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Somme Visit 2012
Preamble

Fifty three members of the Friends of the Somme Mid Ulster Branch arrived in the Dutch port of Rotterdam on Thursday the 28th June to travel to the City of Ypres in Belgium where their 2012 pilgrimage to the battlefields and war cemeteries would begin.
Thurs 28 June Day 1

The Tour commenced with a visit to the recently revamped “In Flanders Fields” museum. A brilliant introduction for anyone visiting the area, this museum portrays the war in all it’s horror and the effect on the ordinary soldier who ended up in the Ypres Salient. The group then travelled to the town of St Omer where their hotel for the duration of the tour was located.

Friday 29 June Day 2

Friday the 29th was the first day that those who were new to the group, seventeen in all, would visit their first Commonwealth War Grave cemetery. Unfortunately at our very first Cemetery, Solemes British, due to heavy rain, only Jim Scott MBE (Moneymore), John Scott, (Dundonald) and branch Chairman, Wesley Wright (Larne) along with our Padre, John Ritchie (Larne) and David McNeil (Larne) visited the grave of Pte W H Scott, New Zealand Otago Regt.

At our second visit, in better weather, to St Souplet British Cemetery, David Watters (Tobermore) visited the grave of L/Cpl T McIlroy MM R Inn Fus. L/Cpl McIlroy and three of his comrades were each awarded the Military medal for the one action in which they kept their machine gun in action to stem a major German attack on the British line.

In this same cemetery, Richard Palmer (Magherafelt) laid a poppy cross on the grave of Pte W G Herdman R Inn Fus. Billy Dowie (Belfast) placed a poppy cross at the grave of Lt SW Maxwell R Ir Rif. During a service at the grave of L/Cpl McIlroy, our Padre spoke from the gospel and Billy Dowie pronounced the exhortation. Piper Gerry McClean (Bushmills) played a hymn and a lament. This would be the procedure at all visits to graves/memorials during the tour.

Honnechy British Cemetery was the next stop where David McNeill (Larne) placed a poppy cross on the grave of H McReynolds Con Rangers. Before visiting the Cambrai Memorial, the members had the first of their daily picnics. At the Memorial, which holds the names of 7048 men with no known graves, Brian and Margaret Harrison (Carrickfergus) laid a poppy wreath for Margaret’s Grandfather Rfm RJ Baxter R Ir Rif. David McNeil placed a poppy cross on the memorial for eight men from the Larne district, all Royal Irish Rifles. John and Margaret Rodgers (Magherafelt) also laid a poppy cross for Pte J McAnary MM R Inn Fus.

Members then visited the awesome Thiepval Memorial to “The Missing of the Somme“, which has the names of over 73,000 soldiers lost in battle engraved on it’s sixteen pillars. David McNeil placed a poppy cross in memory of forty soldiers from the Larne district whose names are on the memorial. Members also visited the Thiepval Visitor’s Centre. After quite a busy day the group returned to St Omer.

Sat 30 June Day 3

On Saturday morning the group were joined at their hotel by Iain McHenry (Ypres) who would be the guide on the visit to the famous town of Mons in Belgium. On the way to Mons Iain gave a most informative introduction and overview of the Great War. First stop was the memorials to the First and Last shots of the War. These two sites are about 100 metres apart!

We then went to the bridge where the first two Victoria Crosses of the 1914 – 1918 war were won. The first VC was won by an Irishman Lt M J Dease, Royal Fusiliers who came from Co Westmeath. With him was Pte Sid Godley Royal Fusiliers. Pte Godley’s VC was sold in July past by his family to a private collector for £276,000.

Next stop for the group was the Memorial to the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force)at La Ferte. Here the group held a Service of Remembrance led by our Padre. Ernie Clinton of Ballymoney, whose father fought at Mons, laid a wreath and his grandson Norman Edgar (Ballymoney) pronounced the Exhortation. A Celtic Cross situated close by, as a memorial to the Royal Irish Regiment, was also visited and David Murray (Cookstown) placed a poppy cross here.

In St Symphorien Military Cemetery, Jennifer Mullan (Cookstown) laid a poppy cross a the grave of Lt M J Dease VC and Gillian Artt (Magherafelt) did likewise at the grave on Pte L Price Can Inf who was the last Commonwealth soldier to be killed in the Great War. He was shot by a German sniper after receiving flowers from a Belgian girl two minutes before the Armistice was due to take effect at 11.00am on the 11th November 1918.

After arriving back at St Omer the members bade farewell to Iain after our Chairman thanked him for an excellent day.

Sunday 1 July Day 4

Sunday the 1st July and the group made an early start to Thiepval for the official 1100hrs Service to commemorate the 96th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at the Memorial to “The Missing of the Somme”. The service was introduced by Sir Peter Ricketts GCMG, HM Ambassador to France and Canon Bruce Hawkins, Chaplin to the Royal British Legion, conducted the service. The lesson was read by the Rt Hon Owen Patterson MP Secretary of State for N Ireland and the exhortation was pronounced by the National Chairman of the RBL, Mr John Farmer. The Address was by Mrs Sara Jones CBE JP DL, Commissioner Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The pipers were from the Royal Irish Regiment and the Newtownards Medley Flute band provided the music.

After the service, the village of Authille was the next stop where our picnics are always held on the 1st July. Here the group were joined by their good friends Charles and Blanche Crossan (Bapume) and Dame Patricia Hawkins-Windsor MBE and her husband, Peter.

The members visited the Authille Military Cemetery. Billy Dowie (Belfast) versed an account of how on the night of the 8th May 1916, soldiers from the 9th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Tyrones) had taken part in a very successful trench raid on the German lines and some were decorated for their bravery. But, as these men were coming back to their own trenches the Germans had decided to launch an artillery barrage at the same time and a number were killed and injured. Those killed were buried in this cemetery. The grave of Pte John McMullan R Inn Fus was visited by Jackie Donnelly (Cookstown) and Linda Sands (Coagh) laid a poppy wreath at the grave of Pte R Sands, R Inn Fus. Billy Dowie visited the graves of Rfm D McKeown and Rfm W Boland both R Ir Rif, Pte G McIntyre R Inn Fus and the grave of 2nd Lt R Pettigrew R Ir Rif who had been the first officer from the 36th (Ulster) Division to have been wounded in action when he had been shot by a sniper (in the neck) in November 1915. He had returned to duty in the month of April and was killed in May 1916. During this act of remembrance, our Piper played the “Flowers of the Forest”. This is the lament mentioned in Eric Bogle’s song “The Green Fields of France”. The grave of Pte William McBride, which Bogle said gave him the inspiration to write the song, is only a few feet away from these men’s graves. Pte William McBride R Inn Fus came from outside Keady, Co Armagh.

The first proper memorial built on the Western Front after the war was the Ulster Memorial Tower, situated on the first German line opposite Thiepval Wood. This was the next place for the group to visit. At 2.30pm, the official service for the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division was held. This service was introduced by Dr Ian Adamson OBE, Chairman Somme Association. The Rev Alex Cheevers conducted the service during which Carol Walker, Director, Somme Association read an extract of a letter from Capt WB Spender to Capt James Craig. In attendance was the Rt Hon Owen Patterson MP, who pronounced the Exhortation, and Dinny McGinley TD, Minister of State, at the Department of Arts , Heritage and the Gaeltacht for Ireland. The lament was played by a piper from The Royal Irish Regiment and the music was provided by the Newtownards Medley Flute band. Norman Edgar, accompanied by James Artt, (Magherafelt) and Richard Palmer laid a wreath during the service on behalf of our group. Immediately after this service those who are members of the Orange Order took part in a service at the Orange International Memorial in the memorial garden in the grounds of the Ulster Tower. Wreaths were laid here on behalf of various Districts and Lodges.

All members then returned to our coach to make the short journey to Pozieres War cemetery and Memorial. David Watters (Tobermore) placed a wreath on the memorial for Lt D Paul Royal Fusiliers and as our piper played a lament Dr Foster Kelly (Magherafelt) laid a wreath on the memorial for Lt AG Dignan South Irish Horse. Just days before our trip and due to being contacted through our website, Dr Kelly was able to purchase (from a dealer in England) the memorial plaque for his uncle, Lt Albert Guy Dignan that had been sent to the family after the war. Every Commonwealth soldier that was killed or died of wounds had one of these sent to his next of kin and they became known as the “Death Penny”. Eight soldiers from Larne were also remembered here as David McNeil laid a poppy cross for them.

After this we made our way back to a less busy Thiepval to return to the “Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.” This was for a special service to dedicate three names of local soldiers who had been omitted from the memorial at the time of it’s construction, and due to the hard work and research of our chairman Wesley Wright, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission had recently agreed to add these names to the addenda on the memorial, they are amongst the last names ever to be added. After our Padre had spoke from the gospel, and as our Piper played a hymn and a lament, the following members placed poppy crosses for the three 9th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Tyrone Volunteers); Jimmy Gallagher (Dungannon) for Pte J Fox, Maurice Clements (Cookstown) for Pte J Smyth and Lexie Jordan (Moneymore) for Pte G Hamilton.

After another busy day the members arrived at “Le Gourmet” restaurant in Bapaume where they enjoyed their “Somme Supper.”
Monday 2 July Day 5

Monday the 2nd July saw the group travel back into Belgium, where first stop of the day was Voomezeele Enclosures No1 and No2 Military Cemetery where Jim and John Scott with Wesley Wright visited the grave of Rfm G Scott NZ Rifle Brigade.

The planned visit to the Messines “Island of Peace Park” had to be abandoned because of road closures due to roadworks.

On the outskirts of Ypres in Du Hallow Ads Military cemetery, Jackie Donnelly (Cookstown) laid a wreath at the grave of Pte G Usher R Inn Fus. David McNeill placed poppy crosses at the graves of L/Cpl Crawford R Ir Rif and Cpl C Kydd MGC.

The largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in the world was the next port of call. Here in Tyne-Cot Cemetery and memorial are 11,667 graves and almost 35,000 names of those who were missing inscribed on the wall.

At our next cemetery, Hooge Crater, we had an exceptional visit. Here, after our Padre had spoken from the gospel and Wesley Wright had pronounced the Exhortation, our piper Gerry McClean played a hymn and a lament at his Grandfather’s grave , Pte T McFaul R Inn Fus. Dessie Gordon (Cookstown) laid a poppy wreath on Gerry’s behalf during the lament.

It was then on to the town of Ypres where the members were due to attend their annual “Evensong Service” in St George’s Memorial Church at the invitation of the rector, Rev Brian Llewellyn. During the service Jack and Kathleen Price (Lisburn), Bobby and Dorothy Dickson (Cookstown), John Ritchie, Yvonne Watters (Tobermore) David Hopely (Belfast) and David Shaw (Cullybackey) sang in the choir. David Hopely read the lesson. David McNeil pronounced the Exhortation and laid a poppy cross as our piper played a lament. Also during the service, a memorial plaque was erected by Jackie and Heather Donnelly in memory of Jackie’s Great uncle, Pte George Usher, R Inn Fus, from the Oldtown in Cookstown was dedicated by the Rev Llewellyn. The collection was taken up by Eva McClements (Macosquin) ) and Una McKenna (Dungannon).

A short time after the service the group then formed up and under the command of David Watters made their way to the Menin Gate, led by our piper and escorted by the local police. At the Menin Gate, which bears the names of 54,389 officers and men with no known graves, Bobby Dickson had the honour of pronouncing the Exhortation, “They shall grow not old……….” in front of the huge crowd which had gathered to take part in this very poignant act of remembrance which takes place every night at 8.00pm when the Buglers of the Ypres Fire Brigade sound the “Last Post” and “Reveille.” Our piper was invited to stand along with the buglers and shared the playing of the Lament and the hymns with a piper from Co Kerry. A wreath was laid on behalf of the group by David Watters, who was escorted by Jack Price and Bobby Dickson. The members then returned to the Church Hall for a social gathering before returning to St Omer.

Tuesday 3 July Day 6

The first visit of Tuesday morning was to the Ulster Memorial Tower for a pre-arranged tour of Thiepval Wood and the excavated trenches where the men of the 36th (Ulster) division were encamped from the late Autumn of 1915 until the 1st of July 1916, when they attacked the German lines on the opening day of the “Battle of the Somme”. This tour was conducted by the curator of the Tower, Teddie Colligan, who along with his wife Phoebe look after the Tower and run the adjoining shop and café. The members were then able to have a coffee, while some made their way to the Thiepval memorial and Visitors Centre where we all had our picnic before moving on to our next visit.

The Celtic Cross, known as the Ginchy Cross, in the village of Guillemont was our third visit of the day. This is the memorial to the men of the 16th (Irish) Division who in September 1916 captured the villages of Guillemont and Ginchy. After our Padre had spoken, Dr Foster Kelly pronounced the Exhortation and as our piper played a lament. David Murray laid a wreath on behalf of the members.

It was then onto Vimy near Arras and the magnificent Canadian Memorial Park on Vimy Ridge, where the members saw the shell craters, old trench systems, the beautiful Memorial and those new to the park were able to go on a pre-arranged tour of the incredible tunnel network which was used to hide the thousands of troops and their supplies as they prepared to attack the ridge in April 1917. We then made our way to Givenchy-en-Gohelle Canadian Cemetery for our last visit of the day where David Hopely laid a poppy wreath at the grave of Pte W McDonald Can Inf.

Wed 4 July Day 7

Wednesday 4th July and the group left their hotel in St Omer for the last time as they departed for Zeebrugge and the overnight sailing to Hull. On the way North the last of the personal grave visits took place.

The first was to Noeux-les-Mines for Hazel Blackwell (Cookstown) who visited the grave of her Grandfather Gnr W Thompson RGA.

Moneymore man Lexie Jordan then visited the grave of his Great Uncle Pte J Jordan R Inn Fus in Rue-de-Berceaux Military Cemetery where he laid a poppy wreath. Members were shown the headstone beside Pte Jordan’s which belongs to Captain AF Wilding, Royal Marines who died on the 9th May 1915. Capt Wilding from New Zealand had won at Wimbledon, one singles championship, one mixed doubles and three doubles!

The final cemetery visit was to Rue-Pettilion for Jim and John Scott who visited the grave of Sgt JS Scott Can Inf. After our Padre led our last service, ur piper played a hymn and lament and Jim and John laid a poppy wreath on the headstone.

The group then made their way to Ostend for a few hours relaxation before travelling to catch the overnight ferry from Zeebrugge to Hull where the following day in torrential rain they travelled up to Cairnryan for the ferry crossing to Larne where the members dispersed on their various ways home.

Notes

The Friends of the Somme Mid Ulster Branch are now preparing for their new season of events which kick-off with their AGM in the Royal British Legion, Burn Road, Cookstown at 8.00pm on Thursday 27th September. As always, new members are very welcome and membership is £10.00.

The November trip this year is to London for Armistice weekend and those interested in going should contact the secretary or any committee member.

Those people who intend going on the 2013 tour to the Somme and Ypres need to pay a deposit of £150.00 to secure their place. The season of speakers will begin in October when Niall Watson, Grandson of Brigadier Sinton VC, (who resided in the local area), will present a lecture on his famous Grandfather.

The group’s website is now receiving an average of 250 hits per day, this includes the Cookstown War Dead database and the on-going construction of the Dungannon War Dead database .Visit our website www.sommemidulster.org and join us on Facebook.

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