 1914: Aden: The Battalion embarked on “Dilwara” for the UK. Its strength was 19 Officers and 999 NCOs and men.
22 October: Arrived at Liverpool and entrained for Hursley Camp, Winchester.
5 November: Embarked SS Anglo-Canadian. The battalion strength was 31 Officers and 1014 NCOs and Riflemen. Arrived at Le Havre and proceeded to No.1 Rest Camp.
The battalion landed at Le Havre  as badly needed reinforcements to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) however the 8th Division did not take part in any of the major battles of November and December such as None Bosschen 11 November, the last phase of the First Battle of Ypres; the defence of Festubert 23-24 November; the attack on Wytschaete 14 December or the defence of Givenchy 20-21 December. The Division saw action at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle 10-13 March 1915. By this time, of course Rifleman H. Flynn was dead.
9 November: Moved to Strazil via Hazebrouck.
11 November: Billets at Vieux Berquin.
14 November: Arrived at Laventie. The town was partially destroyed by German shelling.
15 November: Marched to take up positions in the trenches to relieve the 59th Rifles, 15th Sikhs and a company of Manchesters. Sound of heavy firing.
15 – 21 November: Rue Tilleloy: Occupied the trenches, subjected to continual sniping. Patrols visited German trenches at night. Messages took 1½hours to get from Battalion HQ to the furthest company. In one part of the line there were only 50 Riflemen to 250 yards of trench. Work on deepening trenches carried out. Total casualties recorded as 41 – 2 NCOs and 8 Riflemen killed, 3 NCOs and 26 Riflemen wounded and 2 Riflemen missing.
22 – 24 November: NE Laventie: Into billets
24 – 27 November: “F” Lines: In the trenches, sniping continued from German trenches, deepening of trenches proved difficult. Nothing exciting. Casualties recorded as 10 – 3 Riflemen killed, 1 NCO and 6 Riflemen wounded.
27 – 30 November: Fort D’Esquin: Moved into billets. Enemy shelled the vicinity continually.
30 November – 3 December: F Lines Trenches: Each company selected 2 NCOs and a Riflemen per platoon as “sharpshooters” to keep down the enemy’s snipers which had been accounting for “our” casualties. Battalion’s casualties were accordingly reduced – 4 NCOs and 1 Rifleman wounded.
3 – 6 December: Estaires: Billets, baths and change of clothing.
6 – 9 December: F Lines Trenches: Casualties 8 – 1 Officer and 1 Rifleman killed, 1 NCO and 5 Riflemen wounded, one later died of wounds. The first reinforcement of 70 NCOs and Riflemen arrived, mostly made up of 3rd Bn., men and 1st Bn., men left at Winchester.
9 – 12 December: Fort D’Esquin: Nothing eventful happened.
12 December: F. Lines Trenches: Owing to much rain, the state of the trenches was very bad, knee deep in mud. One sergeant of the Lincolnshire Regiment had to be dug out.
15 December: Orders received for the Brigade to adopt a more aggressive attitude to give the impression that the trenches are held in great strength. German sniping was reduced. All efforts to improve the trenches was wasted.
16 December: still in the trenches, nothing special
17 December: A draft of 1 Officer, 2 NCOs and 91 Riflemen of which 1 was wounded while marching to the trenches. A small proportion of these men have never fired a rifle (3rd or 4th Bn.), others have been at Mons and wounded (2Bn.).
18 December: The 23rd Brigade attacked German trenches opposite Neuve Chapelle and the Battalion was employed in “demonstrating against enemy trenches.”
19 December: Bursts of heavy rifle and machine gun fire on the enemy during the day. “Our” artillery shelled “vigorously”.
20 December: Much of the same as above.
21 December: Fort D’Esquin: Relieved.
22 December: There were 30 casualties from the recent tour of the trenches comprising – 1 NCO and 4 Riflemen killed, 2 NCOs and 22 Riflemen wounded and 1 Riflemen missing. The battalion’s total casualties to date was 95.
23 December: Marched to Trenches “E” Line: HQ on Rue Tilleloy near the junction of Rue Masseloy and Rue Tilleloy. A draft of 64 NCOs and Riflemen joined the battalion. The report of the Company Officer included the following comments:
- Physique: fairly good
- General efficiency: Fair. Special Reserve men indifferent
- Musketry: Not up to standard. Regular Reservists rusty and Special Reserve could not work their bolts well but improved with special instruction in the trenches.
- Equipment: Good Same as Regular Army.
- Discipline: Very Poor.
24 December: The following is a full quote from the Battalion War Diary:
“Nothing of importance occurred until 8pm. when heralded by various jovialities from their trenches, the Germans placed lamps on their parapets and commenced singing. Various remarks such as, “If you English come out and talk to us, we won’t fire” etc. etc. were shouted out on which our men came out and both British and Germans met ½way between their respective trenches and conversed. A good many Germans spoke English well. They were well clothed, clean and shaved. Good physique, rather inclining to extremes of age. The following reports by OC I/RIR to Bde HQ on this curious situation – a “soldiers’ truce” – were sent.
“8.20PM Germans have illuminated their trenches, are singing songs and are wishing us a Happy Xmas. Compliments are being exchanged but am nevertheless taking all military precautions.”
Message from Bde –
“Following instructions from GHQ for information and necessary action by us – It is thought possible that enemy may be contemplating an attack during Xmas or New Year. Special vigilance will be maintained during this period.” (9pm)
From OC 1/RIR
“11.45PM Germans before my Regiment state they will not fire until midnight 25/26 unless we fire. No shot has been fired since 8pm. A small party of one Company met Germans half way and conversed. 158th Regiment, fine men, clean and well clothed. They gave us a cap and helmet badge and a box of cigars. One of them states the war would be over in 3 weeks as they had defeated Russia! A large number of Germans came out of their trenches which appeared quite as strongly held as ours. Digging and erection of wire continued. All Companies have been cautioned to be doubly alert. German trenches still illuminated.”
From Bde –
“No communication of any sort is to be held with the enemy nor is he to be allowed to approach our trenches under penalty of fire bring opened.” (12.35AM)
25 December Xmas Day
This situation continued right through the night. At dawn, 25th, the Germans shouted out, “Merry Xmas” from their trenches and danced and sang in front of their parapets.
Message from Bde (8.40AM)
“8th Div. message begins – So long as Germans do not snipe, there should be o sniping from our lines today but greatest vigilance must be maintained as Germans are not to be trusted. Our guns will not be firing today unless asked to do so or unless German guns’ fire.”
From OC 1/RIR
(11.30AM) Progress report. All very quiet along my front. Has been no sound of sniping on either flank even for sometime. Situation seems evolving into a kind of mutual armistice terminating 12m.n. tonight. The instructions are being adhered by both sides. Germans are moving about on their parapets doing odd jobs which seem quite harmless. At dawn this morning enemy came out on their parapets and cheered and danced and called out “Merry Xmas” etc. Reconnaissance last night points to conclusion that enemy’s trenches and advanced posts were strongly held apart from those who were fraternising and singing. Position in our trenches is careful guard by those held on duty while allowing those off duty to relax. This seems to be the German attitude also. (Later) Germans are now walking up and down outside their trenches. Our men are mostly in their trenches – those out are in rear of their parapets. Actual communication with the enemy is forbidden. It is very doubtful how one should respond to the curious soldier truce. The German soldiers themselves are probably simple minded enough about the thing but only time will show whether there is not something behind all this and whether we have not made a mistake in permitting this to take place. The following notes are recorded:
1) The truce is sought entirely by the enemy
2) The enemy have asked for 2 days of this which has been refused by officers of the Battalion in the firing line
3)The mutual arrangement is that if either side construct works or carry out such repairs to works that the other consider not playing the game, they will fire shots over the other sides heads
4) Captain O’Sullivan, Cmdg B Coy of the Bn will fire his revolver at 12 m.n. tonight (25/26) at which signal the truce ends.
Only a few shots fired by the enemy after the midnight signal was fired by Capt. O’Sullivan from our trenches. Shortly before midnight a party of Germans came over towards B Coys trenches and were ordered back.
During the morning of 26th, the enemy fired very few shots. Some of our sentries were above the parapets and the Germans throughout the morning appeared to have no intention of opening fire on us.
26 December: 4.45PM The battalion was relieved and moved into the Divisional Reserve at billets near Laventie Station.
11.45PM: Following a message from Brigade HQ, the battalion was ordered to take up positions at La Flinque because a German attack was expected. British guns opened fire for 20 minutes and nothing materialised.
27 December: Laventie: Back to billets
28 December: Estaires to Divisional baths, “duly appreciated”.
29 December – 1 January 1915: Trenches E. Line: Nothing of note.
1 – 4 January 1916: Fort D’Esquin: To billets. There were 7 casualties, 1 officer and 2 Riflemen killed, 1 NCO and 3 Riflemen wounded. This brought the total number of casualties to 102.
3 January: A draft of 1 sergeant and 54 other NCOs and Riflemen arrived from home. It was reported that the men were poorly trained and “certainly not Riflemen”.
4 – 7 January: Trenches E Line: Nothing to report other than the appalling state of the trenches.
7 – 10: Lavantie: At Divisional Reserve billets.
The next casualty report was provided 31 January 1916 when there were 39 casualties – 4 NCOs and 9 Riflemen killed, 2 NCOs and 24 Riflemen wounded. The total number reached 141 casualties.
5 January 1915: 9802 Rifleman Hugh Flynn (alias Michael Fury) died of wounds. There is no mention of any particular action which could identify when, where and on which date he was wounded. It may have been prior to the Xmas Truce. He may have taken part in the fraternisation. He may have been wounded afterwards. The circumstances of his death remain unknown. Throughout the period, sniper fire was prevalent and this may be the cause.
With regard to the number of casualties, later research records that between 6 November 1914 when the battalion landed in France and 10 January 1915, the 1st Bn., Royal Irish Rifles lost 26 Other Ranks, including:
- 1 on the 30th December 1914,
- 2 on 1st January 1915,
- 2 on the 4th Jan,
- 3 on the 5th including Rifleman Hugh Flynn
- 1 on the 6th January 1915.
There were no deaths between 16 and 30 December 1914 which accords with the “informal truce” between the troops of the warring factions.
Medals and Awards
9802 Rifleman Hugh Flynn (alias Michael Fury) was awarded the 1914 Star, the Victory and British War medals.
Rifleman Hugh Flynn, 1st Bn., Royal Irish Rifles, is buried at grave reference I.E.3. Estaires Communal Cemetery and Extension, west of Armentieres, in northern France.
Hugh Flynn’s father Hugh then his mother Catherine were named as claimant’s to his pension and effects.
Hugh Flynn was Bishop Auckland born and bred, and worked as a labourer. The family must have struggled and they spent some time in the Bishop Auckland Union workhouse. It appears that he joined the British Army as a Regular prior to the outbreak of war and curiously, enlisted under the alias, Michael Fury. The 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Rifles left Aden in the Middle East for the UK in October 1914. By November, the Division was on the Western Front, manning trenches on the Franco-Belgian border. The battalion was in the line over Christmas 1914 when German soldiers exchanged greetings with British troops. It is probable that Rifleman Hugh Flynn witnessed this occurrence. Rifleman H. Flynn (otherwise known as Michael Fury) died of wounds 5 January 1915 and is buried at Estaires in France. He was 25 years old and a single man.
 Commonwealth War Graves Commission
 1891 census
 1901 census
 1911 census
 commanding B Company of the battalion
 Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War
 Medal Roll card index (2 cards) under the names of Fury and Furey.
 UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.169104 & Army Pension card index