Turtle Bunbury

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Family lore holds that the Moffatt clan descends from Andlaw, or Allan, a Norse Viking who settled in Scotland during the 10th century. His granddaughter married William de Mont-Alto, a Norman warrior from whom the ‘Moffatt’ surname apparently comes, being a gradual softening of the name via Montealt, Movat and Movest.[1] By the twelfth century the name was ‘de Moffet’ indicating that the clan now held both land and power. Their stronghold was in the Scottish Borders and it seems likely they also gave their name to the town of Moffat in Dumfriesshire.

In 1300, Robert the Bruce, acting as Lord of Annandale, granted Adam Moffat the Barony of Eskdale, a chilly glen in Dumfries through which the River Esk flows towards the Solway Firth. Fourteen years later, Adam and one of his brothers repaid Bruce when they commanded a cavalry unit during Bruce’s epic victory over Edward Longshanks’ English forces at Bannockburn. In 1336, King David II of Scotland (son of Bruce) appointed Walter de Moffet, Archdeacon of Lothian, his French Ambassador.

The Moffatts had a long-standing feud with the Johnstone clan which ended badly for the Moffatts in 1557 when the Johnstones murdered their clan chief and burned down a church in which all leading members of the Moffatts had sought refuge. In 1609, heavily indebted and leaderless, the Moffatts were obliged to sell their long held lands to the dastardly Johnstones and henceforth they became tenant farmers. The clan did not have a chief until 1983 when Francis Moffat was recognized as the hereditary chief of the clan. Upon Francis's death in 1992, the chieftainship passed to his daughter Jean. [2]

We do not yet know where the ancestors of the Moffatts of Ireland came from. It is believed they crossed at about the time when Cromwell's army conquered the country in the 1640s. Certainly several Moffatts went to Ireland with the Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters, determined to protect Scottish settlers in Ulster from cut-throat Catholic rebels during the bloody rebellion of 1641.

The precise activities of the Moffatts for the remainder of the 17th, the whole of the 18th and much of the 19th century remains a mystery. Several Presbyterian branches settled in Ulster, primarily in Cavan and Monaghan, and also Sligo. [3] Given the family's later connection with both the Wilsons and Kinnears of Ballybay, County Monahan, it is tempting to believe the Moffatts descend from a well-established branch who resided in Ballybay. However, no evidence of this link has yet come forth and so we must simply bow a respectful head towards those who have gone before us, only for the daily happenings of their lives to have faded into the archives.


The earliest ancestor we can be certain of was a Presbyterian bootmaker called William Moffatt who was living in Dublin in the spring of 1888. Given that his grandson would study at Trinity College Dublin during the Edwardian era, it is possible, but unlikely, that this was the same William Moffatt who was noted as obtaining a Third Class honour from that university at the end of the Michaelmas term in 1861. (4)

Thom's Irish Almanac and Official Directory for the Year 1862 refers to 'Moffatt and Thomson, tailors and drapers', based on Dublin's Mary Street, but alas we can only speculate that this firm was connected to William.

In 1869, William Moffatt the bootmaker fathered a baby boy who was also named William. On the 1901 census form, which his Scottish father-in-law filled out, William junior’s place of birth was given as County Antrim, in which case he may have been born in Belfast. However, on the 1911 census, which William junior himself filled out, he gave his place of birth as Dublin. In both cases, his stated religion was Presbyterian.


Peter Moffatt recalled meeting his grandfather many times during his childhood when they often holidayed in Ireland. ‘I only remember him as a very old man who sat in front of the fire all the time. He had diabetes. As far as I know he worked all his life for Hugh Moore and Alexander’.

In 1881, aged about twelve, William Moffatt junior began working for the firm of Hugh Moore & Alexander. Indeed, he was to remain with the firm for the next forty years, primarily as a commercial salesman of wholesale drugs.

Hugh, Moore & Alexander was a long established player at the Linen Hall in Dublin. As well as linen, the company had divisions which focused on veterinary and pharmaceutical products. Contemporary advertisements in The Irish Times promoted Hall Health Salt (‘Cleanses the system and keeps the blood cool and pure’) and tins of Hall Boot Polish (‘Creates a quicker, better and more lasting shine than any other’). Among others who worked for Hugh Moore & Co. in this period was a young John MacBride, later destined to lead the pro-Boer Irish Transvaal Brigade in the Anglo-Boer War before being executed by firing squad after the Easter Rising of 1916.

By November 1898, HMA had launched ‘Dr. Kirn’s Phospho-Lactine’ on the people of Ireland, specifically targeting ‘children, fastidious persons, delicate women, nervous men’. Developed by Dr. Leon Kirn of Paris, phospho-lactine was a 'wonderful powder' made from Cod Liver Oil (Iodine, Sulphur and Phosphorous) and Albuminous Sulphate of Lime. It was, as Mr. Moffatt must have assured Irish pharmacists, ‘the revivifier par excellence’. It was not simply ‘a most effective renewer of tissues, cartilages and bones’ but also ‘chemically pure’ and ideal for the kidneys, bladder and urinary secretion.

Once he had the pharmacist potentially hooked, Mr. Moffatt would have been able to reel off a list of those who might benefit from a dose of Dr. Kirn’s Phospho-Lactine, including anyone suffering from enlarged glands, rickets, scrofulous conditions, consumption, disease of the bones or nerves, dyspepsia (in all its forms), hysteria, palpitation, influenza, paralysis, anaemia or what the latter day Victorians called “brain-fag” (aka mental overwork). A sharpened appetite, a more active digestion, a more complete assimilation and induced sleep were all on offer to anyone who imbibed this stimulant.

The Irish Times ran a quarter page advertisement for the product six times over the course of November and December 1898. This came complete with medical testimonials from patients and doctors alike. Walter Abbott of Leyton, Essex, claimed he had ‘certainly derived lasting benefits’ having taken ‘about thirty doses’ in the past month. Dr. J. Chauviere of Ille-et-Vilaine in France rather alarmingly added that he had ‘experimented upon my little daughter, aged three years, with a very delicate temperament … and I perceive an extraordinary amelioration in her condition’. The suspiciously wonderfully named Dr. Barmy of Herault in France had likewise dosed up a 70-year-old patient who suffered chronic fatigue and considered it ‘a great success’.


On 10th May 1888, 30-year-old William Moffatt was married in the Presbyterian church on Adelaide Road, Dublin, to 22-year-old Mary Connan Masson. On the wedding certificate, William was described as a druggist from Blackrock, County Dublin, while Mary was a spinster living in the south Dublin village of Dundrum. The service was conducted by Dr. Robert M’Cheyne Edgar, a 46-year-old evangelical Calvinist from Belfast whose Scottish-born wife Marion was also perhaps in attendance. The witnesses were A.J. Sinclair and Susan Masson, presumably Mary’s mother.

Mary Connan Masson was the daughter of James Masson, a Presbyterian gardener from Scotland who had settled in Ireland sometime after the Great Famine. James Masson was born in Scotland in 1833, the year in which slavery was officially abolished in the British Empire. His wife Susan Masson was a year younger than him and also hailed from the Presbyterian stock of Scotland. It is not known when the Massons came to Ireland but by the time of Mary’s birth, in about 1867, they were living in County Wicklow on Ireland’s east coast. When their second daughter Susan Masson was born in 1875, the family – or Mrs. Susan Masson at any rate – was based much further north in County Fermanagh.


It is to be noted that a man by the name of William Moffatt Wilson was married in the very same Adelaide Road Church in 1879. His father was the Rev. Dr. Hamilton Brown Wilson, who later became General Moderator (or Chairman) of the General Assembly, the highest court of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The Wilsons were another prominent Ballybay family, thus increasing the likelihood that William Moffatt of Blackrock descended from the Ballybay branch of the family.

In 1890 W.M. Wilson became the subject of an enquiry by the ‘Registrar in Lunacy’ who sought to examine whether he was ‘a person of sound mind, capable of managing his own affairs’. Mr. Wilson, then aged 37, worked for a reputable firm of stockbrokers on Dame Street, Dublin. However, he had been ‘showing signs of aberration of the intellect’, most notably believing that he was a reincarnation of Emperor Napoleon I. Ultimately it came down to Dr. Wilson himself to deliver his damning opinion that his son was incapable of managing his own affairs. The poor fellow was duly carted off by the men in white coats to the Morningside Asylum in Edinburgh. (5)


William and Mary Moffatt had two children. Their daughter Susan, or Suie, was born in about 1890. Suie's middle name is sometimes given as 'Martha' but on her fathers death certificate, which she signed, it is 'Heather'.

Approximately five years later, on 25th January 1895, Mary gave birth to William James Moffatt, known as Willie. He was born within 24 hours of the premature death of Lord Randolph Churchill, the influential Victorian statesman and father of Winston.

Willie narrowly missed becoming the first child to be baptized in St. Andrew’s Church, the Presbyterian kirk in Blackrock, south Dublin, which was effectively founded a month after his birth. A year earlier, on 29th July 1894, a group of Presbyterians from Blackrock had met in the Town Hall to discuss the idea of creating a new congregation. It is assumed William Moffatt was amongst them.

On 13th October 1893, Mr. James Snowdon, B.A., later the church’s first minister, wrote to the Mission Board asking to be considered as a licentiate for the Blackrock congregation. He was duly appointed and, in June 1895, the General Assembly gave the congregation the nod. Later that month, the Moffatts and the Massons may well have been amongst those residents who gathered in Blackrock as part of this new congregation.

Even as young Willie took his first breaths, discussions were underway about where to locate the new church. At length, they settled upon Albion House on Merrion Avenue, the site of the present church. James Snowdon continued to minister to the small congregation and was ordained in Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) on 10th October 1895. Six weeks later, the congregation purchased Albion House for £750. On 29th November 1895, Mr Hewat, an eminent Presbyterian businessman of Scottish origin, suggested that the church be named for Saint Andrew, patron saint of Scotland. [6]

The church itself was completed by 27th May 1899 when The Irish Times announced that the Rev George Davidson, B.Sc, of Edinburgh would be occupying the Pulpit at St Andrew’s for both the 11:30am and 7pm services the following day. Collection would be made for the Building Fund of the Church while contributions from those unable to attend would be ‘gratefully received’ by the Rev. Snowdon, 37 Mount Merrion Avenue, Blackrock, or by Mr. William Moffatt, Treasurer.

By July 1899, Hugh Moore & Alexander was listed on the Dublin Stock Exchange, trading from its offices at the Linen Hall. In the seventeen years since William joined, the company had considerably expanded its portfolio to cater to the growing demand for oil, becoming exclusive Irish agents for both refined Excelsior petroleum from America and Caspian oil from Russian with its ‘excellent illuminating power’. On October 17th 1899, the company proudly revealed to The Irish Times readers that the British barque ‘Craiglands’ had arrived from Philadelphia with 7,253 barrels of Excelsior petroleum which they offered to the trade ‘on favourable terms’. The company was also dealing with Benzoline fuel and Motor Oil for the fledgling car industry. One wonders whether young Willie Moffatt, who would spend the bulk of his working life in Iraq, inhaled his first whiff of oil at this time.

In 1900, HMA purchased ‘the old established concerns, as well as the name, good will, all their trade marks and celebrated recipes’ of Fred Lewis, wholesale perfumers and toilet soap makers of Fleet Street, Dublin. HMA’s customers were duly tantalized with a range of electric oil, trotter oil, hair colour restorer, shaving creams and Dentifrices Benedictine de Soulac (‘the most widely known dentifrice in Europe’). [7] It is assumed that Mr. Moffatt was closely involved with the sale of some or all of these products.

By the time of the 1901 census, William Moffatt was living at 19 Mount Merrion Avenue, a 12-room terraced house in Blackrock, with his wife Mary, her parents, his eleven-year-old daughter Suie and six-year-old son Willie. Also in the house was a 21-year-old Presbyterian bank clerk from County Tyrone called Thomas John Lytle.[8] James Masson, William's 68-year-old father-in-law, described himself as a gardener, while William was a ‘Wholesale Druggist and Commercial Traveller’. It is not known when the Massons or Moffatts moved into the house.

The Moffatts continued to exert a considerable influence over the Presbyterian community at St. Andrew’s well into the next century. On the first Friday of February 1908, for instance, William was present when the church administrators held their annual meeting. Amongst the accounts examined were those of Mr. F. Campbell’s Orphan Auxiliary, Mrs. Hewat’s evangelical Zenana (Missionary) Association, the Band of Hope, the Sunday School and the Indian Orphan Fund. ‘Mr. William Moffatt, Mr. A. Hall and Mr. A Longmuir spoke to the reports, all making special mention of the projected lecture hall, the need of which is keenly felt’.

By the time the 1911 Census was taken, William and Mary Moffatt had moved to a house called "Drumgoff” in Stillorgan Park, south Dublin. They had been married for 23 years. William was again listed as a travelling salesman, while Mary was now described as a druggist. Perhaps they both worked for Hugh Moore & Alexander.

Also resident at Drumgoff was William’s 78-year-old mother-in-law Susan Masson, his 22-year-old daughter Susan (Suie), his 17-year-old son William (Willie) and a 23-year-old Roman Catholic house servant from County Kildare called Julia Connolly. There is no reference to Mary Moffatt’s father or sister Susan leading one to suppose that James Masson was deceased and that the younger Susan was married. [10]

Drumgoff is still reputedly standing today although its identity remains something of a mystery. The Stillorgan Local History group have not heard of it. Nor is it mentioned in Peter Pearson's authoritative book ‘Between the Mountains and the Sea’ or Bonnie Flanagan's rather more specific ‘Stately Homes around Stillorgan’.

In the 1969 Medical Directory, Drumgoff, Stillorgan Park, was the given address of Roger Edward Bowell, MB B Chs, BAO. Mr. Bowell was head of the Opthalmology Department at Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin. He also served as President of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland, practicing as a Consultant Ophthalmologist at 69 Eccles Street, Dublin 7. One presumes that a surgeon named Bowell who lives in Stillorgan is well used to wisecracks. [11]


In about 1905, Willie was enrolled at Avoca School in Blackrock, a short walk from both Stillorgan Park and Mount Merrion Avenue. The privately-owned Protestant school was founded in 1891 in a small redbrick terraced house at Avoca Place. It began taking boarders in 1892 and, by Willie’s time, included a tennis court, considered highly important during this golden age of Irish tennis, a gymnasium, and grounds for both football and hockey. The schools’ founder was the pioneering German-speaking scholar Albert Augustus MacDonogh, B.A., who remained headmaster for an impressive 43 years until his death on Easter Saturday 1934. The school was evidently strong in maths. Master MacDonogh’s successor Mr. Cyril Parker (son of George William Parker) and Master Parker’s successor, E. C. Classon, were both exceptional mathematicians. The school motto was ‘Aide toi, Je t'aiderai’, meaning ‘Help yourself, I will help you’. (12)

A.A. MacDonogh, a former Trinity College gold medalist and chess maestro, was the eldest surviving son of the Rev. A.J. MacDonogh, DD, Canon of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. In 1899, he married Ruth Fisher of Templeoran, Co. Westmeath. Their son Paddy MacDonogh (1902-1961) was the poet and Irish hockey international.

Delivering the eulogy at Master MacDonogh’s funeral in 1934, the Rev. E.M. Bateman of Booterstown Parish Church described Willie Moffatt’s housemaster as 'a Christian, a scholar and a true gentleman ... in any company he stood out as an individual, a strong man, not afraid to be himself and speak his mind. Those who refused to face facts, who liked to shirk trouble or postpone decisions, were rather afraid of him, but those who knew him best knew that he had a heart of gold, and that no more kindly man breathed than Albert MacDonogh’.[13


From Avoca School, William went to Trinity College Dublin to study for a Baccalaureus in Arte Ingeniaria (aka Bachelor in the Art of Engineering, or BAI). Trinity’s Mechanical Engineering Workshops and the Electrical Engineering Laboratories were housed in what was then a new building beside the rugby pitch to the north side of College. These facilities opened in 1903 and were intended for teaching purposes only. The board of Trinity College had first approved the BAI degree in 1872, the year the electric motor was invented. However, whilst mechanical engineering had evolved a good deal in the interim, there was some resistance to such new age teaching from within the college. In 1891, several influential members of the Science Schools Committee wrote to the board stating that this was ‘a School of Civil Engineering’ and, as such, that they did ‘not provide instruction in Mechanical Engineering’, or Electrical Engineering which was ‘essentially a branch of Mechanical Engineering’. However, things changed considerably that same year when Walter Elsworthy Lilly was appointed assistant to the Professor of Civil Engineering.

In 1903 Dr. Lilly was appointed lecturer in Mechanics and, during Willie's time at Trinity, he was the man in charge of the Engineering Laboratories. He swiftly and enthusiastically set about revamping the teaching of the mechanical engineering aspects of the course. He also initiated a programme of scientific research. Dr. Lilly had widely varied interests and wrote on topics as diverse as 'the properties of dielectrics, the strength of materials and the design of pumps, boilers and plate girders'.

In 1907, shortly before Willie entered Trinity, Dr. Lilly was appointed 'Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering'. In recognition of his scholarship, he was conferred with the degree of Doctor of Science (D.Sc).

Dr. Lilly was also responsible for designing and laying out ‘the new Mechanical Engineering Workshops and Electrical Engineering Laboratories’ (now occupied by the Department of Civil Engineering) behind and to the east of New Square. The oldest object in Trinity’s Computer Science Collection is a circular slide rule invented by Dr. Lilly in 1913.


In 1911, Willie Moffatt won the monthly medal for his performance at the Stillorgan Golf Club. He won another medal in July 1913 and another in February 1914 when noted as “five down” in Class 1. Every year, the Golfing Union of Ireland ran a Senior and Junior Cup tournament for club teams, both rather vaguely defined for 'senior' and 'junior' clubs. In 1913 the rules were changed so that any club could enter a team for either competition, with the Senior Cup for the lowest handicap players and the Junior Cup for the not-so-low (but not high) handicaps.

In May 1914, Willie was on the seven-strong Stillorgan Park team who lost to Rathfarnham in the second round of the Golfing Union of Ireland’s Junior Cup. His opponents included Harry Thrift, an Irish Rugby International, Irish Sprint champion and friend of James Joyce. Rathfarnham were later beaten by Portmarnock.

Family lore holds that Willie, playing as a member of Portmarnock, later reached the third round of the Irish Open. At this time, those who played golf tended to be divided into two groups. Those of a poorer background usually worked as caddies and green-keepers, occasionally managing to compete in a professional competition. If they were good enough they sometimes played in a tournament in Great Britain but there was little money on offer to them. The other group, to which William James Moffatt belonged, were middle and upper class golfers who joined golf clubs and played club competitions for amusement.

Before the Great War, the championships within Ireland for male amateurs like Willie consisted of the Irish Open Amateur (played in about the first week of September), the Irish Amateur Close (generally played in May-June) and the South of Ireland (played at Lahinch, County Clare, about a week before the Irish Open Amateur). In 1913, all three championships were won by Lionel Munn, the biggest Irish star of his day. All the top amateurs were household names in Ireland in those times, although superior professionals likes Michael Moran also gained widespread recognition.


On April 21st 1915, Trinity College Dublin announced their exam results and 20-year old Willie graduated with a First Class BA degree in his BAI. However, five months later, on Wednesday September 22nd 1915, both The Irish Times and The Times announced that Willie was one of twelve cadets and ex-cadets of the Officer Training Corps who had been appointed temporary Second Lieutenants in the Royal Engineers, otherwise known as the Sappers.

At this time he would most likely have been based at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich which, since 1741, had specialized in providing instruction for ‘the people of its Military branch to form good Officers of Artillery and perfect Engineers’.

The Engineers billed itself enticingly as ‘the Corps of Soldier Craftsmen’. In August 1915, a month before Willie’s appointment, the Corps numbered 3,049 regular officers and 82,932 troops. At its peak in August 1918, there were 310,000 men, including nearly 12,000 officers. The Engineer-in-Chief in 1915 was Brigadier-General (later Lieutenant General Sir) George Fowke who was succeeded in 1916 by Major General Spring Rice, inventor of the octagonal blockhouse used during the Anglo-Boer war.

While stationed at Woolwich, Willie would have been instructed in the very latest military technology, learning how to build barracks, hospitals, roads and bridges; how to move troops and machinery quickly; signaling; tunneling; forestry; quarrying; how to deal with chemical warfare (ie: gas attacks); inland water transport; camouflage; the postal and the Army Pigeon Service. As a surveying enthusiast, he would also have taken note of the new survey techniques developed at this time, including mapping from aerial photographs, 'sound ranging' and 'flash spotting'.

Although trained as an officer, Willie would have also learned about the physical practicalities of life as a sapper. Many years later, he specifically told his son Peter how he had learned to dig trenches and ride horses at Woolwich.

Given Willie’s later involvement with the Iraqi railways, it is plausible that he served with the Engineer and Railway Staff Corps, rendering his services to the movement of both stores and troops, as well as the management of the railways. By the summer of 1915 there were eleven different British Railway Construction Companies operating in France. That July alone, railway construction led to the doubling of the Hazebrouch-Poperinghe line and the building of a new line from Candas to Acheax.

On 21st February 1916 the Germans launched a ferocious offensive on the French at Verdun which continued until November. The French appealed to the British to counter-attack the Germans in order to relieve the pressure. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, the British Commander in Chief, refused to launch any such attack until at least July 1916, when reinforcements had arrived from Britain. He also wanted to ensure there were sufficient ammunition stocks and stores.

During this time, it seems likely one of Willie’s roles was to ensure a regular supply of water for the troops on the frontline. He told his son Peter how he had dug trenches on the front in the lead up to the battle of the Somme. He also may have had to construct accommodation for the reserve troops, a task which made considerably easier by the invention of the Nissen hut by Major Peter Nissen, Royal Engineers. Nonetheless, most accommodation still comprised of wooden framed huts, covered by tarpaulins, and erected by the Sappers. Members of the Corps also developed innovative equipment and weapons such as the Mills bomb, the Stokes mortar and the Fullerphone.

During the ensuing battle, field engineers were engaged in assisting the infantry to negotiate obstacles and improving communications immediately behind the front line in order to allow reserves to move forward.

The British offensive was finally launched early on the morning of 1st July 1916 in what became known as the battle of the Somme. By the close of the first day, the British Army had sustained 57,470 casualties of which a staggering 19,240 were killed or died of wounds. On 1st July, 8,500 Ulstermen charged out of Thiepval and made it to the enemy lines. Without sufficient back up they were obliged to retreat back to Thiepval Wood. By the end of that day, 5,104 Ulstermen lay dead.

On the twelfth day it was Willie's turn. He was struck in the pelvis by a piece of shrapnel which narrowly missed his hip. Described as ‘knocked out’, he was put on a ship on 12th July and taken back to Blighty to be patched up again. He was one of 41 officers and 1,126 'other ranks’ to be looked after by the nurses of 4th Northern General, a Territorial Force General Hospital located in Lincoln Grammar School (now Lincoln Christ's Hospital School). The nature of his wound is unknown.

Willie must have known many men who died during the war. Amongst the Engineers alone, his Trinity College contemporaries included 2nd Lieutenant Francis Stuart Verschoyle, who fell at Ypres in April 1915; 2nd Lieutenant Harold Gordon Jameson, who fell at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, in August 1915; Lieutenant Gerald Bradstreet, BAI, who fell at Gallipoli in December 1915; Lieutenant William Hubert Potterton, BAI, who fell at the Somme on 24th July 1916; and Major Robert Charles Manning, BAI (1912), DSO, who died of wounds received in France in September 1918 aged 29.[14]

Five members of Willie’s home parish of St. Andrew’s, Blackrock, also perished during the war, whilst a sixth man, Holden Stodart of St. John's Ambulance, was killed by cross-fire during the 1916 Easter Rising.


‘Second Lieutenant W.J. Moffatt, Royal Engineers, only son of Mr. and Mrs. William Moffatt, Drumgoff, Stillorgan Park, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, is reportedly wounded. He was educated at Avoca School, Blackrock, afterwards entering Trinity College, Dublin, where he took his BA and BAI (Hon). He got his commission in September last, and has been at the front since December of last year. He was wounded on the 12th July, and is now in hospital in Lincoln. He is in the 22nd year of his age. His captain wrote regretting he had been knocked out, and saying he had done most excellent work at the front.’
The Irish Times
Monday 31st July 1916


A year after his injury at the Somme, Willie was back in Ireland. On Monday October 1st 1917, The Irish Times observed that ‘2nd Lt WJ Moffatt’ had sailed from Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) on the Royal Mail steamer although his destination is not stated. It must have been a relatively short trip because on Saturday November 3rd 1917 the same newspaper noted that WJ Moffatt was back in Ireland, collecting money for the Red Cross Fund. During this time, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.

In the summer of 1918, just as the Allies were beginning the final push through German lines, Willie’s 52-year-old mother Mary Moffatt died of cancer. She was buried in Dean’s Grange Cemetery, Blackrock. Her tomb, where her husband William was also buried 34 years later, was inscribed: ‘In loving memory of MARY, wife of William Moffatt, Drumgoff, Stillorgan Park, Co. Dublin, died 6th August 1918 aged 52 years’.

Whether Willie attended his mothers’ funeral or not is unknown. According to his own notes, he spent the last part of the Great War in Palestine and Egypt so the Dublin suburbs were far away. Within three months of Mary’s death, the war was over. Willie was transferred to Mesopotamia, or present-day Iraq. He was to spend the next thirty five years of his life in that hot, remote and often inhospitable part of the world.

Following the death of her mother in 1918, Suie moved into Drumgoff to look after her father. In 1930, Suie was one of the bridesmaids when her brother Willie married Gladys Kinnear. Following the death of William Moffatt Senior in 1953, she converted Drumgoff into a guest house. She later moved to a one-bedroom flat in Blackrock and passed away circa 1976. Suie Moffatt was considered a very competent piano player.


Willie’s time in Iraq was exclusively devoted to the development of the railways. While he was ambling around Avoca School in short pants before the war, a group of German businessmen from Deutsche Bank, Siemen's and other leading companies of the German Empire had joined forces to fund the construction of the Baghdad Railway. They aimed to connect the German capital of Berlin to the (then) Ottoman city of Baghdad, laying 1,600km (990 miles) of railway line through modern-day Turkey, Syria and Iraq. The Germans wanted direct access from Berlin to a port on the Persian Gulf (ideally Basra), as well as to several Iraqi oil fields which they had secured control of. For their part the Ottoman Turks wanted to expand their influence into Europe and to reduce British dominance of the Red Sea.

The deal predictably raised hairs on the necks of Britain's commercial elite, not least the directors of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and of the D'Arcy Exploration Company, founded by William Knox-D’Arcy, a wily Irish-Australian tycoon who had secured oil-drilling rights for much of the region. Indeed, before the war even began, Winston Churchill had announced that the driving systems of all Royal Navy vessels would be converted from coal to oil. It was not without good reason that Lord Curzon later wrote how the Allies ‘floated to victory on a wave of oil’.

The Baghdad Railway was still 480km (300 miles) shy of completion in 1915 which made it virtually useless to German and Turk alike during the war. Meanwhile, the British occupied Baghdad, while the completed section of the Hejaz railway to the south was continually harried by guerilla forces led by Lawrence of Arabia.

By the end of the war the line had been extended from the Bosphorous to Nusaybin, but it was still several hundred miles short of Baghdad. When the Ottoman Turks were finally defeated at the end of the Mesopotamian campaign, Britain, France and the USA seized the rights to 95 per cent of the oil in Iraq.

In 1919, contrary to the promises of independence which Lawrence had given the Arab leaders, the League of Nations gave Britain the mandate to rule the three Iraqi villayets, or sub-divisions, of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. This was to be a caretaker government and would last for the next fourteen years.

Willie Moffatt may have already arrived in Mesopotamia by 15th January 1920 when the railway line between Basra and Baghdad opened. Less than three months later, Germany's rights to the Baghdad Railway were cancelled and the British military authorities transferred all railways to a British civilian administration, Mesopotamian Railways.[15] This was the company with which Willie took up work as an assistant engineer and with whom, in one guise or other, he was to be closely associated with for the duration of his time in Iraq.

By the close of 1920, all military-controlled railways and equipment in the country had been transferred to Mesopotamian Railways, including sixteen class 395 engines which were built for the London and South Western Railway in the 1880s. All new trains were now built for oil rather than coal, including those of Mesopotamian Railways. Oil was playing an increasingly important role in Iraqi politics.

The British mandate to govern Iraq did not go unopposed. In the summer of 1920, the Shi’ites and Sunnis put aside their differences for the first time and launched the Great Iraqi Revolution. By October 1920, the British army had the upper hand and a relative calm returned. ‘The railways have been restored, and blockhouses erected along 500 miles of line, while 460 women and 400 children have been brought to safety’, reported the Sydney Morning Herald. Over 4,000 Iraqis and 450 British died during the conflict. In order to avert any further trouble, the British replaced the military regime with a provisional Arab government, assisted by British advisers and answerable to the supreme authority of the high commissioner for Iraq who was, as it happened, British.

In 1921, Churchill, then Colonial Secretary, presided over the Cairo Conference which decided upon the creation of an artificial monarchy in Iraq. Three radically different groups - the Sunni Muslim Kurds, the Sunni Muslim Arabs and the Shi'ite

Muslims - were gathered under a single ruler, 35-year-old King Faisal I, a Saudi Arabian comrade of T.E. Lawrence, whose character was immortalized by Alec Guinness in the David Lean epic, 'Lawrence of Arabia'. Rather like George I of Britain 200 years earlier, the new king had never set foot in his kingdom before he took the throne. As with today, this land between the Tigris and the Euphrates was populated by innumerable disparate races and tribes. However, Faisal spoke an Arabic dialect that was barely intelligible to any of them and had scant understanding of the complex relationships between the tribes. Not that it was hugely important because up until his death in 1933, Faisal’s rule was superficial. By and large it was London who ruled the roost in Iraq.

Meanwhile, back in Ireland, Willie’s widowed father was presented with an engraved silver cup in honour of forty years service to Hugh Moore & Alexander. It is believed he continued to serve with the company after this. [16] The company offices on Yarnhall Street in Dublin suffered considerable damage during the 1916 Easter Rising.

By 1923 the British Army had completed the south-eastern section between Baghdad and Basra. Now 28 years old, Willie may have been involved with the project. In 1922 and 1923, he was certainly employed in the construction of ‘a major work’ consisting of a permanent bridge of six 100 foot span, deep-well foundations. He was also employed on the Maintenance of (existing) Ways and Works, which role he held until 1948.


In 1925, Willie was assigned the task of surveying and constructing a 50-mile feeder road through the mountains and gorges of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, to connect the Kurdish capital of Erbil to the city of Shaqlawah which lies to the north-east. This was part of a medieval trade route between Baghdad and Mosul.

Surrounded by fruit forests and sheltered between the Safeen and Sork Mountains, Shaqlawah is reputedly so gorgeous that when a Kurd sees anything beautiful – 'a place, a car, a house or, most especially, a girl' – they tend to shout, say or whisper the word ‘Shaqlawah’.

Willie’s road was nearing completion by 1928 when Archibald Milne Hamilton arrived in Kurdistan, having been commissioned to take the road on to the Persian border. Indeed, the first car entered Shaqlawah in 1928; the driver, an Armenian, was apparently roundly insulted and left again.[17]

Between 1923 and 1926 Willie took charge of extending the railway line from Kifri to Kirkuk (the northern terminal of the Iraq railway), a distance of 78 miles that included some heavy bridging and earthworks. The end-game was to bridge the missing section of the Baghdad Railway line between Nusaybin in Southern Turkey (now Northern Kurdistan) and Kirkuk.[18]

Ultimately this would link the cities of Tehran (Northern Persia) and Tabriz (Azerbaijan) to the Baghdad Railway line at Nusaybin, and thence to both Europe and the Mediterranean. The Shah of Persia saw this link as an opportunity to boost Persia’s trade potential, as well as pacifying the Kurdish tribes who lived alongside the proposed line. He agreed to fund the construction of the connecting link on the Persian side with the two railways meeting on the frontier pass of Zini-i-Sheikh near the village of Rayat. The Shah also recognized that the British authorities in Iraq had the harder task as the vast bulk of the engineering difficulties lay their side of the border.

As part of this assignment, Willie lead a party from the Engineering Department of the Mesopotamian Railways on a survey of the terrain between Erbil, Rawanduz and Rayat. This took place between October and December 1926. As he explored the possibilities for constructing a narrow-gauge railway from Kirkuk to the Iraqi border town of Rawanduz, he had to identify every geological and geographical obstacle which the proposed railway would face, as well as the other hazards of rampant disease and bitterly cold winters, not to mention the psychotic bandits, deranged warlords and corrupt officials who dwelled in this uncongenial landscape.

Rawanduz, for instance, was by no means a fun-loving town. Pulverized by Russians during the First World War, it continued to be a centre of aggression, occupied by the Turks in 1922 and the British in 1923. When A.M. Hamilton visited in 1928, he wrote: ‘It has always been a place of grim deeds and bloody retributions ... Its’ greater and its lesser rulers alike have nearly all met with violent deaths and even today this reputation is being well earned’. It was probably not unlike 16th century Dumfries when the bloody rivalry between the Moffatt and Johnstone clans was at its peak.

In any event, the conclusions of Willie’s survey evidently deterred the powers that be from constructing a railway. The project was handed over to the Public Works Department who undertook to build a road instead of a railway, crossing five mountain ranges to link to the high pass on the Persian frontier at 6,000 feet. The first 70 miles of the Erbil-Rayat road were formed, and partly metalled, by April 1930, with the exception of one unfinished bridge. Later that year, a passenger service by road was introduced to bridge the missing section of line between Nusaybin and Kirkuk, with Rolls-Royce cars and Thornycroft buses servicing the run.


Somehow between all this exotic activity in Mesopotamia, Willie found the time to woo an Irish girl nine years his junior. Gladys Jean Kinnear was the daughter of James A. Kinnear, one of Dublin's foremost accountants, by his wife Margaret, the daughter of a publican from County Antrim. This is the Kinnear family of Palmerston, Arkendale Road, Glenageary, County Dublin, whom we treat in the second half of this book.

Willie and Gladys were married on 21st October 1930 at St. Andrew’s, Blackrock, by the Rev. James Snowden, the same man whom Willie’s father worked alongside when the church was founded thirty years earlier. The Rev. Snowdon had continued to lead the congregation down through the decades but his health was now ailing. On Armistice Day 1935 he preached his last sermon in Saint Andrew’s taking as his text 'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course'. He died on 20th January 1936, having served St. Andrew’s for 41 years, and was buried in Deans Grange Cemetery.

The Rev. Snowden was assisted by 76-year-old Rev. Dr. James Denham Osborne, MA, DD, Presbyterian Minister of the Abbey Church on Dublin’s Rutland Square (now Parnell Square) from 1889 until 1927.[19] One of the more remarkable things about their wedding photograph is that many people, including the groom, are actually smiling which was a rare sight in wedding photographs of this period.

After the service, the family partied at the now demolished Salthill Hotel in Monkstown. The wedding was noted in The Irish Times, with a photograph of the happy couple. As well as his engineering degree from Trinity, Willie was noted as an Associate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Willie and Glady’s firstborn child Joan was born in Basra, Iraq, on 12th March 1933. Eight days earlier Roosevelt became President of the USA, and eleven days later Hitler became dictator of Nazi Germany.


In September 1933, King Faisal I died and his playboy son Ghazi succeeded to the throne. 1933 was also the year in which Willie was promoted District Engineer of the Mesopotamian Railways. The previous year, Britain's mandate to rule Mesopotamia had been terminated and the Kingdom of Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations as an independent nation.

In 1936, Mesopotamian Railways sold all its assets to Iraq for £494,000 and the company was renamed the Iraqi State Railways. Shortly afterwards the new company began building the missing section of the Baghdad Railway line from El Yaroubieh (on the Syrian border) to Baiji, 130 miles north of Baghdad. The missing sections in Syria between Nusaybin and El Yaroubieh had been completed in 1935.

From 1938 to 1941, Willie was the engineer in charge of laying the Standard Gauge extension down this final gap in the line. This involved some 200 miles of railway, including heavy earthworks, bridging and a thousand metre long tunnel. Amongst the buildings he also constructed during this era were the Rail Station and Railway Hotel in Mosul. The Mosul Rail Station greatly benefited the British Army a few years later as it connected the frontier forts in Iraq and the port city of Basra on the Arabian Gulf all the way north to the Syrian Border. Willie estimated the total cost of the Tel Kotchek to Baiji extension at STG£3.25 million.

Willie is also said to have won the Iraqi Golf Championship during the 1930s although no precise details about this contest have yet been unearthed.

On 17th July 1940, Chief Engineer Moffatt stood on the platform of Baghdad West Railway Station to greet the Taurus Express as it made its first complete journey from Istanbul. At long last the Baghdad Railway was open for business. It was undoubtedly one of the greatest feats of railway engineering in history. The 45-year-old Irishman must have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of a fleet of streamlined locomotives, built by Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns locomotive works in Darlington, Britain. These arrived in 1941 specifically to haul the Taurus Express between Baghdad and Tel Kotchek. However, just as direct travel from Istanbul to Baghdad became possible, the Second World War erupted and Iraq was plunged into the global conflict.

In 1941, the King of Iraq was five-year-old Faisal II. His father, King Ghazi, had succeeded to the throne in 1933 but died in a car accident in April 1939. Ghazi was an anti-British Arab nationalist and some hold that his death was orchestrated by Iraq’s Machiavellian pro-British Prime Minister Nuri Pasha al-Said with whom Willie Moffatt was to later become closely associated. It was the pro-British Nuri who negotiated the Anglo-Iraqi treaty of 1930, which officially ended the British mandate over Iraq, but allowed Britain military bases and an assured influence in Iraq until 1952.

As Faisal II was just a rather plump, olive-skinned toddler at this time, Ghazi’s unpopular brother Abdullah was appointed Regent. The Royal family duly recruited the services of an English woman called Betty Sulman (1909-2003) who served as the King’s nanny from 1940 to 1943, rather like Anna Leonowens had done for the King of Siam seventy years earlier. Born in Sussex, Miss Sulman had spent four years as a teacher and Matron in India. She set off for Iraq armed with a size two cricket bat and a phonic reading primer. She made her way to Paris just as the Nazis invaded, and then hurried on towards Baghdad, via Haifa and Beirut, arriving in May 1940. She quickly won the affections of the 5-year-old king. He was apparently barely able to walk or blow his nose, had never put a spoon to his mouth, sat in a high chair for all his meals and slept in a drop-sided cot in a nursery furnished entirely from Maples in London.

Quickly realizing that the King knew no other children, Miss Sulman sought a series of playmates for him to play football on the palace tennis court. One of these was Willie and Gladys’s daughter Joan Moffatt. As her obituary in The Times later acknowledged, Miss. Sulman even persuaded the King’s mother to venture into the nursery to say goodnight to her son telling her 'it is not only your majesty’s pleasure but also your duty'. While in Baghdad, Miss Sulman met John Sinclair Morrison, a young research fellow from Trinity College Cambridge. The couple were married and later moved to Jerusalem before returning to Cambridge where John became vice-master of Churchill College and first President of Wolfson College.


On 1st April 1941, the Arab nationalist and former Prime Minister Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani launched a pro-Nazi rebellion against British influence in Iraq. He was backed by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a rather sinister cleric who had been causing turmoil in Palestine with a campaign of terrorism against Jewish and British alike. Crown Prince Abdullah, the Regent, was ousted and Rashid Ali returned to power as Prime Minister at the head of a ‘National Defence Government’.

Rashid Ali’s army then laid siege to the British Embassy on the bank of the Tigris where Willie Moffatt and 350 others were effectively interned for a month. Also amongst them was the travel writer Freya Stark who wrote a vivid account of this time in her book ‘East is West’. Meanwhile, Miss. Sulman sought refuge in the American Embassy.

Determined to maintain control of the vital Iraqi petroleum supplies, Churchill ordered the British Army under General Archibald Wavell to invade Iraq on 18th April. The hitherto rickety biplanes which had heroically defended the British RAF base at Habbaniya were considerably strengthened by the arrival of seven new airplanes. Troops including a detachment of the King's Own Regiment, under the command of Major (later Lt. Col.) Everett, also arrived at the end of the month.

On 29th April, Gladys and Jean were amongst 230 civilians escorted by road to Habbaniya. Over the following days they were air-lifted to RAF Shaiba, a desert base 13 miles south-west of Basra. From there they flew on to Kashmir in British India with Iraqi fighter planes biting at their tail. Iraqi armed forces simultaneously took up strong positions on the escarpment above the RAF base at Habbaniya and a siege began.

By 2nd May, the conflict had evolved into the Anglo-Iraqi War. The British swiftly launched a series of successful air-strikes against the Iraqis at Habbaniya, while ground forces pressed inland, taking the city of Falujah. On 29th May, Rashid Ali’s government collapsed and the British troops reached Baghdad but were ordered to remain outside the city by Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, the British Ambassador. As such they were unable to prevent the slaughter of 180 of the city’s Jewish citizens by a Muslim mob which took place on 1st and 2nd June. Cornwallis then announced the British victory, Regent Abdullah was restored and a pro-British government installed.

Following his liberation, Willie Moffatt flew directly to Kashmir to join his wife and daughter. On 23rd June 1942, Gladys delivered twins in Baghdad, Peter and Penelope.


In 1948 Willie was appointed Deputy Director General of Iraqi State Railways. The following year, the company opened a new metre gauge line from Kirkuk to Erbil, while a joint road & rail bridge was opened across the River Tigris in Baghdad the following year, finally connecting the east and west bank systems.

In 1950, Willie was promoted from Chief Engineer to Director General of the Iraqi State Railways. [20] He was now responsible for the management of over 1,000 miles of railway line, and answerable to the Railway Board. The most influential figure on the Board was Sir Ismail Safwat, the Iraqi general who, as chairman of the Arab League's military committee, had initially lead the Palestinian Arabs in a short-lived war against their Jewish neighbours in 1947. Safwat had resigned his leadership because there was no agreement on a precise plan for the war and it was clear to him the Jewish were better funded than the Palestinians.

As Director General, Willie was also nominally in charge of Iraqi Airways and its fleet of three de Havilland Doves and three Vickers Vikings. The company had been founded six years earlier, using various de Havilland Dragon Rapides and Viking aircraft.

Based in Baghdad West, the General Manager of Iraqi Airways was Colonel Sabah Nuri Sa’id, an Iraqi air force officer who happened to be the only son of Prime Minister Nuri. Flight International magazine described Colonel Said as ‘a thoroughly keen and knowledgeable aviation type’. He had two wives, both heiresses, one Egyptian, the other Jewish.

On 7th June 1951, Willie Moffatt was made a Commander of the British Empire in ‘recognition of the valuable services which [he had] rendered to the State’. The appointment was made by the ailing, chain-smoking 56-year-old George VI. The king, who was just six weeks older than Willie, died in his sleep in Norfolk on 6th February 1952.

Meanwhile, Iraq was beginning to unravel and the Hashemite monarchy was entering its twilight. On May 2nd, Harrow-educated King Faisal II turned eighteen and was formally enthroned as monarch, with his uncle Crown Prince Abdullah and Prime Minister Nuri close at hand. Faisal’s 18-year-old cousin and fellow Harovian King Hussein was crowned King of Jordan in Amman on the same day.

By the time Willie returned to Iraq in July 1952, Nuri’s opponents had come to power with a policy to replace all British and pro-British staff with loyal Iraqis. When the Anglo-Iraqi Railway Agreement terminated in 1952, the new Iraqi Government appointed Ismail Safwat to take Willie’s place as Director General. Willie was relegated to the position of Technical Inspector General.[21] Although oil revenues were greatly enhancing Iraq’s wealth at this time, the country was increasingly volatile as the gulf between rich and poor forced more and more people to side with communist extremists and other revolutionaries.

Meanwhile, news came from Ireland that Willie's 97-year-old father had passed away at Drumgoff. He died on 10th February 1953. Willie's sister Suie Moffatt, who lived with their father until the end, signed his death certifcate. This listed the causes of death as senility, cardiac failure, enlargement of the prostrate and diabetes. William was laid to rest alongside his late wife Mary in Deans Grange, Blackrock. On 31st May 1953, Willie relinquished his post as Technical Inspector and, after over 35 years in Iraq, prepared to head home.

When Willie Moffatt resigned as Technical Inspector General of the Iraqi State Railways in May 1953, the news was noted in the Railway Gazette, a magazine synonymous with railway developments throughout the world. A short profile of W.J. Moffatt duly appeared alongside the above photograph.


Before leaving Baghdad for Ireland on June 15th, Willie was received in audience by King Faisal II. A large gathering was also present when Willie finally bade Iraq farewell and boarded a British Overseas Airways Corporation airplane. Amongst them were the British Ambassador Sir John Troutbeck and two Iraqi cabinet members, namely former Prime Minister Nuri (then Minister of Defence) and Dr. Dhia Jafar (the Minister of Economics), as well as many other prominent government officials. Dr. Jafar was a son of one of T. E. Lawrence’s comrades-in-arms who had founded the modern Iraqi Army.

In July 1958, just over five years after Willie left, Iraq's Hashemite monarchy was overthrown, the Royal family murdered and the Republic of Iraq declared. The trigger for this violent episode was a request from King Hussein of Jordan for Iraqi military assistance during an escalating crisis in the Lebanon where civil war looked certain to break out. Brigadier Abdul Karim Qassim, a disaffected Iraqi officer, was given command of two infantry brigades with orders to proceed to Jordan, via Baghdad. However, when the brigades reached Baghdad, Qassim instead directed them towards the Qasr Rihab palace where Faisal II and his family lived.

Shortly after 5.30 on the morning of July 14th 1958, the palace was surrounded by tanks which opened fire, causing thick columns of smoke to billow from the upper floors of the building. Realizing their predicament, Crown Prince Abdullah ordered the royal guards to surrender and raised a white flag from the roof. Within three hours, 23-year- old King Faisal II (who was engaged to be married), Crown Prince Abdullah, Princess Abadiya (the King's aunt), Princess Nafeesa (Abdullah's mother), Abdullah's six-year- old nephew and a group of Arab maidservants and Pakistani cooks tumbled out the back of the burning palace and straight into a semi-circle of armed officers. They were ordered to face the wall whereupon they were all machine-gunned to death.

King Faisal's body was taken to the Royal Hospital in Baghdad where, some days later, witnesses were allowed to see it in order to prove that the King was really dead. He was later buried in strict secrecy at the Hashemite Royal Cemetery in Adhamiya, north of Baghdad. In 1982, by presidential decree, Saddam Hussein took the extraordinary step of remodeling the Royal Cemetery and providing Iraq's last King with a magnificent new marble tomb. Saddam also ‘astonished the cemetery officials by asking for the marble slab that covered Faisal's grave to be removed, and for the royal coffin, sealed for more than a quarter of a century, to be opened for his inspection’. It is not known why the Iraqi dictator had such a morbid fascination for the young monarch, but ironically his own family would die in equally grim circumstances.[22]

King Faisal II’s body was treated with considerably more respect than that of his reviled uncle Abdullah whose corpse was turned over to the mob. They hacked off its hands and feet, carried the body through the streets on spikes to the Ministry of Defence and then hanged it by the neck from the balcony.

The aged Prime Minister Nuri al-Said fared no better. He was captured while fleeing in the streets disguised as a woman. By some accounts he was immediately shot dead. However, the American diplomat Michael Butler, who was the then Senator John F. Kennedy’s special advisor to the Middle East, maintains that Nuri was castrated alive and, his feet tied together with barbed wire, dragged behind a jeep through the streets until he died. A secret Foreign Office report states that 'a car was driven backwards and forwards over [Nuri’s body] until it was flattened into the ground.'

Nuri’s only son, Colonel Sabah Said, who had been General Manager of Iraqi Airways under Willie Moffatt, was also apparently murdered during the coup, along with his Egyptian wife and their two children. However, Butler maintains that Sabah, in fact, survived as he happened to be in Beirut at the time, paying his respects to a friendly belly dancer.[23] Dr. Jafar, who had also witnessed Willie’s departure from Baghdad, was fortunate to have been on business in London at the time of the coup. His son Jafar Dhia Jafar would go on to be one of Iraq’s top nuclear scientists under Sadaam Hussein but turned himself in to US officials in 2003.

It is now accepted that British and American intelligence knew the coup was likely to take place but were already preoccupied supporting King Hussein in Jordan. As the British diplomat Charles Johnston put it: 'If the Russian Revolution had been put into execution by the Mau Mau, the effect would not have been very much different.'[24]


Meanwhile, Willie was working with the Air Ministry Works Department in Whitehall, London, which he had joined upon his return to Britain in 1953. He remained there in an administrative capacity until 1964. As well as his CBE, he was now a fully fledged Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[25] He was later made a Fellow of the same esteemed Institution.

The family were now based in London but neither Willie or Gladys would forget the country where they were born and raised. 'Every summer we spent three months in Ireland with our mother and, when he could come, my father', recalls Peter.

They frequently hired a house opposite Coliemore Harbour in Dalkey where they spent most of the time, followed by a month on Achill Island, County Mayo. ‘Achill was primitive then’, recalls Peter. ‘No electricity or running water. We cooked on a turf stove and donkeys stuck their heads in for bread and jam for breakfast!’

By the time Willie and Gladys celebrated their Silver Wedding anniversary on 21st October 1955, they were living at 6 Raleigh Court, The Avenue, Beckenham, Kent. Their son Peter, then fourteen, was at school at Mourne Grange near Kilkeel in Co Down under headmaster Patrick Sausmarez Carey. By chance the first two schools which Peter attended are the very same as those attended by Mike Martin, the protagonist of Frederick Forsyth’s 1994 spy thriller ‘The Fist of God’ which is largely based in Iraq.

From 1965 to 1976 Willie worked as a consultant for Concrete Repairs Limited (CRL) from the company office on Victoria Street. During this period, CRL was closely involved in waterproofing for British Rail, the Coal Board and the Marine Sector, with much of the work being carried out at London Docks. Willie’s primary role was keeping tabs on the company’s estimating and cost control departments.

In 1975, Ernest Mark, founder of CRL, retired and the company became the subject of a buyout by Albert Hill, Bob Wall, Derek Storey and Frank Dyton. Willie retired the following year aged 81. He settled at the foot of the North Downs in Oxted, Surrey, where he and Gladys lived together for the next decade.

Gladys passed away on 27th May 1987 and, just under a year and a half later, 94-year-old Willie Moffatt succumbed ‘peacefully, after a short illness’ on November 12th 1988. His death notice in The Irish Times noted him as the ‘much-loved father of Joan, Pelly and Peter, grandfather to Victoria and James’.

On 27th November 1970, The Times announced the engagement of Willie and Gladys’s only son Peter Moffatt to Jennifer Wheeler, younger daughter of Commander JFH Wheeler, Royal Navy, of Singapore, and Mrs. Wheeler of Bosham, Sussex.

Their daughter Victoria Anne was born in Crawley, West Sussex, on 27th October 1973, the week the global oil crisis began.

Their son James Nicholas Peter Moffatt, known as Jim, was born in Sydney, Australia, on 17th November 1975.

Peter’s twin sister Penelope was married on 24th May 1997 to Sean O'Kelly from the west of Ireland who passed away in April 2010.


With some excitement, I wondered whether the Moffatts might have been directly connected to the Daily Mail newspaper magnates Lord Northcliffe and Lord Rothermere, aka Alfred and Harold Harmsworth. Their mother was reputedly a Moffat from Dublin and thus I must confess that I allowed my imagination to wander.

However, the theory ultimately proved void. The Harmsworth brothers were born in Chapelizod, a suburb of north Dublin. They were two of six sons born in the 1860s to Alfred Harmsworth, a schoolteacher at the Royal Hibernian Military School on Phoenix Park. His wife Geraldine Mary, described as ‘the Plymouth Rock’ of the family, is widely reported to have been a daughter of “William Moffatt of Pembroke Place, Dublin”. (eg ‘People Worth Talking About’ by Cosmo Hamilton, pp. 147-148).

Pembroke Place is located close to both Blackrock and Stillorgan where the Moffatts of this book lived. Extensive searches for further details about this ‘“William Moffatt of Pembroke Place” came to nothing.

The final nail came when I purchased S.J. Taylor’s book ‘The Great Outsiders: Northcliffe, Rothermere and the "Daily Mail"’ which revealed that Geraldine’s father was in fact William Maffet. He was probably the William H Maffett recorded as an 84-year-old retired barrister and living with his wife Marcella, son Oswald, daughter-in-law Edith and grandson William in Finglas West, north Dublin, in 1901.

Maffet is also a common name in Co. Down, particularly in Rosconnor, while solicitor Edward Maffett lived with his family at Burton Hall, Co. Carlow. In any case, the deduction must be that the Press Barons are not related to the Moffatts of this story.


Willie Moffatt once told his son Peter that the family had relatives in Sacramento, California. As such, it should be noted that on 26th April 1862, the Stockton Daily Independent carried the following news:

“PRINTER DEAD -- Wm. MOFFAT, familiarly known as "Old Pop," in Sacramento, where for several years (up to 1857) he held a situation on the 'Union' newspaper, was recently killed by a railroad accident at a station in Virginia, whither he had gone from New Orleans -- probably as a soldier in the Confederate army.”

Whether Old Pop Moffatt was related to the Moffatts of Ireland is unknown.


Willie Moffatt may also have been distantly related to Mr. William Moffat, a son of North Shields, north-east England, who became one of the greatest railway magnates of the age. From 1880 to 1906, Mr. Moffatt was general manager of Great North of Scotland Railways. ‘Under that keen brain and strong hand everything began to grow’, surmised his obituary in The Times, following his death in September 1929.

‘New engines came, new rolling stock, new stations, new pieces of line, the fine new offices in Aberdeen, by and by the railway hotels and the Cruden Bay golf course. Best test of all, in Aberdonian eyes, the company’s dividends – almost non-existence when Mr. Moffatt came – improved year by year. With all this, what splendid value he gave to the public! He had early recognised that the way to make travelling popular is to make it enjoyable and cheap, and in those far off halcyon days his corridor carriages used to run excursions from Aberdeen to Boat of Garten in Inverness-shire – 100 miles each way - at the incredible fare of half a crown’.

Whether Mr. Moffatt and Willie were related is unknown and probably unlikely. However, as a railway enthusiast he must have been aware of the prominent position which his namesake occupied in the Moffatt’s ancestral land. The obituary concluded rather more frankly, stating that Mr. Moffatt’s ‘somewhat imperious character did not commend itself to everyone. He could be a formidable antagonist or a difficult witness before a Parliamentary Committee; as a master, if just, he was rather awe-inspiring; worse, he could be a painfully candid friend. But his rugged manhood always won respect and there was a very tender North Country heart within’.


Willie Moffatt is not to be confused with his direct contemporary and namesake William James Moffat of Raphoe, Co. Donegal, who was at Mountjoy School and, by a rather extraordinary coincidence, went on to study engineering at Trinity College Dublin, graduating with a BA, BAI, in 1911.

On 29th March 1906, WJ Moffatt (Mountjoy School) was listed for the Leinster Schools team which line out against Ulster schools. By October he was down for Wanderers FC 3rd XV.

On 13th July 1907, The Irish Times noted that William J Moffatt had, with Carrodus Shankey, later headmaster of Kilkenny College, and others, passed his first year sessional examinations at the Royal College of Science for Ireland which were held the previous June. On Thursday, March 7, 1912, The Irish Times noted that William James Moffatt of Raphoe, Co. Donegal, had been admitted to the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland.

According to the published Record Volumes of the T.C.D. Engineering School, he was listed as a 2nd Lt in the Royal Engineers from 1917-1919, causing further confusion as the younger William James Moffatt was also in the Royal Engineers.

WJ Moffatt of Raphoe is recorded in 1921 as Land Surveying in Canada. As it happens, he married one of Carrodus Shankey’s sisters and emigrated to Vancouver Island where he was sadly killed, quite possibly by lightening. Born in 1932, their son, Professor emeritus John Moffatt (www.johnwmoffat.com) of the University of Toronto is now one of the USA’s leading physicists. According to their cousin, the Olympic athlete Maeve Kyle (nee Shankey), the family were much excited by the developments in space travel. During the 1990s, Professor Moffatt, who lives in California, proposed a radical alternative to Einstein’s theory of relativity: that the speed of light was faster closer to the time of the big bang.


Plucky governess to the King of Iraq, during the last years of the British-backed Royal family.

TEACHING at her father’s prep school in Sussex in 1940, Betty Sulman, as she was then, was just the kind of “nice English gal” that the wife of the former Iraq Ambassador was looking for to send to Baghdad as governess to the child King Faisal II. Always game — and since Bexhill seemed to have “no men between eight and eighty” — Betty Sulman set off with a size two cricket bat and a phonic reading primer and found herself passing through Paris as the Germans invaded.

Eventually she arrived in Baghdad via Haifa and Beirut. King Faisal was five, the fourth generation of the ruling Hashemite family installed by the British. Barely able to walk he was unable to blow his own nose and had never put a spoon to his mouth. He slept in a drop-sided cot in a nursery furnished entirely from Maples in London and sat in a highchair for meals.

Determined to make alterations to his routine, she soon found him intelligent and charming and was rewarded by a huge improvement in his physical and mental development. For the first time she brought other children into the palace, and they played football on the palace tennis court. Eventually she even persuaded the Queen Mother to venture into the nursery to say goodnight to her son telling her “it is not only your majesty’s pleasure but also your duty”.

But she was dismayed too by the young King’s lack of contact with his own people. She told the Regent, his uncle, that he must have a pony and she a horse to accompany him on expeditions outside the palace grounds.

Her own social life in Baghdad must have been fun. She drove around Baghdad (but over roundabouts) in a Bentley lent by an admirer, and won the Iraqi Army’s five-furlong flat race, much to the amusement of her young charge, who was presenting the cup. At the Alwiyah Club, she met a young research fellow from Trinity College, Cambridge, J. S. Morrison, who was working in Intelligence.

When they became engaged he was invited to the palace and paraded around the courtyard while the princesses peered down from the balcony behind their veils. The royal family were very unpopular because of their closeness to the British, and she was arrested during the attempted pro-Nazi coup in Baghdad in 1941. On her release she made her way to the US legation, where 200 people of all nationalities were besieged for ten days with little food or water.

With British authority and fairness (but denying herself a proper share) she divided the available rations, amounting to two tins of corned beef per day. She was shocked at how people cheated to get more than their fair share. The attempted military coup was ended when the Household Cavalry made a forced march across the desert and bluffed the Iraqi army into surrender.

Betty Sulman had lost nearly two stone during the siege. She was very sad to learn that after that the young King was again swaddled and smothered. He was assassinated in his early twenties in 1958, and when she looked back she was convinced that his relationship with his people might have been quite different.

After her wedding — it became a family joke that it was in “Baghdad that she bagged Dad” — they moved to Jerusalem, and after the war they settled in Cambridge, where John Morrison duly became Senior Tutor of Trinity. His appointment as Vice-Master of Churchill and then as the first President of Wolfson College presented her with a role that she carried out with a certain lack of convention but considerable warmth and humour.

Meanwhile, her husband had helped to found the Trireme Trust, which — with the help of Times readers and a grant from the Greek Government — launched a full-scale replica, the Olympias, in 1987. Betty Morrison taught her own five children to read using the phonic method with which she had taught King Faisal, and championed this method against the experimental ways of teaching that were then fashionable.

Children and adults began to be referred to her for remedial help, and she succeeded in teaching them even when dyslexia or learning difficulties had been diagnosed. She was an intrepid skier from the earliest days of the sport. Her last race was at the age of 72, and she last rode a horse at 92. Her husband died in 2000 (obituary, October 27). She is survived by their three sons and two daughters. Betty Morrison, governess to King of Iraq, was born on January 23, 1909. She died on May 7, 2003, aged 94

The Times, 23rd May 2003.


[1] In much the same way, the name ‘Bunbury’ was softened from ‘Boniface’s Borough’ by way of Boni’s Borough and Boneborurgh. See here for more.

[2] Undifferenced arms (or plain arms) are coats of arms which have no marks distinguishing the bearer by birth order or family position. In both the Scottish and English heraldic traditions, these plain coats of arms are legal property transmitted from father to eldest male heir, and are used only by one person at any given time.

[3] For instance, The Irish Times announced the death on Feb 3rd 1941 at Cannatogher, Co. Sligo, of Henry Moffatt, son of the late William Moffatt, “deeply regretted by his loving sister and brother”. On May 20th 1951, a William J Moffatt died at his brothers residence, Homiera, 26 Knockdene Park, Belfast. It was noted that he was formerly from Cannatogher, Co. Sligo.

[4] University Intelligence: The Irish Times, Monday, December 23, 1861, p. 2.

[5] Commission in Lunacy, The Irish Times, Tuesday, July 1, 1890, p.3.

[6] “A Building Fund was established and by January 1896 this stood at £304. Encouraged by this the committee decided to advertise for an architect to prepare plans for a church. Mr. Hewat generously donated the sum of £800 and this enabled the purchase of Albion House to be completed on 21st March 1896. The architects who were appointed were Messrs. Murray and Forrester of London and the work soon commenced. The builder who successfully tendered for the work was a Mr. P. Caulfield of Booterstown. His tender for the construction of the church and a hall was just over £5000. However, if a cheaper temporary hall was built it would cost £3760.12.6 and so this was accepted. The foundation stone which is in the vestibule was laid on October 29th 1898 by Mrs. Hewat, and records show there was good attendance notwithstanding the very inclement weather. Work obviously proceeded at a good rate because the first service was held in the church on 5th February 1899. The previous day the committee reported the gift of the communion table and baptismal font and these items still grace our church.
By 1908 it was decided to build what was described as an iron hall at the rear of the church at the cost of £168.10.9. This hall was to serve St. Andrew’s until the present hall was built in 1959. In the early years the music was provided by an American organ, a type of harmonium. This was not considered suitable and an appeal was made to Mr. Andrew Carnegie, the great multi-millionaire philanthropist. He agreed to pay the second half of the cost of the organ if the congregation raised the first half. This was done and the organ which cost in all over $900 was installed in the alcove. The pulpit was moved to one side. This work was done during April and May 1912 and the church reopened on June 2nd 1912.”
From Gordon Henderson’s ‘A History of St. Andrew’s Church’

[7] On 29th March 1906, they announced that a large warehouse on the East Road was up for sale or let with a Corporation licence for the storage of Benzoline and Motor Oil.

[8] In 2008, a Canadian posted a message on Ancestry.com seeking further information about his grandfather Thomas John (T.J.) Lytle from Winnipeg who had married Laura M. Harper. He wrote that T.J. Lyte ‘was born May 1879 and died August 19, 1951. He worked at the Great Western Assurance Co. in Winnipeg as an accountant (I think). Moved to Toronto. Buried in Stoney Creek Ontario.’ As Thomas John Lytle was also born in 1879, this may be worth exploring further.

[9] In 1928 the Urban District Council purchased the Blackrock baths for £2,000 in preparation for the Tailteann Games. The baths, with a 50 metre pool, were esteemed for their swimming galas and water polo, allowing for anything up to 1000 spectators.

[10] It is to be noted that the 1911 Census also lists a John George Moffatt, aged 47, who is described as a ‘Regd Druggist P.S.I.’ and lived on Bath Avenue, Sandymount, with his wife 43-year-old Ellen Moffatt, 65 year old widowed mother-in-law Letitia Kearney and 19-year-old cousin Julia Furlong. However, drugs aside, his stated religion is Catholic and thus it seems unlikely he was related to the Presbyterian Moffatts of Blackrock.

[11] Medical directory, Part 1, p. 182. (J. & A. Churchill ltd., 1969).

[12] Amongst those educated alongside him at Avoca School was Ernest George Foley, a son of the Rev. Archdeacon Foley who was born in 1893. Ernest later entered the service of the Bank, before enlisting with the Canadian Battalion for the war effort. He had been promoted to Corporal but took a serious injury at Ypres in 1916 and was demobilized the following January when his left leg was amputated at the thigh.

[13] The Irish Times, Monday, April 2, 1934. In 1968, Avoca School merged with nearby Kingstown School and, four years later, was relaunched as Newpark Comprehensive School (Scoil Chuimsitheach na Páirce Nua), a non-fee paying State-run Church of Ireland school.

[14] University of Dublin War List, Dublin, Hodges Figgis & Co, 1922. (Reprint available from www.naval-military-press.com).

[15] Railway Gazette, Volume 99, Reed Business Pub.

[xvi] Hugh, Moore & Alexander was subsequently taken over by legendary Irish businessman Dave P. Tyndall Jr. aka “Take Over Tyndall” (1917-2006), the man credited with modernizing Ireland’s grocery trade. Tyndall also featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest man ever to fly a helicopter solo. When Thomas Maxwell, city rep for HMA died, “an influential Committee” was formed to look after his widow and children who had been left “practically unprovided for”; HMA gave “gratifying support” to the appeal as did his friends, Horace Atkinson and Thomas Browne.

[16] Hamilton, Archibald Milne (1930),. Road through Kurdistan: travels in Northern Iraq.

[17] “The Correspondence reports and other papers of Major A.H.E.L. Holt, MBE, MC, Royal Engineers, 1916-33” includes copies of reports by W J Moffat October-December 1926, with map and diagrams, of Erbil Rowanduz Rayat Survey. (See ‘Inventory Acc.8756 Major A H E L Holt, MBE MC’ at National Library of Scotland (Manuscripts Division), George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EW. Tel: 0131-466 2812. Fax: 0131-466 2811. E-mail: manuscripts@nls.uk

[18] Dr. Denham passed away on 23rd September 1934. He was Presbyterian Minister of First Ballymoney Church from 1882 - 1889. He married Mary Henderson and had three daughters, Kathleen, Ruth (Millie) and Jean.

[20] Railway Gazette, Volume 99, Reed Business Pub.

[21] Who's who in U.A.R and the Near East, Elwyn James Blattner (1953), p. 153; Overseas railways (1952), Aeroplane directory of British aviation (English Universities for Temple Press, 1952).

[22] Why was Saddam Hussein haunted by the brutal murder of Iraq's boy king?, Michael Thornton, Daily Mail, 8th August 2008.

[23] Extract from Michael Butler's Journal - Tales from Baghdad:
'In the late 1950’s I was the CEO of Intrafi and Butler Overseas Corporation. My concentration at that time was the Middle East. We had a villa on the Bosporus, in Beyerlerbey overlooking Istanbul. I communicated to the office by boat. Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey were particular areas of interest. We were a worldwide trading company and syndicate of like minded companies. I was particularly intrigued with the re-building of the Hejaz Railroad.
The destruction of the Hejaz RR had been the major target of Lawrence of Arabia during WW1. It was a principle subject of great import in the Moslem world. My interest in bringing it back was a great point of reference with all the Moslem countries. It put me very much on the Moslem side and in particular the good graces of Arabs.
In the spring of 1958 I went to Baghdad. There I was invited for dinner at the home of Nuri as Said. Nuri Pasha was the Prime Minister and de facto ruler of Iraq. At that dinner were sixteen men including King Faisal II, the cousin of my friend, Hussein of Jordan. It was a most pleasant evening and enjoyed by all. It had turned very cold and I did not have a topcoat. Nuri Pasha gave me a desert robe. He said the robe was given to him by King bin Saud and he could never wear it as there was over a foot difference in their heights. Great laughter all around. As I was leaving King Faisal asked me if I would stay with him at the palace upon my return in July. I accepted with pleasure.
I went on to Teheran where I was working with our associates in Iran. I was spending a lot of time with Princess Achraf, the twin sister of the Shah. After sometime I prepared to depart when the Shah asked me if I would like to go duck shooting on the Caspian. The royal train and the company of Kim Roosevelt (CIA) and Peter Sterling (his British counterpart) was a great temptation. Thus I cabled Faisal for permission to delay my return to Baghdad. This granted I proceeded North for the best duck shooting I have ever had. Two guns firing so often they were hot to handle.
While enjoying the caviar, yogurt and lettuce I lost, except one, every friend I had in Baghdad. The military entered the palace and machine-gunned every living soul. The Royals, guests, children, nannies, and pets were murdered. Nuri Pasha was found, castrated alive, his feet tied with barbed wire and dragged behind a jeep through the streets. His son was the sole survivor as he was in Beirut visiting his friend, the star belly dancer.
I would have been in the palace at that time. I have never wanted to return to Iraq.

[24] After the coup, the Iraqi State Railway was renamed Iraqi Republic Railways.

[25] Record Volumes of the TCD Engineering School.