Memorial tribute for Ulster Scots war hero

Representatives of the Schomberg Society at the unveiling of the Victoria Cross stone. (L-R) Richard McKee, Esther Nicholson, Joy Cullen, Roberta Heaney, Christopher Wilson, Gareth Crozier and Stephen Nicholson.
Representatives of the Schomberg Society at the unveiling of the Victoria Cross stone. (L-R) Richard McKee, Esther Nicholson, Joy Cullen, Roberta Heaney, Christopher Wilson, Gareth Crozier and Stephen Nicholson.

The bravery of an Ulster Scots hero who received the Victoria Cross after fighting with distinction for his adopted homeland of Canada in the First World War has been remembered in Co Down.

Company Sgt Major Robert Hill Hanna’s valour 100 years ago this week at the Battle of Hill 70 in Lens, France was remembered at his family homestead near Kilkeel, where a memorial stone was laid and a remembrance ceremony was held on Monday.

An impressive finishing move from the Kirknarra Dancers who performed a special choreographed dance dressed in World War One costume.

An impressive finishing move from the Kirknarra Dancers who performed a special choreographed dance dressed in World War One costume.

The event, which was attended by Mr Hanna’s descendants and surviving family members, was organised by the Northern Ireland First World War Centenary Committee and the Schomberg Society.

Robert Hill Hanna was born to one of the oldest planter families in Co Down, in Aughnahoory, but he emigrated to Canada as a teenager.

He joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914 and found himself sent to France where his heroism earned him the highest military honour, the Victoria Cross.

He was awarded his medal by King George V himself in November 1917.

His citation for the Victoria Cross, read out during the ceremony on Monday by his great-niece Patricia Boyce, gives a succinct account of his brave actions on the battlefield.

“A strong point, heavily protected by wire and held by a machine gun, had beaten off three assaults of the company with heavy casualties. This Warrant Officer under heavy machine gun and rifle fire, coolly collected a party of men, and leading them against this strong point, rushed through the wire and personally bayonetted three of the enemy and brained the fourth, capturing the position and silencing the machine gun.

“This most courageous action, displayed courage and personal bravery of the highest order at this most critical moment of the attack, was responsible for the capture of a most important tactical point, and but for his daring action and determined handling of a desperate situation the attack would not have succeeded.”

Kingsley Donaldson, from the First World War Centenary Committee, said: “Robert Hill Hanna was a man of many identities: an Ulster Scot, a Mourne man, a son of Aughnahoory, whose family came to this place in 1640, one of the earliest Planter families in this part of Ireland. He was also a proud Canadian; a father, a son, a warrior, an Orangeman, a tough hard-working man and a gentle man.”

The evening also included performances from Kilkeel Silver Band, Aughnahoory Pipe Band, Schomberg Fife and Drum, Beekin Bairns Choir and Kirknarra School of Dance.