Denis Kevin McLoughlin (1920-1940)

The following story is about Denis Kevin, the son of Patrick McLoughlin and grandson of Thomas McLoughlin and Mary Ellen Devins who resided in Ballure, Calry, Co. Sligo. Thomas and Mary were married on the 25th February 1877 in the Roman Catholic Church in Sooey, not far from where the Devins family originated. Thomas and Mary had nine children (Patrick, Anne, Mary-Kate, John, James, Bridget, Thomas, Elizabeth and Ellen) all of whom were born and raised in Ballure, Calry.

Thomas and Mary’s eldest son Patrick moved away from Calry where he married Bridget Carthy in Ballyconnell, Wicklow on the 20th June 1906. Patrick and Bridget settled in Carlow where they had two sons (Thomas and Patrick). Patrick was subsequently sponsored by James McLoughlin to come to the States in 1925. Sadly, Bridget died in October 1909 of apoplexy and it appears that Bridget’s mother took over the raising of Thomas and Patrick. Both Thomas and Patrick appear in the 1911 Census as living with the Carthy household in Coolkenna, Co. Wicklow. ​1911 Irish Census for Bridget, Thomas and Patrick

Patrick McLoughlin eventually remarried on the 14th May 1919 to Margaret Mulpeter in Dublin and moved initially to Drogheda, Co. Louth and finally settling in Millicent, Sallins, Co. Kildare. Patrick and Margaret had five children (Denis Kevin, Gerald, James, Michael and Mary).

Patrick and Margaret’s son Denis Kevin was born in Drogheda in 1920. At the outbreak of World War II, Denis Kevin signed up to the Irish Guards, 1st Battalion and became a Guardsman. Denis Kevin was allocated the British Army Service Number 2718911.

The image is a picture of Denis Kevin McLoughlin in his Irish Guards, 1st Battalion uniform.

In 1940, the 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards was assigned to the 24th Guards Brigade under the command of Major-General Pierse Joseph Mackesy. This Brigade was made up of Battalions from the Scots Guards, South Wales Borderers and the Irish Guards. On the 11th April 1940, Denis Kevin along with the rest of the Irish Guards set sail from King George V Dock in Glasgow bound for Norway to participate in the Norwegian Campaign. The Brigade eventually landed in Harstad, just north of the town of Narvik on the 15th April.

Upon arriving in Harstad, the 24th Guards Brigade experience difficult weather conditions as reported by Major-General P. J. Mackesy on the 15th April 1940:

“Although nobody without personal experience of Arctic winter conditions can possibly picture the climatic difficulties we experienced in the early days, a word or two of description may not be out of place. The country was covered by snow up to 4 feet and more in depth. Even at sea level there were several feet of snow. Blizzards, heavy snow storms, bitter winds and very low night temperatures were normal. Indeed until the middle of May even those magnificent mountain soldiers, the French Chasseurs Alpins, suffered severely from frost bite and snow blindness.

Troops who were not equipped with and skilled in the use of skis or snow shoes were absolutely incapable of operating tactically at all. I had no such troops at my disposal when I first landed. Shelter from the weather was of vital importance.”

A full report from ​Major-General P. J. Mackesy was published in the London Gazette in July 1947 and can be read online ​here

The ambition of the Allies was to capture the town of Narvik which was heavily fortified by the German Army. This town had strategic significance as it was the staging point for a significant portion of Swedish iron ore which was to be shipped to Germany. The 1st Battalion Irish Guards were moved from Harstad to an area called Bogen on the 19th April 1940 with the intention of taking over Narvik once the naval bombardment was completed on the 24th April by the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, the naval bombardment didn’t achieve its intended goal and the German defences remained intact. Any assault on Navik was shelved as a result.

With the Allies taking casualties from German advances further South in the area of Mo-i-Rana and Mosjøen, Major-General P. J. Mackesy made arrangements for the 24th Guards Brigade to reinforce them. With the arrival of Lieutenant-General Claude Auchinleck on the 13th May, Major-General Mackesy was relieved of his command and the decision to send the 24th Guards Brigade to Mo-i-Rana was changed, they were to go to Bodø instead.

On the 14 May 1940, Denis Kevin McLoughlin along with the rest of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards boarded the M.S. Chrobry enroute to Bodø. The M.S. Chrobry was a Polish ocean going passenger ship that happened to be on its way back from its maiden voyage to South America when World War II broke out. The ship was ordered to take refuge in the United Kingdom where it was refitted by the British to become a troop carrier.

M.S. Chrobry

At 1800 hrs on the 14th May 1940 after a delay of a number of hours, the M.S. Chrobry set sail from the Tjeldsundet fjord. The ship was followed in the distance by a German observation plane. When the M.S. Chrobry reach the open sea enroute to Bodø it was all alone with no support as the accompanying destroyer H.M.S. Wolverine and sloop H.M.S Stork which left earlier were already out of sight.

At midnight on the 14th/15th May, the M.S. Chrobry came under attack by three German Heinkel 111 Bombers. At 0015 hrs, one of the Heinkel Bombers had a direct hit on the ship, the bombs struck an area of the ship that contained all the 1st Battalion Irish Guards senior officers including their Commanding Officer and 2nd in Command. The rooms where the senior officers were sleeping collapsed like a pack of cards. Fire spread rapidly, compounded by the sprinkler system which was damaged in the explosion. Once the 1st Battalion made their way to the upper deck they were ordered into lifeboats. When H.M.S. Wolverine and H.M.S. Stork arrived the survivors transferred to H.M.S. Wolverine while H.M.S. Stork provided anti-aircraft support. Both ships returned to Harstad to tend to the injured.

There are numerous accounts of what happened onboard M.S. Chrobry that night, most notable is a letter written by Jozef Dabkowski, a Polish Merchant Naval Officer who was on board and managed to escape on the H.M.S. Wolverine. His letter can be read online ​here

Additionally, there are the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards War Diaries for 1940 that document a number of eye witness accounts of the tragedy ​here

In total, 700 lives were saved from the M.S. Chrobry, however and tragically, 200 lives were lost including Denis Kevin McLoughlin. There are no reports that Denis Kevin ever made it to the H.M.S. Wolverine, nor or there any reports of Denis Kevin been injured and accounted for once H.M.S. Wolverine docked in Harstad.

Image of the M.S. Chrobry on fire on the 15th May 1940

Later in 1940, in the British Army Casualty List No. 213, Denis Kevin McLoughlin is listed as “Missing believed Killed”. In 1941, Denis Kevin McLoughlin along with his fellow Guardsman E.W. Draper are listed as “Killed in Action” on the 15th May 1940.

The following images are snippets of the British Army Casualty Lists that reference Denis Kevin McLoughlin.

Guardsman Denis Kevin McLoughlin is officially listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with the following description:

At Brookwood Memorial, just to the North of Guildford in England, Denis Kevin McLoughlin’s name is carved into the stone along with 3431 other casualties of World War II. The Brookwood Memorial is a memorial to all those casualties who died and have no known grave and where it would not be appropriate to accommodated them in other campaign memorials.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam

Contributor​: Conor Twomey (grandson of Patrick Hargadon and Elizabeth McLoughlin)

  • References​:
    1911 Irish Census
    Irish Guards, 1st Battalion War Diaries
    British Army Casualties List
    London Gazette July 1947
    Jozef Dabkowski account of the sinking of M.S. Chrobry Commonwealth War Graves Commission
    Brookwood Memorial
    Irish Civil Birth, Marriage and Death Records
    Elizabeth Twomey (granddaughter of Thomas McLoughlin and Mary Ellen Devins)