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Somme Visit 2013
Preamble

Fifty members of the group travelled to France and Belgium for the annual pilgrimage to the battlefields and cemeteries in the Somme and Ypres areas.
Friday 28 June Day 1

They arrived in Rotterdam on the morning of Friday 28th June and made their way down into Belgium for the first visit, which was to the Tyne Cot Memorial and War Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world. Created 9km to the north west of Ypres the memorial is engraved with the names of 34951 officers and men who were lost in battles in the area, while the cemetery has 11908 graves. David McNeil (Larne) laid a poppy cross at the memorial for seven men from the Larne area commemorated here, Rfm S Bell, Rfm S Millar, Rfm J Lennon, Rfm H Clements and Rfm J Hayes, all Royal Irish Rifles, Private W Cumberland HLI and Private SJ Jackson Loyal North Lancs Reg. David also placed a cross on the grave of Private A McBride Campbell, Royal Irish Rifles.
After the first picnic of the tour they made their way to the "Lochnagar Crater" near the town of Albert in the Somme region. This crater was created by a huge landmine which was detonated under the German lines on the morning of the 1st July 1916 during the opening minutes of the Battle of the Somme. Here the group met Mr David Harding, an Englishman who recently purchased the land which contains this massive crater to ensure that it remains untouched for future generations to see. A group of volunteers called "The Friends of Lochnagar" have been formed and come over regularly from England to help David preserve the area. John Donnelly (Cookstown) laid a poppy cross for his Uncle, Sam Donnelly, Royal Scots who was killed at this place on the 1st July 1916. The chairman of our group Wesley Wright (Larne) presented David with a copy of "Cookstown's War Dead" in which Sam Donnelly features (page 132). The group then made their way to the town of Amiens where they would stay for the following three nights.
Saturday 29 June Day 2

Adelaide Cemetery east of Amiens was the first stop on the Saturday morning. Here the members visited the unusual headstone which explains how the remains of an unidentified soldier were exhumed on the 2nd November 1993 after seventy five years, and taken to lie in the tomb of the "Unknown Australian Soldier" at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The group had two members from Australia with them on the tour and after Padre John Ritchie (Larne) spoke from the gospel, Steve Lancaster (Bundaberg, Queensland) pronounced the Exhortation and as Piper Gerry McClean (Bushmills) played a hymn and lament, Nigel Glendinning (Bundaberg, formerly Magherafelt) placed a poppy cross on the headstone for all the Australian officers and men who were lost on the Western Front during the Great War.

The prominent Australian National Memorial and cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux was the next visit of the day. This memorial contains the names of 10765 officers and men of the Australian Imperial Forces who have no known graves. The cemetery has 2142 burials of which 779 are Australian. It is here that the Anzac Day Dawn service takes place on the 25th April each year. This is organised by the Australian government and the local communities.

During the service, Nigel Glendinning pronounced the exhortation and Steve Lancaster laid a poppy wreath as the piper played a hymn and lament. David McNeil placed a poppy cross at the memorial for Private A Saunders Melville and Private J A McMullan, both AIF. Wesley Wright, John Ritchie and David McNeil visited the grave of Private G S McCloy 35th A I F

The Australian memorial at Le Hamel was the next stop. It was in this area that the members learned of the "Ninety Three Minute Battle" which took place on the 4th July 1918. In a near perfect attack, infantry supported by some sixty tanks, artillery and RAF planes captured all their objectives. This battle was the forerunner of what their enemy would use at the start of the Second World War, the "Blitzkrieg" meaning "lightning war". Also at this visit members saw the area in which the infamous "Red Baron" Manfred Von Richthofen was hit by machine gun fire from the infantry, and died seconds after landing his airplane.

The group then travelled to the Thiepval area where the picnic was enjoyed beside the Thiepval Visitors centre. Here they were joined by their good friends Charles and Blanche Crossan (Bapume) who help out every year with local knowledge, supermarket timings etc, and even take people in their car on private visits to cemeteries. After this members visited the memorial to "The Missing of the Somme" which holds the names of 72191 soldiers who have no known graves, many of them lost on the 1st July 1916. A short distance away the group paid a visit to the Ulster Memorial Tower, café and museum. The tower was the first permanent memorial built on the Western Front and is situated on the first German line. It is a memorial to all those from the province of Ulster who gave their lives in the Great War. During this stop, David McNeil visited the graves of four men from the Larne area in the Ancre British Cemetery. Rfm WJ Campbell, Rfm S Crawford, Rfm J Davidson and Capt. J Griffiths, all Royal Irish Rifles.

Pozieres British Cemetery and Memorial was next on the day's list. The cemetery has 2758 burials and the memorial is engraved with 14656 names of soldiers who have no known grave. Dr Foster Kelly (Magherafelt) visited the memorial and laid a poppy wreath for his uncle, Lieutenant AG Dignan, South Irish Horse. Brian Bullimore (Coagh) visited the memorial for Private J Mitchell Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. In this cemetery members saw the grave of Major D Chapman 45th Battalion Australian Inf who was credited as being the first Anzac to set foot on the beaches at Gallipoli. David McNeil laid a poppy cross for eight men from Larne and district. In the Albert Communal Cemetery Extension, Kathleen Price (Lisburn) laid a poppy cross at the grave of her uncle Private FG Skelton Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Last visit of the day was to Forceville Communal Cemetery where Syd Pollock (Portrush) laid a poppy wreath for Private R Collins Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. David McNeil placed a poppy cross for Rfm R McAdams Royal Irish Rifles. After this busy day the group made their way back to their hotel in Amiens.
 
Sunday 30 June Day 3

  An open air market, which has everything from WW1 postcards to working machine guns, takes place every year in the village of Sailley Saillet on the Sunday before the 1st July. This fascinating event was the first stop on the day's itinerary. The members then travelled to the village of Guillemont. Here they visited the village Chapel in which they saw the pews which were donated to the chapel by a Presbyterian church from Belfast, and the recently erected plaque dedicated to the officers and men of eight different Irish regiments and their supporting units who fought here during the Battle of the Somme in September 1916, suffering over 4500 casualties.
Beside the chapel is the Celtic Cross, known as the Ginchy Cross, this is the memorial to the 16th (Irish) Division. During a service of Remembrance for these men, our Padre spoke from the Gospel and after the prayer, Dr Foster Kelly pronounced the Exhortation followed by a Gaelic blessing. As the piper played a hymn and an Irish lament, John McCutcheon (Moneymore) laid a poppy wreath on behalf of the group.
Delville Wood which has the South African museum was the next stop, this wood was fought for at a terrible price for the South Africans during the Battle of the Somme and became known to the men as Devil's Wood. Opposite the museum members were able to visit the Delville Wood Cemetery which contains 5493 burials. Also visited near this museum is the memorial to the Football players who gave up their sport to enlist in the forces.
In the next cemetery, Carnoy Military Cemetery, the group visited a unique grave, that of Lieutenant Col JSM Lenox-Conyngham, Connaught Rangers, from Springhill House in Moneymore, who was killed in action on the 3rd September 1916 while leading his men into battle in the village of Guillemont with a revolver in one hand and a walking stick in the other! During a short service at this grave our padre spoke from the teachings of the Bible and this was followed by the exhortation pronounced by Stanley Forsythe (Moneymore) and during the lament John McCutcheon placed a poppy cross on the Lieutenant Col's grave. While at the cemetery David McNeil visited the grave of Fus F Hylands Royal Irish Fusiliers.
 
Monday 1 July Day 4

Monday the 1st of July saw the group leave their hotel in Amiens for the last morning as they made their way to the Somme region for to take part in the official services to commemorate the 97th anniversary of the opening day of the "Battle of the Somme" which would prove to be the worst day in the history of the British Army. On the outskirts of the town of Albert, Gerald and Mildred McClean (Tandragee) visited the grave of 2 Lieutenant A Watson Royal Irish Rifles in Bapume Post Military cemetery.
The service at the memorial to "The Missing of the Somme" at Thiepval was introduced by Sir Peter Ricketts GCMG, HM Ambassador to France. The prayers and service were conducted by the Canon Bruce Hawkins, Chaplain to the Royal British Legion. The lesson was read by the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The benediction was said by Monsieur le Diacre Jean-Pierre Cardon. Music was supplied by the band of the Royal Irish Regiment TA. The standards of the Royal British Legion and those of the French Regimental Associations along with the invited dignitaries were led into and out from the service by the National Standard of the Royal British Legion carried by Cookstown man, Norman Espie. During the service David McNeil accompanied Alderman Jack McKee (Larne) and Clr Gregg McKeen (Larne) - both travelling with a delegation of councillors- laid a poppy cross for the forty men from Larne and district who are commemorated on the memorial.
After this impressive service the group went to the Authille Cemetery where they always have their 1st July picnic. As always they were joined by their good friends Dame Patricia McBride Windsor MBE and her husband Peter Windsor MBE. (Lille) Members visited the cemetery where they saw the grave of Private Willie McBride Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers whom the Scottish songwriter Eric Bogle said was the inspiration for his song "The Green Fields of France". Brian Bullimore visited the graves of Private R Sands and Private J McMullan, both Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Noel and Valerie Smith (Cookstown) visited the grave of Private T Woodburn Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and David McNeil visited the graves of Private WJ Kirkpatrick MGC and Private S Lynass Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
At the time the group left Authille for the service at the Ulster Memorial Tower, back home in Cookstown our Vice Chairman Martin Brennan was preparing to present a lecture to a local group named "Insight" for those blind and partially sighted, in Gortalowry House. This lecture revolved around those soldiers from Cookstown and District who were killed on the 1st July on the Somme. For the tour Rodney Dillon (Magherafelt) and Steve Lancaster donated an item each for a raffle. The amount raised from this raffle amounted to £220.00. The proceeds have been passed on to "Blind Veterans UK" ( formerly known as St Dunstan's for the Blind)
At the "Order of Divine Service" at the Ulster Memorial Tower the people and guests were welcomed by Dr S.I.G. Adamson OBE. Mrs Carol Walker, Director of the Somme Association read a letter sent home by Capt W R White to the mother of a soldier in the aftermath of the 1st July. The service was conducted by the Rev Martin Smyth and the Exhortation was pronounced by the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, The band of the Royal Irish Regiment TA supplied the music during the service. During the wreath laying Jennifer Mullan (Cookstown) accompanied by Valarie Smith and Diane McGuckin (Cookstown) laid the poppy wreath on behalf of the group. Ryan McGeown laid a wreath on behalf of Derryloran Boyne Defenders Flute band and Syd Pollock accompanied by David Stewart (Portrush) and CC O'Neill (Portrush) laid a wreath for their Masonic Lodge "Shalman" No 607 Portrush. David McNeil accompanied by Clr Gregg McKeen laid a poppy wreath on behalf of the town of Larne and district. After the service those in the group who belonged to the Orange Order took part in the service of remembrance at the Orange International Memorial for all those members of the order killed in the Great War. Wreaths were laid during the service by brethren on behalf of their various District and private lodges. The two local war cemeteries, the Connaught and Mill Road were visited by some of the members. David McNeil visited the grave of Rfm J Dobbin Royal Irish Rifles in the Connaught cemetery.

The group then left Thiepval for their hotel in Roubaix, outside Lille, where they would stay for the next three nights as they toured in the Ypres and Messines areas.
Tuesday 2 July Day 5

Hooge Crater cemetery outside Ypres was the first stop on the Tuesday morning. The first visit in this cemetery was for our Piper and his wife, Matilda to visit the grave of Gerry's grandfather Pte T McFaul R Inn Fus. After our Padre had spoke from the gospel, David Stewart pronounced the exhortation and as Gerry played a hymn and lament, Syd Pollock laid a poppy wreath on the grave. The members then made their way to the next grave, that of Australian soldier Pte P Bugden VC. A I F. Pte Bugden came from the town of Alstonville, the same town that Steve Lancaster grew up in. The town has an avenue and a park named after Pte Bugden VC. During a short service Nigel Glendinning pronounced the exhortation and Steve Lancaster laid a poppy brought from Australia at this soldier's headstone. Across the road the group visited the Hooge Crater Museum and the grounds of a local hotel in which are still remains of trenches and an abundance of relics from the war.
The Ploegsteert Memorial and two adjacent cemeteries, Berks Cemetery Extension and Hyde Park Corner were the next stop. The memorial holds the names of 11447 officers and men whose remains were lost in this area. David McNeil placed a poppy cross on the memorial for five men from Larne and in Hyde Park Corner cemetery visited the graves of Rfm T Caldwell and Rfm T Gray, both Royal Irish Rifles. After the daily picnic the group made their way to Messines where they visited the "Island of Peace Park". A service of remembrance was held, and after our padre, John had spoken from the scriptures, Hazel Mullan (Stewartstown) pronounced the exhortation. Our piper then played the "Sash" and the "Wearing of the Green" followed by a lament during which Walter Mullan (Cookstown) laid a poppy cross. In Whyschaete Military Cemetery, Brian Bullimore and Walter Mullan visited the grave of Private J Mitchell Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Kemmel Chateau Military cemetery was then visited. Here Dr Foster Kelly laid a poppy wreath the grave of his other uncle 2 Lieutenant JP Dignan Connaught Rangers. David McNeil visited the grave of Rfm T Boyd Royal Irish Rifles. The grave of 2 LieutenantJ A Maclean. MC, R F A. was visited by Gerry and Matilda McClean.
The group then travelled north to the town of Ypres for to take part in their annual "Evensong Service" in St George's Memorial church at the invitation of the Rev Brian Llewellyn. Here they were joined by their good friends Dame Patricia and her husband Peter. During the service the following members joined the choir, Gwene McCartney (Cookstown), Hazel Mullan, Mildred McClean, Walter Mullan, David Murray (Cookstown), Jack Price (Lisburn), David McNeil, John Ritchie and CC O'Neill. Noel smith pronounced the Exhortation and laid a poppy cross on behalf of the group. Piper Gerry played "Oft in the Stilly Night" and the collection was taken up by Mildred McClean and Beryl McKee (Cookstown).
After a short rest the members then formed up outside the church and with Jack Price as the parade commander and escorted by the local police, Piper Gerry led them and a few other visitors to the Menin Gate for the 2000hrs "Last Post Service". The Menin Gate has the names of 54405 officers and men who have no known graves and were lost in the Ypres salient. After the buglers of the Ypres Fire Brigade sounded the Last Post, a youth choir from Canada sang the exhortation before the two minutes silence. During this emotionally charged event our piper played a selection of hymns along with a piper from the Canadian Forces as they stood alongside the Buglers of the Ypres fire brigade. A wreath was laid on behalf of our group by CC O'Neill, escorted by Jack Price and Jeff Lamont BEM. After the service members returned to the Church hall for a social evening before returning to their hotel.
Wednesday 3 July Day 6

The group set off from their hotel on Wednesday for a more relaxing day and the first visit was to "Toc H" or Talbot House, in the town of Poperinge. Toc H was a house of sanctuary for those men off front line duty. It was overseen by army Chaplain, the Rev "Chubby" Clayton and had a chapel for services and a café and library. There is still a piano in one of the rest rooms and CC O'Neill gave us a few tunes on it! Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery was the next stop. There are 9877 burials in this cemetery and here David McNeil visited the grave of Rfm A Warwick Royal Irish Rifles and Jeff and Jason Lamont visited the grave of L/Cpl W J A Bell, Otago Regt. New Zealand Army. John Ritchie and Wesley Wright visited the grave of Maj. Sir Schomberg McDonald, 5th Cameron Highlanders, (5th son of the Earl of Antrim).
The group then went into the town of Ypres for a free afternoon. Amongst places visited was the "In Flander's Fields" museum , St Martin's church , various book/souvenir shops , some of the war cemeteries, and the Menin Gate. David McNeil laid a poppy cross for the ten men from Larne whose names are engraved here. Dr Foster Kelly laid a poppy cross on the Munster Fusiliers memorial. After plenty of time for shopping the members departed Ypres for their hotel.
Thursday 4 July Day 7

Thursday 4th July was the last day in Belgium and the group made their way to the Fromelles area for their last visits. In the Rue-du Bacquerot-No1 Cemetery Wesley Wright , John Ritchie and David McNeil visited the grave of Rfm H Dowling Royal Irish Rifles. The final War Cemetery to be visited was the recently constructed Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery to provide graves for 250 British and Australian soldiers killed on 19th July 1916 and buried by the enemy in a mass grave. Their remains were discovered in 2009. Here in our last service Padre John spoke from the Bible and after prayer, Jason Lamont pronounced the Exhortation. As Piper Gerry played a hymn and lament, Steve Lancaster placed a poppy cross on the "Cross of Sacrifice."

After a group photograph the members left for lunch in Ostend before making their way to Zeebrugge for the overnight ferry to Hull and onto Cairnryan for the sailing to Larne.
 
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