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  Somme Visit 2011
Preamble

On Wednesday 29 th June 2011 fifty four members of  the Friends of the Somme Mid Ulster Branch set out on their seventeenth annual pilgrimage to the First World War battlefields of Belgium and Northern France
Thurs 30 June Day 1

After arrival by overnight ferry in Zeebrugge on Thursday 30th the group made their way to the outskirts of the famous city of Ypres where the first visit of the tour took place. This was in Du Hallow ADS war cemetery for Jackie and Heather Donnelly (Cookstown ) to the grave of Jackie's uncle, L/ Cpl George Usher of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers from Milburn Street, Cookstown, who died of wounds on the 16th October 1918. The members were accompanied at this service by Dame Patricia Hawkins-Windsor MBE and her husband Peter (Roubaix). Patricia has visited this grave for the Donnelly family on the anniversary of George's death for the past seventeen years. Our padre John Ritchie (Larne) spoke from the gospel and Jason Lamont (Cookstown) pronounced the Exhortation. As a wreath was laid by Jackie, our piper, Ray Hall (Enniskillen) played a lament. Only a few feet away from this grave is the resting place of Pte David Curran R Inn Fus who also died of wounds, on the 29th October 1918. David came from the Oldtown in Cookstown. A poppy cross was placed on his grave by Jason Lamont. David McNeil (Larne) visited the graves of L/Cpl R Crawford R Ir Rif and Cpl C Kydd MGC.
Next stop was the massive Tyne-Cot Memorial and cemetery, this is the largest Commonwealth War cemetery in the world with 11954 graves and almost 35,000 names of the missing engraved on the memorial wall including seven soldiers from Larne and district who were remembered by David McNeil, Robert Magill (Larne) and John Ritchie. During a short service of remembrance at the memorial wall David Murray (Cookstown) pronounced the exhortation and laid a poppy cross. The grave of Rfm Andrew Campbell R I Rif was also visited by the members from Larne
After this the members made their way to their hotel in Roubaix where everyone changed into proper dress for the group's annual Evensong service in St Georges Memorial Church, Ypres. Here they were welcomed by the new minister in the church, Fr. Brian Llewellyn. Paul Craven (Portadown) carried the Standard of the Royal Irish Fusiliers followed by members of the group who sang in the choir, Bobby and Dorothy Dickson (Cookstown), Roy and Irene Irwin (Cookstown), Julia Burnside (Donaghmore), Hazel Mullan (Stewartstown), Lorraine Scott (Whitecross), Jack Price (Lisburn), Walter Mullan (Cookstown) and John Ritchie. During the service John Ritchie read a lesson and the collection was taken up by Margaret Harrison (Carrickfergus) and Eileen Scott (Cookstown). Bobby Dickson pronounced the exhortation and laid a poppy cross, and for the first time during this service, two buglers from the Ypres Fire Brigade sounded the Last Post and Piper Ray Hall played a lament, the buglers then sounded reveille.
Shortly after this service the members formed up to parade to the Menin Gate for the daily 2000hrs "Last Post" service, under the command of Alan Gourley (Cookstown). Led by our piper and supervised by the local police they made their way to the Menin Gate where a larger than ever crowd had gathered for this emotional service to remember the 54,389 missing whose names are inscribed here. Piper Ray Hall had the honour of playing a lament, "The Bells of Dunblane" as wreaths were laid by various groups after the sounding of the Last Post by the buglers of the Ypres Fire Brigade. The wreath for the group was laid by Jack Price, escorted by Alan Gourley and Robert Magill (Larne). David McNeil laid a poppy cross for ten men from Larne whose names are on the memorial.
Friday 1 July Day 2

Friday the 1st July and the members left their hotel for the 95th anniversary service at the Thiepval Memorial to "The Missing of the Somme" which holds the names of 73,000 officers and men who have no known grave. The service was introduced by Sir Peter Westmacott, HM Ambassador to France. The Rev. I R Gamble MBE CF led the worship and the lesson was read by HRH The Duke of Gloucester. Mr John Farmer, National chairman of the Royal British Legion pronounced the exhortation. Music for the service was provided by the band of the Royal Irish Regiment. David McNeil placed a poppy cross here for the forty soldiers from the Larne area who were lost during the Somme battle.
After this the group went to the Authille Military Cemetery for our daily picnic and visit this cemetery in which is local men who were killed just before the battle of the Somme. Here we were joined by Patricia and Peter and our other good friends who live locally and are both a great help on our tours in the Somme region, Charles and Blanche Crossan (Bapume). It is this cemetery that the grave of William McBride, R Inn Fus can be found. This is the headstone that inspired songwriter Eric Bogle to compose the song, "The Green Fields of France" - "Well how do you do, young Willie McBride, Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside?". Billy Dowie (Belfast) also visited the graves of four soldiers, 2nd Lt R Pettigrew R I Rif, Rifleman D McKeown; R I Rif, Rifleman W Boland, Pte G McIntyre R Inn Fus.
Next stop for the group was the Ulster Memorial Tower, the first proper memorial to be built on the western front just after the war by public subscription from the people here, in memory of their dead. The official service here was introduced by Dr Ian Adamson OBE. The Rev Canon Alex Cheevers (formerly of Cookstown) conducted the service. The lessons were read by the Rev Ian Gamble MBE CF and Lt Col P A J Walker CO 2nd Royal Irish. Music was again provided by the band of the Royal Irish Regiment and as a piper from the band played a lament the wreath laying was led by HRH The Duke of Gloucester, President of the Somme Association. Heather Donnelly laid the wreath for the group escorted by Lorraine Scott and Irene Irwin. Paul Craven and Robert Magill laid a wreath on behalf of their local UDR associations.
Immediately after this those members in the group who belonged to the Orange Order took part in a service of remembrance at the Orange International Memorial for all those members of the order who died in the Great War. Wreaths were led on behalf of various local districts and lodges.
Billy Dowie then visited the grave of Rifleman J Manson R I Rif in Hamel cemetery.
Pozieres Military Cemetery and memorial was the next stop to allow Dr Foster Kelly (Magherafelt) to visit the memorial for his uncle Lt A Dignan South Irish Horse. After John Ritchie spoke from the gospel, Alan Gourley pronounced the exhortation and Foster laid a wreath as the piper played “Highland Cathedral.”The eight men from Larne commemorated here were remembered by David McNeil who laid a poppy cross.
Just a short distance away the group visited the Tank Memorial , this is on the site where the first tanks were used in war and immediately across the road is the Australian memorial was also visited. This memorial is on the site of the old Pozieres windmill which was the centre of the battle for the Australian troops from July to August 1916.
To round off a very busy day the group arrived at “Le Gourmet” restaurant in Bapume for their annual “Somme Supper.” This was organised by our good friends Charles and Blanche. After a delicious meal and entertainment, provided by some singers, and an outstanding display of piping it was time to return to the hotel in Roubaix.
Sat 2 July Day 3

Pond Farm cemetery near Messines was the first stop on Saturday morning. David McNeil and Robert Magill visited the graves of Pte H McClure RE, Fus W McIlroy R Ir Fus, Capt A McBride and Rifleman W Robinson both R Ir Rif.Colin Stewart (Moneymore) and Alan Gourley visited the grave of Pte AT Booth, R Inn Fus. Des Wright (Coleraine) pronounced the exhortation and the piper played a lament. Colin also visited the grave of Pte R Hogshaw R Inn Fus.
After travelling back into France the group stopped off at the Cambrai Memorial where Margaret Harrison visited the memorial for her grandfather Pte R Baxter R Irish Rifles. Before the members debussed Margaret read a poem she had written prior to this visit , “I Have come to say Hello.” During the service Margaret's husband, Brian, pronounced the exhortation and the piper played a lament. John Rodgers Sen (Magherafelt) visited the memorial for Private J McAnary MM R Inn Fus. David McNeil laid a cross in memory of the eight soldiers from Larne whose names are on the memorial.
The Ginchy Cross, memorial to the men of the 16th (Irish) Division was the next stop for the group as they held a Service of Remembrance led by our padre John Ritchie. John McCutcheon (Moneymore) pronounced the exhortation and Dr Foster Kelly laid the wreath.
The afternoon was spent on a return visit to the Thiepval Memorial and the Ulster Tower before going to the town of Albert for some sightseeing and shopping. Kathleen and Jack Price visited the grave of Kathleen&'s uncle Pte G Skelton Alberta Regt. in Albert Communal cemetery.
Sun 3 July Day 4

On Sunday 3rd July the group left their hotel in Roubaix and headed south for the second phase of their tour, in Normandy. On the way they stopped off near the village of Noailles where they saw the memorial erected by locals after the Second World War to the 'Garstin Stick' where five members of the Special Air Service, who as prisoners of war, had been executed by the Nazis.
The members then travelled the short distance to the French military cemetery in Beauvais where these men are buried. During a memorial service again led by our padre, a poppy cross was laid on each soldier's grave, Captain Pat Garstin RUR, by Dr Foster Kelly, Sgt Varey SAS, by Jim Kennedy (Portadown), Trooper T Barker SAS by Billy Barnes (Cookstown), Trooper J Walker SAS by Kathleen Price and Trooper WP Young SAS by Tom Dempsey (Maghera). The exhortation was pronounced by John Rodgers Jnr (Desertmartin) and the piper played, 'The day thou gavest' These men had parachuted into France to carry out raids behind the enemy lines to disrupt the German supplies to the Normandy battlefields. But they were betrayed and held prisoner for five weeks before being executed. Capt Garstin was from Cork, Sgt Varey from England, Tpr Tot Barker from Cookstown, Tpr Walker from Moira and Trooper Young from Randalstown, all under the command of Lt Col Blair (Paddy) Maine DSO.
The rest of the day was spent travelling on to the hotel in Ouistreham which was the base for the remainder of the tour. That evening we were joined at our hotel by Ian Daglish from Cheshire, a military historian and author and an expert on the Normandy campaign, who would be the guide for the next three days.
Mon 4 July Day 5

Monday 4th July (American Independence Day) and the group's first visit was to the Normandy American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. After browsing through the recently built Visitor's Centre, the members were joined by their two guides for this pre arranged visit. The first task was for Ian Scott (Cookstown) to visit the grave of PFC Robert Hall from Ohio who served in the 320th Field Artillery Battalion (Gliderborne) 82nd Airborne and was killed during the first days of the Normandy invasion. Ian had befriended Robert and three other men from this unit during their stay in Cookstown at the camp in Monrush. These four soldiers came to Ian's parents house for their Christmas dinner in 1943. Our padre spoke from the gospel and Richard Patterson (Cookstown) pronounced the exhortation. While our piper Ray Hall played 'My Home', Ian laid a poppy wreath on Robert's grave.
The Friends of the Somme Mid Ulster Branch wish to acknowledge local historian and author John McCann for his help in confirming the grave of Robert Hall.
Walter and Jennifer Mullan then visited the final resting place of Pte Lee Graves 505th Parachute Infantry Regt. This was for a local lady whose family had befriended Pte Graves while he had been stationed at Desertcreat. Pte Graves sometimes joined the family at worship in Derryloran parish church. The members then held a memorial service for all the American servicemen who died in the invasion. This was at the impressive memorial known as the 'Spirit of America'. After a short service by our padre, Julia Burnside pronounced the exhortation and as our piper played a lament, Des Wright (Coleraine) laid a poppy wreath on behalf of the group. One of our guides Geert Van Den Bogaert thanked us for respecting the American dead and handed us over to Anne-Sophie Navet who then took us on an informative tour of the landing area at Omaha Beach and the cemetery.
La Fiere was next stop for the group as Ian Daglish got into proper tour guide mode. Here at the 'Iron Mike Memorial' he gave a fantastic overview of the battle that the American paratroops and their gliderborne comrades took part in as they struggled to get a foothold in this area of Normandy.
The town of St Mere-Eglise was the next stop where the members were able to visit the many attractions including the town's chapel on which hangs the dummy paratrooper portraying John Steele whose parachute caught on the spire as he and his comrades jumped into the town in the first hours of D Day. The actor, Red Buttons played John Steele in the film 'The Longest Day' showing this famous incident. John Steele was also stationed in Desertcreat prior to the Invasion.
The Bayeux British Memorial and Cemetery was the final visit for the day. At the memorial wall David McNeil and Robert Magill laid a poppy cross for Pte M Crawford Calgary Highlanders. John McCutcheon (Moneymore) and J Hatrick (Tobermore) placed a poppy cross on the memorial for Pte D Fletcher Devonshire Regt. In the cemetery David McNeil, Robert Magill, John Ritchie and Wesley Wright (Larne) visited the graves of three Larne men. At the grave of A. McNeilly-Wright, Master, SS Eskwood, John spoke from the gospel, Robert Magill pronounced the exhortation and as David McNeil laid a poppy cross the piper played the 'Mingulay Boat Song'. Some members also visited the nearby 'Battle of Normandy' museum
Tues 5 July Day 6

The first part of Normandy to be liberated was the group's destination on Tuesday 5th. The bridge over the Orne was captured in one of the most daring acts of the Invasion. British gliderborne troops landed in three gliders at 12.16hrs on the 6th June and took the German sentries by complete surprise. Members visited the Gonderee Cafe, the first building to be liberated. The cafe is still owned by the Gonderee family. The brilliant airborne museum was also visited.
The Ranville Military Cemetery was the next place on the itinerary. A service of remembrance was held for the men of the 1st Royal Ulster Rifles (Airborne). During the service Roy Irwin pronounced the exhortation and Hazel Mullan laid the wreath on behalf of the group. Jack and Heather Donnelly visited the grave of Rfm H Greer 1 RUR, Alan Gourley visited the grave of Pte E Corteil Para Regt and his Parachute dog, Glen. Barbara Patterson (Cookstown) visited the grave of Rfm A Charles RUR and laid a wreath on the grave for Pte Charles' twin granddaughters. Also in this cemetery members visited the graves of Pte G Reid Para Regt and Lt G A Maginnis 1 RUR (uncle of Lord Ken Maginnis of Drumglass).
The Royal Ulster Rifles was the only regiment in the British Army who had two battalions involved in the D Day Invasion, so next stop for the group was the memorial to the men of the second battalion at Cambes-en-Plaine who came into Normandy from the sea on landing craft. Before the service took place, Ian Daglish gave a detailed account of the battle for this small village, praising the courage of the 2nd Royal Ulster Rifles who were advancing over flat fields of growing barley. During the service Walter Mullan pronounced the exhortation and Paul Craven laid the wreath on behalf of the members.
At the nearby Cambes-en-Plaine war cemetery, David McNeil visited the grave of Rfm R McAllister 2 RUR. The town of Bayeux was the next port of call and here the afternoon was spent sight seeing and shopping. One of the local attractions members visited was the famous Bayeux Tapestry.
Wed 6 July Day 7

On the final day of the Normandy tour the “Operation Bluecoat” museum at St Martin des Besaces was the first stop.
From here we travelled to the war cemetery at Charles de Percy via the famous Dickie's Bridge that was captured by a reconnaissance patrol from a lone German sentry! This bridge was then used to rush tanks into the heart of the German positions. When the group arrived at the cemetery Ian had arranged for the Mayor of Charles de Percy to meet us and take part in our Service of Remembrance. During the service David Murray pronounced the exhortation and Jennifer Mullan laid the wreath. Dr Foster Kelly visited the grave of Sgt T J English Irish Gds and members visited the grave of Gdsm George Fitt Irish Gds, (brother of the late politician, Gerry Fitt. David McNeil, Robert Magill and Billy Dowie visited the grave of Sgt CJ McVeigh 2 RUR.
In the afternoon the members were taken throughout the local area where the British tanks fought fierce running battles with their German counterparts. One of these units was the 1st Battalion Irish Guards (Armoured) and the 3rd Battalion (Infantry). On our return to our hotel Ian sold out his supply of his book he had brought with him. Those members who purchased all got a personal message on their book along with Ian's signature. After having dinner with some of the group, Ian then left to catch the ferry back to Portsmouth.
Thurs 7 July Day 8

Next morning the members left their hotel for the journey up to Rotterdam to catch the ferry to Hull. Friday 8th July saw the group make their way to Cairnryan for the sailing to Larne and disperse on their various routes home
Sun 31 July 2011 Obituary - Ian Daglish R.I.P.

Ian Daglish addresses the Group
Tragically, the members' friend and guide for their time in Normandy, Ian Daglish, was seriously injured when a light aircraft he was flying got into difficulties and crashed into houses in Salford, near Manchester on Friday 29th July. Ian died from his injuries in the early hours of Sunday 31st. His funeral service was on Thursday 11th August and his remains cremated on the following day, Ian leaves behind his wife Joy and two teenage daughters, Hazel and Fiona. A much respected military historian and author of several books on the Normandy battles, Ian will be sorely missed among groups such as The Friends of the Somme Mid Ulster Branch.
The following poem written by a 19 year old WW2 'Battle of Britain' Spitfire pilot was read at Ian's funeral service.

High Flight

"Oh ! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter - silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air..

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew;
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God."
Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee
412 Squadron RCAF
Killed 11th December 1941
County Tyrone Northern Ireland Mid Ulster Friends of the Somme
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