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  Somme Visit 2010

Fifty three members of the Friends of the Somme Mid Ulster Branch assembled at Larne ferry terminal on Friday the 25th June for the group’s annual pilgrimage to the Battlefields of Northern France and Belgium.
Fri 25 June Day 1

Travelling with Corporate Coaching they made the short crossing to Cairnryan . They then made their way to the port of Hull to catch the over night sailing to Zeebrugge . It was during this journey that our ’Padre', John Ritchie (Larne) made a presentation to everyone on board of a New Testament. These testaments were a gift from John’s son-in-law Rev. Squadron Leader David Richardson R A F and are in the desert Camouflage colours of the Army with the crest of the Royal Irish Regiment embossed on them. These testaments are from stock that are being issued to the soldiers of the 'Royal Irish' for their up-coming deployment to Afghanistan.
0430 Depart Magherafelt (High School).
0500 Depart Cookstown (Fairhill).
0530 Depart Dungannon (Market Square).
0645 Arrive Larne Ferry Terminal.
0730 Depart Larne for sailing to Cairnryan.
0930 Arrive Cairnryan.
0945 Depart Cairnryan Ferry Terminal for Hull.
1700 Arrive Hull Ferry Terminal.
1900 Depart Hull for overnight sailing to Zeebrugge, Belgium.
Sat 26 June Day 2

On Saturday morning, after a pleasant sailing, the group disembarked for the long journey down to the town of Metz near the German border where they would stay for two nights. During this journey the branch President, Maurice Clements (Cookstown), tested the members knowledge on military history by way of a very entertaining quiz. Through this £122.00 was raised and it was decided that the proceeds would be presented to the ’Help for Heroes' fund.
Sun 27 June Day 3

On Sunday 27th the group met local lady Ingrid Ferrand in the town of Verdun. Ingrid took the group on a tour of the Verdun battle sites. It was at Verdun that the Germans promised to ’Bleed the French army White'. By the Spring of 1916 the desperate French needed a distraction for the German army to relieve the pressure at Verdun. The British and French commanders came up with the ’Battle of the Somme.' During a very interesting day members visited the ’Verdun Memorial Museum' , Fort Dou amount and the Ossuary. The Ossuary is the main focus of remembrance for Verdun and it was in this building that the group held a short memorial service to pay tribute to the dead of the French and German armies.
John Ritchie spoke from the scriptures quoting in French and German. Jim McKinney (Cookstown) pronounced the exhortation and Hazel Mullan (Stewartstown) laid a poppy wreath as our piper, Ian Trainor (Cookstown) played a hymn and a lament. The last visit on the Verdun tour was to the ’Trenches of Bayonets' which portrays where French soldiers standing in their trenches were killed by German shellfire and the only thing left visible was their bayonets protruding from the soil.
0630 Breakfast served.
0730 Depart for Verdun.
0900 R. V. with Ingrid Ferrand at Verdun Tourist Office for tour of Verdun Battle Sites.
1800 Return to Hotel Ibis, Metz.
Mon 28 June Day 4

Monday the 28th and as the group made their way to their next hotel in St. Omer they stopped of at the ’Bastogne Historical Centre' in the Ardennes to learn about the role this little town played in the ’Battle of the Bulge' in 1944 during the Second World War.
0700 Breakfast served.
0830 Depart for ’Bastogne Historical Centre'.
1230 Depart Bastogne for St. Omer.
1730 Arrive Hotel Ibis, St. Omer.
Tues 29 June Day 5

On Tuesday 29th first stop for the members was Plogstreet Memorial and the nearby Commonwealth War Grave Cemeteries of Hyde Park Corner and Dud Corner. In Hyde Park Corner cemetery, Margaret Rodgers (Desertmartin) visited the grave of her Great Uncle, Pte. Alexander Leacock, R. Inn. Fus. Yvonne Ferguson laid a poppy cross at the memorial for her great uncle Pte. R. Lee, R. Inn. Fus. David McNeill (Larne) placed a poppy cross on the Memorial for L/Cpl J Adams HLI , Riflemen R Fleck. S Jamison, T McKillop and J Havern who was only sixteen when he was killed in action. These four soldiers were all from the Royal Irish Rifles. In Hyde Park Corner David also visited the graves of L/Cpl T Caldwell and Rfm T Gray, both R Ir Rif. The next visit of the morning was near the town of Whytshaete in the Messines area for Sam Stockman (Moneymore) Here in the Irish House cemetery Sam laid a poppy wreath at the grave of his uncle Pte. S. Junk. R. Inn. Fus.
The group then saw the new memorial stones erected on the Whytshaete / Messines road to mark the spot where the 16th (Irish) Division and the 36th (Ulster) Division went ’over the top' side by side for the first time in the Great war on the morning of the 7th June 1917 in the Battle of Messines. These memorial stones were placed here recently by the main Somme Association based at the Somme Heritage Centre in Conlig Co. Down.
Kemmel Chateau Cemetery was the next stop to allow Dr. Foster Kelly (Magherafelt) to pay homage at the grave of his Uncle 2nd Lt. J.P. Dignan. Connaught Rangers. Lt Dignan was one of two brothers who were killed in action in the Great War. David McNeill visited the grave of Rfm T Boyd R Ir Rif in this same cemetery.
The group then made their way to the 16th (Irish) Division memorial where a service of remembrance was conducted by John Ritchie. The exhortation was pronounced by Dr. Kelly and as our Piper played a lament a wreath was placed by Jim Kennedy (Portadown). As they travelled closer to the town of Ypres next stop for the members was the Essex Farm Cemetery . It was in a Field Dressing station here that the Canadian Army Medical Doctor, Lt. Col. John McRae wrote the now famous poem ’In Flander’s Fields.' Again our Padre spoke from scripture and quoted Lt. Col. McRae’s lines. Ethel Coulter (Cookstown) laid a poppy cross as our piper played a lament. Bedford House cemetery a short distance away was the next call to visit the grave of another famous doctor from the Royal Army Medical Corps. Here the members visited the grave of Captain. Noel. Chavasse. VC and Bar. MC.
The members then arrived at St. George’s Memorial Church for their Annual Evensong Service which is arranged each year by the church vestry as a result of the friendship that has arose with our branch and the church family. Such is the strength of this friendship that the Rector, the Rev. Canon. Ray Jones kept this service as his very last before he retired. As always our members are very involved in the service with the readings being read by John Ritchie and Irene Irwin (Cookstown). The Exhortation and the laying of a Poppy Cross was carried out by David McNeill (Larne) and the collection was taken up by Linda McWilliams (Cookstown) and Dorethea Trainor (Cookstown). Immediately after the service our Chairman Wesley Wright (Larne) made a presentation to Can. Ray Jones. on behalf of our branch to mark the Canon’s retirement. This was a painted figurine of Father Gleeson giving Absolution to the Men of the Munster Fusiliers as he sat on horseback before the battle of Aubers Ridge in 1915. Also with us during the service was our very good friend Dame Patricia McBride Hawkins MBE who is originally from Carrickfergus.
At 7.30 pm the members were ’Put on Parade' by CSM Edward McKinney (Cookstown) and led by our Piper and escorted by the local police, they marched to the Menin Gate to take part in the emotional ’Last Post Service' which is held every night at 8.00pm. As the group marched into the Menin Gate thousands of tourists were already there waiting to take part. Under the supervision of the ’Last Post Association' our piper took up his position with the famous Buglers of the Ypres Fire Brigade whose members carry out this task daily. Along with our piper there was also a traditional piper from the Netherlands. Jack Price (Lisburn) had the honour of pronouncing the Exhortation during this service and as our piper Ian Trainor played ’The Flowers of the Forest' wreaths were laid by various groups. The wreath for our group was placed by David Watters (Tobermore) escorted by Tom McKinney MBE (Cookstown) and Jimmy Gallagher (Dungannon). After this the members made their way back to St. Georges Church Hall for a social evening before returning to St. Omer.
During our evening visit to Ypres area David McNeill visited Brandhoek New Military cemetery to see the grave of Rfm WJ Weir R Ir Rif. He also remembered ten men from the Larne district whose names are inscribed on the Menin Gate. As this year is the 70th anniversary of ’Operation Dynamo' the plan to evacuate the British servicemen of the Dunkirk Beaches before they were completely annihilated by the advancing Germans the group wished to mark this occasion.
Wed 30 June Day 6

On Wednesday 30th June they made their way to Le Paridis . Here they held a service of remembrance for 97 men of the Royal Norfolk Regiment who had surrendered to the Germans. But these men were herded into a barn and murdered by hand grenades being tossed in amongst them and were 'Finished off' by machine gun and rifle fire. During the service which was held at the very place of Execution our Padre spoke on the subject of betrayal. Mary Stockman (Moneymore) pronounced the Exhortation and a wreath was laid for the group by David McWilliams QPM (Cookstown). The massive ’Memorial to the Missing of the Somme' was next on the day's itinerary. Here the members were able to look for the names of local soldiers who fell on the Somme and have no known graves, there are over 73000 names of the lost inscribed on the sixteen piers of this monument. Here we were met by our good friends Charles and Blanche Crossan (Bapume) who live on the Somme and meet up with us every year and help with grave visits and ’Picnic Supplies'.
Less than a mile north of Thiepval standing on the original German Front Line is the magnificent ' Ulster Memorial Tower'. One of the First Memorials built on the Western Front after the war it is a replica of Helen’s Tower in the Clandyboye demesne near Bangor where many men of the 36th (Ulster ) Division trained in preparation for France. The group spent a leisurely afternoon here meeting their good friends Teddy and Phoebe Colligan who look after the Tower and the adjoining café and shop. Some of the members walked to the Mill Road and Connaught war cemeteries to visit the graves of local soldiers and take in the view of the ground where so many young men from home fell on the 1st July 1916. On our return journey to our hotel we stopped off at Succiere Military cemetery. Here Dessie Gordon laid a wreath at the grave of Rfm H Arbuthnot R Ir Rif on behalf of a relative and the members saw the grave of Rfm J Crozier. R Ir Rif from Belfast who at 18 years of age was executed at dawn for ’Cowardice'.
0730 Breakfast served.
0900 Depart hotel for 1915 area including Fromelles.
1430 Attend Memorial Service at the Ginchy Cross, Guillemont, Memorial to the 16th (Irish) Division.
1500 Depart for Thiepval Memorial to ’The Missing of the Somme' and ’The Ulster Memorial Tower'.
1730 Depart for Hotel Ibis, St. Omer.
Thurs 1 July Day 7 (94th Anniversary, ’Battle of the Somme')

Thursday the 1st of July the 94th anniversary of "The Battle of the Somme" and the group in their best dress arrived at the "Memorial to the Missing of the Somme" for the official 11.00hrs service of Remembrance organised by the Royal British Legion. The service was conducted by The Reverend Patrick Irwin, British Chaplin, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe ( SHAPE). The Exhortation was pronounced by Lt General Sir John Kiszely KCB MC of the Royal British Legion. During the Silence and in the searing heat, the sound of the skylarks that the soldier poets often mentioned could be heard above the hushed gathering . The band of the Prince of Wales’s Division supplied the music throughout the service.
  After the service David McNeill laid a poppy cross for 40 men from the Larne District whose names are recorded on the memorial and John and Margaret Rodgers placed a poppy cross for Pte J Hammond R Inn Fus. With our good friends, Dame Patricia and her husband Peter on board, we set off for Authille Military Cemetery where Charles and Blanche were waiting with fresh supplies for our Annual "1st July Picnic". Before food was served our Padre conducted a short service of remembrance for our members we have passed away in the last years, especially those from the group who have become known as the "Back Seat Boys". Two of these have died over the past year , Eric Hall (Moygashel) and very recently one of our founder members Brice Espie, (Cookstown).
  After our picnic members visited the cemetery and David McNeill laid a cross at the graves of WJ Kirkpatrick, Machine Gun Corps and Pte F Lynas. R Inn Fus. Roy and Irene Irwin visited the graves of Coagh men Pte R Sands and Pte J McMullan, both R Inn Fus. Members also visited the grave of Pte William McBride R Inn Fus. from Dervock in Co Antrim whose Headstone inspired Scot, Eric Bogle to write the famous song, ’The Green Fields of France".
  The Ulster Tower was our next venue to take part in the official 2.30pm 'Divine Service' organised by the Somme Association, Conlig. Again the service was conducted by the Rev Patrick Irwin and the introduction and welcome by Dr. Ian Adamson OBE Chairman of the Somme Association. During the proceedings Carol Walker, Manageress of the Somme Association, read an extract from 'Three Cheers For The Derrys'. This extract was the recollections of Moneymore man Leslie Bell who served with the 10th R Inn Fus in France and was wounded by shell fragments at Thiepval during the assault by the Ulstermen on the Schawben Redoubt, a German Fortress, on the 1st July. The exhortation was pronounced by The Rt. Owen Patterson, MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The band of the Prince of Wales’s division played during the wreath laying and Sadie Murray (Cookstown) accompanied by Bobby Dickson (Greenisland) and Walter Mullan (Cookstown) laid the wreath on behalf of our branch.
  Pozieres Cemetery and Memorial was visited by the group next. Here David McNeill placed a poppy cross for eight men from Larne and district. Dr Foster Kelly visited the Memorial to pay respect and lay a wreath to his other Uncle, Lt AG Dignan, South Irish Horse. David Watters visited the memorial, also for an Uncle, 2nd Lt D Paul R Irish Rif. Although killed In action on the 21st March 1918 the name of 2nd Lt Paul has only been inscribed on the panel in the last few months by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission after our Chairman Wesley Wright noticed the error during research. Due to Wesley’s hard work to provide proof to the CWGC that this young officer was killed in action they finally agreed and 92 years after his death 2nd Lt Paul has finally been accorded the recognition of those who have no known graves.
  The last stop of the day was in the village of Guillemont to pay homage to the men of the 16th (Irish) Division who served and fell during the "Battle of the Somme" in September of 1916 . They captured the villages of Guillemont and Ginchy and a Celtic cross, known as the "Ginchy Cross" is the focal point of remembrance for these Irish soldiers. John Ritchie spoke from the scriptures and David Beattie (Desertmartin) pronounced the exhortation. As our piper played a lament and hymn, Tom McKinney MBE laid the wreath for the group. With our tasks for the day complete the members made their way to Bapume to the 'Le Gourmet' restaurant for our ' Somme Summer Supper'. This had been arranged by Charles and Blanche and was a most fitting finish to a very busy day.
0700 Breakfast served.
0800 Depart Hotel for the Memorial Service at Thiepval.
1015 Arrive at Thiepval Memorial to ’The Missing of the Somme' for Official Service.
1200 Depart Thiepval for Authille Cemetery.
1400 Depart Authuille for ’The Ulster Memorial Tower'.
1500 Attend Memorial Service for the 36th (Ulster) Division.
1630 Depart Ulster Memorial Tower for Hotel Ibis, St. Omer.
Fri 2 July Day 8

On Friday morning the members returned to the Somme district where the Ulster Tower and Thiepval monument were both visited as well as the two nearest war cemeteries. In the Connaught Cemetery David McNeill visited the grave of Rfm J Dobbin R Ir Rif. Roy and Irene Irwin visited the grave of Pte S Little R Inn Fus. A number of members walked to the Mill Road Cemetery where the grave of Pte I Black R Inn Fus was visited. In the afternoon most of the group visited the town of Albert where they were able to visit the ’Musee De Abris" the interesting museum which is under the town in the old tunnels. A small number of members went on private visits to nearby cemeteries. In Warly-Ballion Cemetery David McNeill laid a cross at the grave of L/ Cpl C Norell R rI Rif . David Watters visited the grave of Pte J Watters R Inn Fus and Pte A McIvor R Inn Fus. Next stop was Rocquigny-Equancourt Road Cemetery. Here Yvonne and Neville Ferguson visited the grave of Pte E Armstrong R Inn Fus and Dorothy and Bobby Dickson laid a cross at the grave of Rfm T Hunter R Ir Rif. Sadie Beattie then stopped off at Hermies Military cemetery to visit the Grave of Pte J McAlister R Inn Fus. During their visit to the town of Albert, Jack and Kathleen Price visited the grave of Pte GF Skelton R Inn Fus.

0700 Breakfast served.
0900 Depart Hotel for private grave visits in the Somme area and afternoon visit to the town of Albert.
1730 Depart Albert for Hotel Ibis, St. Omer.
Sat 3 July Day 9

On Saturday morning the members left St Omer for the journey to Zeebrugge to catch the overnight ferry to Hull. On the way the last two cemeteries were visited. The first was Boulogne Eastern Cemetery where Ian and Lorraine Scott (Whitecross) visited the grave of Gdsm J Preston Scots Gds In Wimereux Communal Cemetery, our last of the tour David McNeill visited the grave of L/Cpl D Kerr R Ir Rif . Wesley Wright visited the graves of Pte A Stewart R Inn Fus and Pte M McGurk Leinster Regt. The members then gathered at the Cross Of Sacrifice where our Padre John Ritchie conducted an emotional final service of remembrance and thanksgiving for our tour. The exhortation was pronounced by Brian Eardley (Portstewart) and our Piper Ian Trainor played a ’Highland Cathedral and Abide with Me" to bring our 2010 Pilgrimage to an end. Only feet away from the group was the grave of Lt Col John McRae, Canadian Army Medical Corps who had died from a lung infection on the 28th January 1918. Lt Col John McRae had wrote in his now famous poem that; ’To You , we throw the Torch, be yours to hold it high ’ something that the Friends of the Somme Mid Ulster Branch have been doing proudly now for Sixteen years for all the soldiers from this Island, regardless of class or creed, who did not return.
On the way to the Ferry the group stopped off for a few hours in the coastal town of Ostend . After a pleasant overnight sailing they arrived in Hull on the Sunday morning and travelled up to Cairnryan to return to Larne and went on their various ways home.

0700 Breakfast served.
0830 Depart Hotel for Boulogne for grave visits.
1300 Depart Boulogne for Ostend.
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