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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Bushmills man named in New Years Honours

Robert Thompson (82) from Bushmills has been named in the 2020 New Years Honours list, as one of the recipients to receive a ‘British Empire Medal’ (BEM).

The BEM – ‘For services to Commemoration and Remembrance in Northern Ireland’ – will recognise, amongst other achievements, the work that Mr Thompson has done in remembering and documenting the local men who lost their lives during World War One.

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Robert has preserved the legacy of these men through his various ‘Hero’s’ books (Bushmills, Coleraine, Portrush, Portstewart, Innishowen, Garvagh, Aghadowey, while also made a major contribution to a similar publication on Kilrea), also including the ‘Ballymoney Hero’s’ publication, with much of his research and work leading to many names being added to the War Memorial in Ballymoney in from not just WW1 but also from WW2 and the Korean War.

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Robert son John has spoken on behalf of his father saying;

“I would like say how proud and humbled he is to receive this award. It is an incredible honour for the Queen to recognise how he devoted so much of his life to the commemoration and remembrance of those who died during the First World War.

Unfortunately, my father is in poor health and unable to respond to the many messages of congratulations he has received but I would like to take this opportunity to say how much he appreciates all of the kind words and best wishes.”

Local Historian and friend Keith Beattie has also payed tribute to Roberts work over the years, saying the award was ‘well deserved’. Keith went on to say:

“I am very pleased to see that my old friend Robert Thompson has been awarded the British Empire Medal in the New Year Honours List for 2020.

“He visited the Commonwealth War Graves in France and Belgium on several occasions and, as a result of Robert’s ground breaking research, we now know the personal stories of many of the hundreds of young heroes from our communities who were killed.”

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As well as his publications, Robert was instrumental in the memorial stone to John Meeke MM within Derrykeighan Old Graveyard. The previously unmakes grave was given a headstone thanks to money raised by Robert and support from what was at that time was, Ballymoney Borough Council, back in 2004.

Robert Thompson, Meeke graves. Pic Keith Beattie

But it was his role as a founding member of the ‘Robert Quigg VC Commemoration Society’, who went one to successfully raise the funds to erect a statue of the local hero in Bushmills, a statue which was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in 2016.

Robert Quigg statue unveiling by Queen Elizabeth II. Pic Frankie Cunningham

Former Mayor and current UUP Councillor, Joan Baird OBE, described her ‘absolute delight’ and congratulated Robert on his ‘tireless’ work in remembrance over the years.

“Robert has worked tirelessly over many years to make sure that our brave men and women who fought for our freedom in the First World War are remembered for all time.

“Conducting  his research in France, Belgium and in Ireland he has uniquely connected families far and wide to their ancestors who made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom.

“In addition to his well documented research Robert accumulated an enormous collection of World War 1 artefacts and memorabilia which until recent years he displayed annually in Bushmills. In addition to attracting local people, these exhibitions were widely visited by local schools and ensured that the legacy of those who gave their all is remembered and honoured in generations to come.”

Cllr Baird also spoke about the Robert Quigg memorial statue, saying:

“This memorial whilst commemorating a local hero is an everlasting symbol of the enormous effort made in 1914-1918 by all the people in this part of North Antrim and its truly fitting that Robert Thompson is now honoured for his part in ensuring we do not forget.

“Again my very best wishes to Robert on receiving his British Empire Medal, we are all proud of him and his achievements.”

Local MLA for North Antrim, DUP’s Mervyn Store, also spoke of the ‘deserved recognition’ of Roberts achievements, saying:

Our knowledge of  military history and those who gave their lives in defence of our nation would not be complete without the many publications Robert has researched and written over the years.  Robert was always approachable and willing to have a chat especially if it was to do with history. 

Being recognised by Her Majesty the Queen is a fitting tribute to someone who has served his monarch and country well.

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