Donnelly, Sergeant James (1894-1918)
James Donnelly was born on 22 November 1894, his parents being Michael Donnelly and Catherine Mooney of Drumaney, Ardboe. For a few years the family ran a public house and grocery shop in Drummullan (known today as the Sit & Sip) but by 1911 they had returned to the family farm in Drumaney.
James, the second-born of three boys and a girl, worked on the farm for a time but in 1914, when he was 19 years old, he made up his mind to emigrate to America. He sailed from Derry on 14 April 1914, bound for Newark, New Jersey. When the United States entered the war in April 1917, James Donnelly was eligible for conscription, and when the 42nd (Rainbow) Division was activated in August 1917, he was drafted to Company B of the 165th Infantry Regiment (better known as the 69thNew York), and his name appears on the original roster as Private James Donnelly of Harriman, New Jersey. The regiment reached France in November 1917.
There is a disparity in regard to the date of James Donnelly’s death. His headstone at Meuse-Argonne, Verdun, bears the date: OCT. 13, 1918, but the family headstone in Mullinahoe graveyard, Ardboe, bears the date: 15-10-1918. The family’s date may be more accurate, because the battalion’s big drive on the Argonne Forest did not commence until 9.00am on the morning of 14 October. A fellow soldier of that morning’s fighting wrote – “Our men fell everywhere along the line. They would break out before a thicket, and far ahead the rat-a-tat would sing and a man would lie clawing frenziedly at stones and tangled roots. They would straighten up and run forward toward a suspicious thicket, when, Crack! Crack! Crack! And the doughboys would move forward, leaving some of their number in death convulsions on the ground and others sorely wounded. But sooner or later they got the man in the tree for full payment, and sooner or later they got the hidden machine gun men. They kept on until they got their price for the comrades they lost; and then they kept on.”
When the 165th Regiment had a homecoming parade on Fifth Avenue there were 615 gold stars on the white regimental banner, representing those who had fallen in France, one gold star being for Sergeant James Donnelly, from Drumaney, Ardboe, Co Tyrone.