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Joseph Henry Thompson commemorated in Kilkeel

23 May 2019

The Ulster History Circle commemorated Joseph Henry Thompson (I87I-I928) Soldier at the unveiling of a Blue Plaque on Thursday 23 May 2019 at the Kilmorey Arms, Kilkeel.

The plaque will be unveiled by the American Consul-General in Belfast, Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau.

Joseph Henry Thompson was born on 26th September 187I in the townland of Dunnaval, Kilkeel to Jacob Thompson, a farmer and Sarah Jane Reilly, daughter of Henry Reilly.  Joseph was the eldest of three siblings, Albert William Thompson and Robert Reilly Thompson.

In 1743 the first of the Thompsons arrived in the area from the lowlands of Scotland, and a John Thompson, a linen draper settled in the townland of Benagh. 

Little is known about the early years of Joseph H. Thompson but a life in the Mournes was not for him, and so he emigrated in 1889 to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He entered Duff’s College whose ethos for young men was – ‘One of the marked characteristics of our country and time is the wonderful opportunity for young men to make for themselves position and influence’.  He continued his education as a student at Geneva College and at Pitt Law School where he graduated as an Attorney. 

During his years at Geneva and Pitt, Joseph Henry Thompson, the man from Mourne excelled at sport – playing halfback and also coaching at Geneva , Carnegie Tech, Pittsburgh High School, and being paramount in Pittsburgh winning the 1st National Championship.   His football career is well documented.

His business career was as an Attorney in his home town of Beaver Falls, Beaver, Pennsylvania but Joseph also served as a member of the Pennsylvania Senate from the 47th district from I9I3 to I9I6.  As World War I raged in Europe, America joined the war in I9I7, and Joseph and his battalion were transported to France.

It is for his bravery in the field of battle at Apremont, Ardennes that we commemorate Joseph Henry Thompson.  His Military Service record shows that he entered the Pennsylvania National Guard I4th inf. Regiment on I6th February I905 and was discharged from active service duty on 31st December I9I9, as Col. Joseph H. Thompson, commanding the II0th Regiment. 28th Infantry Division.  He was wounded four times; on 29th and 30th September I9I8 and twice on Ist October I9I8 when he was gassed. Each time Major Thompson remained on duty and encouraged his battalion on the front line against the heavy machine guns and artillery. His courage and bravery saw him rushing forward on several occasions, under anti-tank gun fire and leading the only remaining tank to obliterate the German machine gun, thereby assisting the infantry to advance.  For his bravery and courage, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross which was later replaced by the Medal of Honour by President Herbert Hoover.  Joseph Henry Thompson was also awarded the Croix DeGuerre of France.  (the full citation can be found on Wikipedia).

When he returned from France, he continued to work as an Attorney and visited Kilkeel  many times.  He was lauded as a hero by his peers.  Joseph had married in I908, a Californian lady, Violet Edith Smeight and they had one son, Joseph Smeight Thompson.  Sadly at a young age of 57, the war hero and man from Kilkeel died, and was buried with full military honours in Beaver Falls Cemetery where today the Stars and Stripes fly over his Veterans Grave.

As Chairman of the Ulster History Circle, Chris Spurr said; Joseph H. Thompson was an award-winning college football coach, attorney and state senator in Pennsylvania, who then distinguished himself on military service in France in I9I8. His valour there led to him receiving the United States Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest personal military decoration, and he is the only Ulster-born soldier to win this medal in World War I.  The Ulster History Circle is pleased to commemorate this renowned soldier with a blue plaque in Kilkeel, the place of his birth, and we are honoured that the American Consul-General, Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau, will unveil the plaque.

The Circle would particularly like to thank the Ulster-Scots Agency for their financial support towards this plaque, and the Kilmorey Arms Hotel for their assistance.

Pictured at the launch (L-R); Ian Crozier, Chief Executive Ulster-Scots Agency, Bernard Gilliland, American Legion, Samuel Hamilton, Kilmorey Arms Hotel, American Consul-General in Belfast, Elizabeth Kennedy Trudeau and Maynard Hanna.