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  • Stephen Callaghan

A Letter to Rinagry, Ballina, County Mayo and its Sender

While browsing online auction sites, I came across an "On Active Service" envelope sent from Field Post Office H.12 by a soldier serving in France on 14 October 1915 to his mother home in Ireland in County Mayo. What drew my attention to the envelope was the specific address, “Rinagry, Ballina”, a stones throw away from where my father grew up, both being in the district electoral division (DED) of Mount Falcon. With that in mind I bought the envelope and decided to investigate it more.

While the envelope’s contents are long gone, the senders name is present, “A. P. Whitaker”, which we can quickly identify this as Arthur Percy Duncombe Whitaker. Arthur was born on 8 November 1885 in Colchester, Essex. He was the son of Captain Charles Hildyard Thornton Whitaker and Ruth Helen Whitaker (Nee Harkness). Captain Whitaker was a career officer in the 105th Foot/Yorkshire Light Infantry and married Ruth on 3 February 1880 in the Parish of Maurice in the City of York. Ruth was the daughter of Thomas Harkness, the surveyor general of the Post Office.


The family are absent from the 1901 census owing to being in South Africa. Charles’ service records shows he was in South Africa from April 1891 until July 1902, his family almost certainly being present with him. This would have accustomed young Arthur to military life from a young age.


Following in his father’s footsteps, Arthur joined the army, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Service Corps in January 1906, later being promoted to Lieutenant in January 1908.


We find Arthur with his family on the 1911 census living in 8 Rinagry, or Rinagry Cottage/House as it was known locally, along with three servants. Charles now retired from the army, having left in 1905. Why the family were living in County Mayo is unknown, but the modest house which no longer stands, was recorded as being a 1st class house on the census. The house had a slate, iron or tiled roof, with 13 or more rooms and with six windows on the front. There was also a substantial amount of outbuildings too, including a stable, coach house, harness room, cow house, calf house, dairy, two fowl houses, barn, shed, two stores and a laundry.


Rinagry House, image courtesy of Ballina, North Mayo and Beyond Facebook Page

Lieutenant Whitaker was promoted to Captain on 5 August 1914 and with the outbreak of war, he was sent to France. From February 1916 until after the war he worked on army staff as Deputy Assistant Director of Supplies. His service in France entitled him to a 1914 Star, British War medal and Victory medal. Though distinguished service rewarded him with the Distinguished Service Order and two Mention in Dispatches in 1917.


After the war Arthur remained in the army of reserve officers, and reached the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, he left the army in 1955.


In July 1926 Major Whitaker married Grace Christine Jones at St Marks Church, Little Common, Bexhill On Sea. Arthur died on 30 September 1962 at Bridgewater, Somerset, aged 77 years.


While Lieutenant Colonel Whitaker’s career could probably be expanded on, what is presented here shows what hidden histories can be found out on such innocuous items such as an envelope.

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