An Army officer serving in Afghanistan spent his pre-deployment leave unveiling his fascinating military family history and ties to the island.
Lieutenant Colonel Simon Hirst, 43, originally from Weymouth, is the chief of staff at Camp Bastion where his role entails planning, co-ordinating and controlling the daily running of the camp.
After five years of research, he visited the island for the first time to trace his family and military connections.He is the fifth generation to serve in the military and his family roots with the island date back to 1891 to his great-great-grandfather George, the first toll gatekeeper on Marine Drive.
George had followed in his own father’s footsteps in joining the Army, and became batman to brigadier Thomas Leigh Goldie who was later killed at the Battle of Inkerman in 1854. George moved to the island with his wife, Martha, where they had two sons, Thornton Malcolm Leslie Hirst and George William Hirst, Simon’s great grandfather. Thornton and George William both served in the First World War.
George died in the island in 1897, and Simon found his grave at Kirk Braddan. Simon also visited George’s birthplace, 32 Athol Street.
‘It was amazing. I was able to peek inside my great grandfather’s house,’ he said.
‘There was some interior refurbishment work underway but it was astounding how little the street has changed.’
Despite sustaining an injury at Neuve Chappelle in 1915, George William fought in the Second World War as did his son – George’s grandfather – George William Leslie Hirst, who joined the Royal Army Ordnance Corps in 1940, serving in Africa.
Simon’s great uncle Jackie saw intense fighting from Tobruck to Hamburg with the Desert Rats and as part of the 15th Isle of Man (LAA) Regiment Royal Artillery.
Two of George William Leslie’s sons, Simon’s father Terence and uncle Michael, joined the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars (QRIH) while their brother William enlisted with 4th Hussars, before joining his brothers in the QRIH.
Meanwhile, Simon’s cousin Thornton Daryl Hirst is serving as a Lt Col with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
Simon plans to return to dedicate the headstone of his great great grandfather.
He thanked George and Lynn Waft, Tony Hirst and the Manx Museum archives for help with the research.