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Somme Visit 2016

On Saturday 3rd September, fifty members assembled at Larne ferry terminal for their journey to Hull to catch the overnight sailing to Zeebrugge.
Sunday 4th Day 1

On their arrival they made their way to the first visit of the 2016 tour. This was to Tyne Cot Military Cemetery and Memorial, east of the famous town of Ypres in Belgium. Here in this massive cemetery, which has over 11,961 burials and the memorial, inscribed with the names of over 35,000 officers and men with no known graves, the first of our grave and memorial visits took place. Leslie Cairns (Cookstown) laid a wreath at the memorial for Private William Leslie, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Stephen Spillane (Tobermore) laid a poppy cross for Private James Spillane, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. David McNeill (Larne) visited the memorial for seven men from Larne and the grave of Rifleman A Campbell, Royal Irish Rifles. In a service for all of these soldiers, John Ritchie (Larne) spoke from the gospel and Stephen Burns (Larne) pronounced the Exhortation which was followed by a period of silence before our piper, Gerry McClean (Bushmills), played a hymn and lament.
The first picnic of the tour was being prepared as this service took place and food was served on return to the coach park. As the coach travelled back towards Ypres, Hooge Crater Cemetery was visited to allow our Piper, Gerry, and his wife Matilda, to pay their respects at the grave of Gerry's grandfather Private T McFaul, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Alan Beattie (Dungannon) pronounced the exhortation and David McNeil (Larne) laid a wreath as Gerry played a lament for his grandfather. We then arrived at our hotel and after booking-in and a change of clothes, members made their way to St George's Memorial Church for our annual 'Evensong Service' as guests of the Rev Brian Llewellyn and the church committee. Here the group met their good friends Dame Patricia Hawkins and her husband Peter. A number of the group joined with the choir for the service. Heather Mullan (Cookstown) performed the Bible Reading, David McNeil pronounced the Exhortation and laid a poppy cross as our Piper Gerry played a lament. During the service the collection was taken up by Diane McGuckin (Cookstown) and Una McKenna (Dungannon).
At 7.30pm the local police arrived to provide an escort for the group as Piper Gerry McClean led them to the Menin Gate for the daily 8.00pm 'Last Post' service. This huge memorial is inscribed with the names of 54,399 officers and men with no known graves. Here the buglers of the Ypres Fire Service sound the last post each night as a mark of eternal gratitude to the British servicemen who perished in the Ypres Salient during the four years of the Great War. At the Menin Gate the band of the Grenadier Guards was also in attendance and played for the visitors before the service and also participated in the service. A wreath was laid on behalf of the members by Jack Price (Lisburn) escorted by Walter Mullan (Cookstown) and Barry Scrase (Cookstown). Immediately after the conclusion, David McNeil visited the memorial for ten soldiers from Larne, including Sgt H Barr MM 14th Australian Infantry. Members then returned to St George's Hall for a social evening.
Monday 5th Day 2

Monday morning began with a series of personal grave visits.
The first was to New Irish Farm Cemetery for Jack Price to visit the grave of Private William Workman, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. David McNeil visited the graves of Rifleman S Sittlington and Rifleman A Taggart, Royal Irish Rifles.
Next stop was Minty Farm Cemetery for Jack Price to visit the grave of Private J Workman, Royal Garrison Artillery, a brother of Private William Workman.
In Duhallow ADS Cemetery Jackie Donnelly (Cookstown) visited the grave of his Uncle, Private George Usher, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Norman Bell (Cookstown) pronounced the Exhortation and Jackie laid a poppy wreath as the piper played a lament. Also David McNeil laid poppy crosses for Rifleman Robert Crawford, Royal Irish Rifles and Private L Kidd, Machine Gun Corps. Dr Foster Kelly (Magherafelt) then visited the grave of one of two uncles killed during the war.
In Kemmel Chateau Cemetery, Wesley Wright pronounced the Exhortation and as the lament was played, Dr Kelly laid a poppy wreath at the grave of Lieutenant Patrick Joseph Dignan, Connaught Rangers. Also visited was the grave or Rifleman Thomas Boyd, Royal Irish Rifles, by David McNeil and Brian Tohill (Magherafelt) visited the grave of Private W McGillen, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
In Pond Farm Cemetery, a number of graves were visited including that of Private Samuel Spiers, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Here our Padre conducted a short service and Jeff Lamont (Cookstown) pronounced the exhortation and during the lament, Jason Lamont (Cookstown) laid a poppy wreath. Other graves visited were those of Private Robert Hogshaw, Private Andrew Thomas Booth, Private W McGuckin, Private Hugh McIvor and Sgt William T Mitchell, all Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Stephen Burns visited the grave of his Great Uncle, Sapper Hugh McClure, Royal Engineers. David McNeil placed poppy crosses at the graves of Captain Arthur King McBride and Rifleman William Robinson, both Royal Irish Rifles and Sapper Hugh McClure, 150th Field Regiment and Fusilier William McIlroy, Royal Irish Fusiliers.
A short journey brought the group to Lone Tree Cemetery where the grave of Rifleman Samuel Matier was visited by Sharon McCutcheon (Moneymore). After some words from the gospel, John McCutcheon (Moneymore) pronounced the Exhortation and during the playing of a lament, Sharon laid a poppy wreath at the headstone. Rifleman Matier was one of a number of men killed during the opening minutes of the Battle of Messines on 7th June 1917 when they were caught in the explosion of a huge landmine detonated by British Engineers! In this same cemetery a poppy cross was laid at the grave of Captain Henry Gallaugher D.S.O., Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and David McNeil visited the grave of Rifleman R J Laird, Royal Irish Rifles.
Just a few yards away the members paid a visit to the Spanbroekmolen 'Pool of Peace' - a huge crater left from the war and caused by the detonation of 91,000lbs of explosives.
After the daily picnic at this location the group travelled to the 1915 area of Neauve Chappelle where the first visit was to the Le Touret Cemetery and Memorial. The graves of Rifleman Thomas Cooke, Royal Irish Rifles and Private Daniel McRoberts, Black Watch were visited by David McNeil. Among the 13,400 names inscribed on the memorial is that of Private Alexander McIlree, one of eight brothers from Cookstown who served during the Great War. Here during a service of remembrance Billy McKinney (Cookstown) pronounced the Exhortation and Billy and Maurice Clements (Cookstown) laid a poppy cross. Maurice and Billy had both been trained to box in a local boxing club by one of the seven brothers who returned home, John McIlree. Another name visited on the memorial was that of Private Abraham Acton, Border Regiment. Private Acton was from Whitehaven in Cumbria and was one of three members of the Orange Institution who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the Great War. The grave of Irish Guardsman T Cummins was also visited, he was executed at dawn after being Court Marshalled, Guardsman Cummins came from Muckamore.
The Indian Memorial was then visited and here the memorial was visited by Wesley Wright (Larne) to remember Lieutenant Oliver Babington Macausland (Garvagh), Indian Army. Members were able to see the bullet strike marks on the Memorial walls and even the 'Stone of Remembrance' caused by fighting in the area during the Second World War! Within walking distance is the Portuguese Cemetery and Memorial which was the final visit on this busy day. On return to the hotel in Ypres members had the chance to attend the 'Last Post' service at the Menin Gate informally.
Tuesday 6th Day 3

On Tuesday the group departed Ypres and first visit of the day was to the impressive Canadian Memorial Park at Vimy Ridge. In Canadian Cemetery No 2, Ronnie Smyth (Newmills) visited the grave of his uncle, Private Henry James Kilpatrick, Tyneside Scottish. During the service, Moira Smyth (Newmills) pronounced the exhortation and Ronnie laid a poppy cross as the piper played a lament. During this visit several members went on the guided tour of the amazing tunnel system created over 100 years ago in preparation for the Canadian assault on the ridge. The massive memorial which overlooks the Douai Plain and coalfields was also visited. All those Canadians lost in France have their names inscribed in the base of the monument. Five Larne men here were remembered by David McNeil and a number of other soldiers from the Mid Ulster area were remembered by various members, including Stephen Spillane who laid poppy crosses for Private Jackson McClean, and Private Alexander Patterson, both Canadian Army.
Cabaret Rouge Cemetery was the venue for our picnic and it was here that we were joined by Raymond Hyslop (Larne) who had flown into France that morning. As food was prepared members visited the Cemetery and it was here that Stephen Spillane visited and laid a poppy cross at the grave of Private Matthew Colgan, Canadians. In November 2014 the "Circle of Remembrance" was opened by various international leaders, this modern memorial commemorates the names of 579,606 soldiers of all nations involved in the war and who fell in this area of Northern France. It is built near to the French National Memorial and Cathedral at Notre Dame De Lorette which was also visited by the members. Within the memorial are the graves of French soldiers and the Ossuary which contains the bones of men who fell on the battlefield. The group then left for their hotel in the famous town of Arras, where on arrival they met with another member, Jimmy Kennedy (Portadown) who had already been in Arras with another group!
Wednesday 7th Day 4

Wednesday 7th saw the group travel to the Somme area where the first visit of the day was to the Pozieres Cemetery and Memorial. Dr Foster Kelly visited the memorial for his other uncle, Lieutenant Albert Guy Dignan, South Irish Horse. Padre John spoke from the gospel and Dessie Gordon pronounced the Exhortation and Dr Kelly placed a poppy wreath at the memorial during the piper's lament. Stephen Spillane also visited the memorial for Private Samuel Spillane, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, laying a poppy cross. John Ritchie visited the memorial for Rifleman John Harvey Cochrane, Royal Irish Rifles and David McNeill commemorated eight men from the Larne area.
Just a few hundred yards away the Australian 1st Division Memorial stands over the Pozieres area, here the group held a service for the officers and men of Australia who perished here in battle. Padre John spoke from the gospel, Dessie Gordon (Cookstown) pronounced the Exhortation and as the piper played a lament, Kathleen Price (Lisburn) laid a poppy cross.
It was then on to Thiepval where the group were officially booked to take part in the daily 11:50hrs service which will last to the 18th November, the anniversary of the last day of the Battle of the Somme. This daily service takes place on the British memorial to The Missing of the Somme which, on its sixteen pillars, has the names of 72,194 officers and men whose earthly remains were lost on the Somme. Mr Rod Bedford, chairman, Royal British Legion, Somme Branch, met up with those taking part in the service and at 12:50hrs introduced himself to the assembled crowd who had joined with our group. He introduced our group to those in attendance and announced that, 'today we remember especially the soldiers from the Mid Ulster area who fell during the Battle of the Somme.' Standing on the steps of the memorial, our Padre, John, read from the Bible, and this was followed by John Rodgers (Desertmartin) being invited by Mr Bedford to pronounce the Exhortation. After the Two Minutes Silence, our Piper, Gerry McClean played the Irish lament, "Oft in the Stilly Night" as he slow marched around the "Stone of Remembrance". As the lament was played, our Chairman Wesley Wright, escorted by Jackie Donnelly and Alan Farrell (Lisburn), climbed the steps of the memorial to lay a Poppy wreath on behalf of the group in remembrance of all those from our country who fell during the Battle of the Somme. John Rodgers then said the "Kohima Epitaph" to bring this most moving service to a close. After photographs were taken and various names on the memorial visited, Piper Gerry led us off towards the coach with "The Battle of the Somme" and "Fare Thee Well Inniskilling", as well as other familiar tunes. While at the Memorial, David McNeil paid his respects to forty men from Larne who are remembered on the memorial. John and Margaret Rodgers laid a poppy cross for Private John Hammond, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and John Ritchie visited the memorial for his great uncle, Private T Brady, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and for Rifleman T Gourlay, Royal Irish Rifles. Dessie Gordon placed a poppy cross on the memorial for Rifleman John Faulkner, Royal Irish Rifles, on behalf of his family in Cookstown.
The small village of Authille was our next stop and it is here that every 1st July the group has their picnic. Again as food was prepared, members were able to visit the Authille Military Cemetery where the grave of Private Willie McBride, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was amongst those visited. This is the headstone that inspired Scottish born songwriter and singer Eric Bogle, to write "The Green Fields of France"! Other graves visited were that of Private Robert Sands and Private John McMullan, both Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Here Jackie Donnelly laid a poppy cross for each soldier. The grave of Private Thomas Woodburn, also Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was visited and David McNeil visited the graves of Private W J Kirkpatrick, Machine Gun Corps and Private S Lynas, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
It was then off to the Ulster Memorial Tower for the service to remember the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division who served and died at the Battle of the Somme. Immediately on arrival, the group held their service led by our Padre, John. Ronnie Smyth pronounced the Exhortation and after the silence Piper Gerry played a lament and a selection of hymns as the wreath-laying took place. On behalf of our group (and traditionally within our group) representing the mothers, wives, daughters, girlfriends, sisters, and nieces, Kimberly Beattie (Dungannon), escorted by Glyniss Armstrong (Stewartstown) and Sharon McCutcheon laid the wreath on behalf of all those in the group. Wreaths were also laid by Stephen Spillane (Tobermore War Memorial Committee) and Raymond Hyslop. Those in the group who belonged to the Orange Order then went to their service at the Orange International Memorial which commemorates all those Orangemen who died in service during the Great War. Padre John conducted the service and Piper Gerry played the appropriate lament and hymns as wreaths were laid on behalf of various Districts and Lodges.
It was then time to relax and go to the cafe and shop to meet our good friend Phoebe, wife of the curator of the Tower, Teddie Colligan. After time for a coffee, Teddie arrived to take the group on his excellent tour of the Ulster Division's area of responsibility up to and on the 1st July 1916 and which includes the recently excavated trench system in Thiepval Wood. During the visit to the Ulster Tower, John and Margaret Rodgers visited the grave of Private Joseph Hammond, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Connaught Cemetery as did David McNeil who visited the grave of Rifleman J Dobbin, Royal Irish Rifles. Dessie Gordon laid a poppy cross at the grave of Private Sandy Little, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and then went to the Mill Road Cemetery to visit the grave of Private Isaac Black, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. All then returned to the grounds of the Ulster Tower to board the coach for our journey back to the hotel in Arras.
Thursday 8th Day 5

The first visit of Thursday was to the Piper's memorial at Longeuval where our piper played a large selection of tunes resulting in a big round of applause! On hundred years ago on the 3rd September, the men of the 16th (Irish) Division charged the German lines at the villages of Guillemont and Ginchy, where after six days of fighting they successfully captured both villages. Their memorial is a granite Celtic Cross, known as the 'Ginchy Cross' in the village of Guillemont. Here the group held their service to remember the fallen of the Division. Our Padre again led the service during which Brian Tohill (Magherafelt) led the members in the Lord's Prayer, Dr Foster Kelly pronounced the Exhortation and gave an 'Irish Blessing' in Gaelic. As the piper played a lament, Brendan McKenna (Dungannon) laid a poppy wreath on behalf of the group. At the same time, David Murray (Cookstown) laid a wreath at the nearby French War Memorial. Before leaving, the members visited the local Chapel where they saw pews that were donated by Oldpark Presbyterian Church and memorial wall tablets to the 16th (Irish) Division and other personal memorials.
A grave visit to Peronne Road Cemetery was next for Ronnie Smyth who visited the grave of Private H Cobain, East Kent Regiment. During the service at this soldier's grave, Sadie Murray (Cookstown) pronounced the Exhortation. The group then travelled to the German Military Cemetery at Fricourt. Here, in a moving service , our Padre conducted a service during which he spoke in German as a tribute to their dead and after he finished with prayer , Jack Price pronounced the exhortation, and after the silence and as our piper played a hymn and lament, Jennifer Jordan (Enniskillen) laid a poppy cross on behalf of all the members.
The Thiepval visitors centre was the venue for the picnic and after that it was then on to Delville Wood to visit the South African Memorial and War Cemetery. Just yards away from here is the memorial to the 'Footballers of the Great War' which was also visited. The town of Albert was next to enable Kathleen Price to visit the grave of her uncle in Albert Communal Cemetery. At the graveside during the service, after the gospel message by Padre John, Jennifer Mullan (Cookstown) pronounced the Exhortation and during the lament, Kathleen laid a wreath at the grave of Private Fitzgerald Gibson Skelton, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Members then went into the town of Albert for the rest of the afternoon with some visiting the underground museum, the 'Museum de Abris' which is located under the town's cathedral. It was then back to the hotel for a free evening.
On the way back to the hotel, Raymond Hyslop (Car) along with Alistair Robinson (Cullybackey), Stephen Burns and David McNeil visited Haynecourt British War Cemetery to lay poppy crosses on the graves of Private Kennedy Cuthbert Allen and Private Erik Edward Stone, both Canadian Forces and both originally from Larne. Stephen visited the grave of his great uncle, Private Francis Hylands, Royal Irish Fusiliers, in Carnoy Military Cemetery.
Friday 9th Day 6

The American Somme Cemetery was the first destination for Friday. In beautiful sunshine the group were able to walk around this impressive place before having a service at the grave of a Coleraine man who had emigrated to Pennsylvania, USA and then was drafted into the US Army. At the grave of Cpl William A Boyce, 19th Engineers. Our Padre spoke from the gospel and Diane McGuckin (Cookstown) pronounced the Exhortation. After the silence, piper Gerry played a hymn and a lament during which Una McKenna laid a poppy cross. The group were joined at this service by acting superintendent, David Meney of the American Battle Monuments Commission. Bray Vale War Cemetery was the location for our final picnic. As normal, members were able to visit the cemetery as the picnic was being prepared. Among those buried here is Major George Horner Gaffikin, Royal Irish Rifles, the officer who waved his Orange handkerchief on the 1st July at Thiepval to rally his fellow Ulstermen. It was then on to Chippily where the memorial to the 58th (London) Division was visited and group photographs taken. This memorial depicts a soldier comforting his dying horse.
Dernancourt Military Cemetery just outside Albert was to be the last cemetery for a personal visit. Here David Murray visited the grave of Sergeant Patrick J Weir, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Sergeant Weir was the grandfather of one of our 'original' members, Roy Weir (Fivemiletown), and he would have visited this grave each year. David gave a summary of his close friend Roy's time with our branch before Padre John spoke from the Gospel, followed by another good friend of Roy's, Maurice Clements, pronouncing the Exhortation. As Piper Gerry played a hymn and lament, David laid a poppy wreath.
In a stroke of luck in the cemetery, Tom Foster who had come with wrong information about his two uncles who died in the Great War, happened to check the Registrar of Graves book, and to his amazement, discovered that one of them was buried in this very cemetery! To bring our visits to an end, Padre John was summoned, as was Piper Gerry, and an emotional service took place at the final resting place of Private R Weir, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Our padre spoke from the gospel, William Keatley pronounced the exhortation and after the silence as the piper played a lament, Tom laid a poppy cross at the grave of his great uncle who had laid down his life at twenty three years of age! The members then boarded the coach and returned to Arras for their last night in France and Flanders.
Saturday 10th Day 7

On Saturday the group stopped in the lovely town of Brugge for a few hours shopping and sightseeing before making their way to Rotterdam for the overnight sailing to Hull. As this was happening, Raymond Hyslop, who was catching his flight later that evening made his way to Savy Military Cemetery to visit the grave of Cpl W Mayne, 109th Trench Mortar Battery!
Sunday 11th Sept Epilogue

On Sunday the members returned home via Cairnryan and Larne.
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