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Somme Visit 2019

After a break of three years and requests to have another Somme Tour, 54 members left on Thursday 5th September 2019 for a Battlefield tour of Ypres and the Somme. After an overnight stay south of London the group crossed from Dover to Calais and made their way to Ypres for their first night.
Friday 6th Day 1

On the way they stopped off at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium. Here, members visited the grave of a soldier which our chairman Wesley Wright had discovered during research, contained the ashes of his mother who on visiting her son’s grave after the war arranged personally with the CWGC gardener in charge of the cemetery that her ashes would be secretly buried beside her son on her demise. Also in this cemetery is buried one of the four Lynn brothers, Pte John Lynn, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, from Mousetown, Coalisland who died in the Great War. His grave was visited by the Davidson families, Willie and Barbara, Annahavil, and Willie and Ann, Ballymenagh, Newmills. The next stop was for Dr F Kelly from Magherafelt at Kemmel Chateau Cemetery for one of his two Uncles who perished in the Great War, Lt PJ Dignan, Connaught Rangers. During this first personal grave visit, Walter Mullan BEM spoke from the gospel, Dessie Gordon BEM pronounced the exhortation and our Piper, Trevor Hassin MBE, Larne, played a hymn and lament. After booking in to their hotel members were able to attend, at their discretion, the daily 2000hrs “Last Post” ceremony at the Menin Gate.
Saturday 7th Day 2

Saturday morning’s first visit was to the grave of Newmills hero, Pte Robert Morrow VC, Royal Irish Fusiliers. Here during a short service Walter Mullan BEM read from the gospel, Willie Davidson, Newmills pronounced the exhortation and as our Piper Trevor Hassin MBE played a lament, Willie Davidson, Annahavil placed a poppy cross on Pte Morrow’s grave.
The largest CWGC in the world was next on the list for the group. Established on the slopes east of Ypres Tyne Cot Cemetery contains over 11,600 burials and the memorial (created to hold the names of those missing in the salient as the Menin Gate was not large enough to hold them all) bears the names of 34,887 officers and men who have no known grave. Here Leslie Cairns, Cookstown, visited the memorial for his Uncle, Pte William Leslie, Royal Irish Fusiliers. Brian Tohill, Magherafelt visited the memorial for the famous Jesuit priest from Dalkley, Dublin, Father Willie Doyle MC. Brian Bullimore, Coagh, visited the memorial for his Uncle, Sgt T Bullimore, Machine Gun Corps. It was in Tyne Cot that the group’s “There but not There” soldier, known to the group as “Our Tommie” made his first appearance! Created in the centenary year of the Armistice to create awareness and raise funds for forces charities, “Our Tommie” had been photographed in many local locations in the run up to the 2018 project by the Friends of the Somme Mid Ulster Branch to add two new name plaques containing an additional 77 names to Cookstown Cenotaph and also four new “flambeaux” light shades.
The privately owned Sanctuary Wood museum and preserved trenches was the final stop for the day. That evening “Our Tommie” was taken to the Menin Gate for photographs during which time our Piper entertained locals and tourists alike with a selection of tunes. Again, some members attended the Last Post ceremony at 2000Hrs.
Sunday 8th Day 3

The final resting place of 19 year old Pte George Usher Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, from the Oldtown, Cookstown in Dhu Hallow ADS Cemetery, Ypres, was the first visit of Sunday. Here Walter Mullan BEM spoke from the gospel, Dorothy Dickson, Cookstown pronounced the exhortation and Norman Bell, Cookstown, laid a poppy wreath on behalf of Pte Usher’s nephew, Jackie Donnelly, Cookstown and his wife Heather, our treasurer. Jason Lamont, Cookstown laid a Poppy cross at the grave of another soldier from the Oldtown buried nearby, Pte David Curran R Inn Fus, also 19 years old. Members then visited nearby Essex Farm cemetery where Canadian officer LT Col John McCrae, RAMC, penned the famous lines “In Flander’s Fields”. Irish Nationalist soldier and poet, L/Cpl Francis Ledwidge was remembered as the group visited his memorial and nearby grave. As our Piper played the “Minstrel Boy”, Alistair Laird, Cookstown (father of Poet and author Nick) placed a poppy cross on the memorial. The German Military Cemetery at Langemark containing the graves of more than 44,000 German soldiers was the scene for our next service. Again, Walter preached from the gospel and led the members in prayer as they paid their respects to the German dead. Derek Short BEM, Moneymore, placed a poppy cross as our Piper played “Highland Cathedral” followed by a lament. A visit was then made to the grave of Capt NG Chavasse VC and Bar MC. in Brandhoek New Military cemetery. Here John Rodgers, Desertmartin pronounced the exhortation, and as our Piper played a lament, Dr CF Kelly placed a Poppy cross in tribute to this most famous and brave doctor.
It was then back to the hotel to prepare for the Evensong Service in St George’s Memorial Church in Ypres. During this service, conducted by Canadian Chaplin, Rev Stephen Murray, Chaplin, St John’s Anglican Church, Ghent, and co- Chaplin of the Ypres Branch the Royal British Legion, two of the readings were by our members, Norman Bell and Glenda McCormick–Rodgers BEM, Bushmills. The exhortation and laying of the Poppy cross was performed by Malachy Falls, Cookstown. Our Piper played a lament during the laying of the Poppy cross. The collection was taken up by Diane McGuckin, Cookstown and Una McKenna, Dungannon. Seven of our members sang in the choir during the service. To conclude, Jennifer Mullan, Cookstown presented a Kneeler from our group to St George’s. Designed and made by our member Yvonne Ferguson, Stewartstown, the Kneeler was then dedicated and received by the Rev. Murray.
All of the group then made their way to the famous Ypres square where they formed up, and led by their Piper paraded to the Menin Gate to take part in the service as guests of the “Last Post Association”. On arrival the group were allowed to stand within this memorial which bears the names of 54,896 names of officers and soldiers who have no known graves. During this emotional daily service, John McCutcheon, Moneymore, pronounced the exhortation, and our Piper, standing with the Buglers of the Ypres Fire Brigade played to perfection, “The Flowers of the Forest”. As hundreds looked on and a Welsh Male Voice choir sang, David Murray, Cookstown, escorted by Tom Foster, Enniskillen and Ian Hayes Cookstown marched forward and laid a wreath on behalf of the group.
Monday 9th Day 4

Monday morning would see the group cross the border and back into France for a visit to the enormous Vimy Ridge Memorial at the Canadian Memorial Park. During this visit, those on their first visit to France and Flanders were able to avail of a guided tour of the underground tunnels built during the Great War by the Tunnelling Companies. The CWGC Experience was next on Monday’s visits. Here the members saw the ongoing work of the Commission where the headstones are made, records researched, and the gardening teams who keep the cemeteries in pristine condition are located. Imagine the surprise when one of the staff, Lucie, met with Stuart Kerr, Cookstown. Lucie was a French teaching assistant in the Royal School, Dungannon for a time with Stuart’s daughter in law! Stuart’s son is a history teacher in the same school.

Tuesday 10th Day 5

First stop in the Somme area next day was the Ginchy Cross in the village of Guillemont for a service of remembrance to the men of the 16th (Irish) Division. At this service, Walter spoke from the gospel, Brian Tohill laid the Poppy Wreath and Dr Foster Kelly pronounced the exhortation and gave a Gaelic Blessing. Members were able to visit the village chapel containing many memorials to different elements of the forces. Just a few hundred yards away tributes were paid at the new memorial to the Jersey Island men who served and died with the 7th Royal Irish Fusiliers, 16th (Irish) Division. A few miles to the west and the group arrived at the Thiepval visitor’s centre. After a coffee all made their way to the Thiepval, memorial “To the Missing of the Somme”, this huge memorial contains the names of over 72,000 men who have no known graves, many of them lost on the 1st July 1916.
Within the pillars of the memorial, Walter again spoke from the gospel and led the prayers. Joe Thompson, Derrylee, pronounced the exhortation and as Piper Trevor played a lament, Ian Scott, Newtownhamilton, laid the Poppy wreath for the group. Authille Military Cemetery was always the venue for the group’s 1st July picnics. Here as the daily picnic was set up, members were able to visit this small cemetery which contains some 9th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, killed in the famous trench raid by the “Tyrones” in May 1916. After the picnic all members assembled at the grave of a famous Inniskilling’s grave, that of Willie McBride, reputed to be the inspiration for Eric Bogle’s song, “The Green Fields of France”. During a short service, Walter read from the gospel, and as our piper played “The Flowers of the Forest, Henry Jordan, Enniskillen, laid a Poppy cross. Malachy Falls then sang the “Green Fields of France” being joined in the chorus each time by the rest of the group. The first proper memorial built on the Western front was the next stop for the group. After a guided “drive through” of the 36th (Ulster) Division’s area of responsibility on the 1st July 1916, the members stopped off at the Ulster Memorial Tower. After visiting the Tower and having a coffee or ice-cream in the adjoining café a service was held for the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division. After a gospel reading and prayers by Walter, the exhortation was pronounced by Julia Burnside, Donaghmore and as a lament was played, Derek McGuckin, Cookstown laid a Poppy wreath. Immediately after this service those members of the Orange Order held a service at the Orange International Memorial for all Orange men and women who gave their lives in the Great War. It was then under the guidance of Rocky Mallon, curator of the tower that the group went on a guided tour of the area, the highlight being the trenches in Thiepval Wood that were occupied by the 36th (Ulster) Division in winter of 1915 right up to the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. The day came to an end with Willie Davidson, Annahavil, visiting the grave of Pte Sandy Little, R Inn Fus, Sandholes and Joe and Myrtle Thompson visiting the grave of Pte Enoch Bowen, Tamnamore, also R Inn Fus. Both soldiers were Ulster Volunteers, both killed in action on the 1st July 1916 and both are buried in the Connaught cemetery.
Wednesday 11th Day 6

Wednesday began with a visit to the Ancre British Cemetery where various soldier’s graves were visited including that of L/Cpl George Chambers R Irish Fus and formerly of Sherrygroom. The small cemetery, Hamel Military Cemetery, was next port of call as Ian Scott visited the grave of 19 year old Pte T Chambers R Irish Fus. Pte Chambers lies in a row of eleven Armagh Volunteers, all killed on the 1st July 1916. During a short service, Jennifer Jordan pronounced the exhortation, and Ian laid a Poppy cross.
The group then travelled to the Newfoundland Memorial Park. Here the group had a guided tour with French Canadian guide James. To end the guided part of our tour, our Piper Trevor played, “The March of the 51st Highland Division” in tribute to the young Newfoundlanders who sacrificed their lives on the 1st July 1916. The Davidson families then paid a visit to lay a Poppy cross on the grave of another Lynn brother, this was for Sgt William Edward Lynn, Royal Irish Fusiliers, in Auchonvillers Military Cemetery.
The Thiepval Visitor Centre was the venue for our picnic and on the way some members stopped off to visit the Mill Road Cemetery. Here Ian Hayes, Cookstown and the Davidson cousins visited the graves of Cpl Isaac Black, formerly of Sandholes and Pte Hugh Taylor, Cookstown, both R Inn Fus and both killed on the 1st July 1916.
Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension was the next war cemetery to be visited. Here David and Sadie Murray visited the grave of Sgt Patrick J Weir, R Inn Fus and Tom Foster visited the grave of his uncle, Pte R Weir R Inn Fus. During a service, Walter read from the gospel, William Keatley, Magherafelt pronounced the exhortation and Tom laid a Poppy wreath as Trevor, our Piper, played a lament.
It was then on to the town of Albert and to the town’s Albert Communal Extension cemetery for Kathleen Price, Lisburn to visit the grave of her uncle, Pte GF Skelton, 10th Canadian Infantry, and formerly of Clones. In this cemetery, Brian Tohill visited the grave of a family relative, Pte JP Tohill, RASC. In a service for both soldiers, Walter read from the gospel and led in the prayers, Bobby Dickson, Cookstown pronounced the exhortation and as our Piper played a lament, Kathleen laid a Poppy wreath and Brian placed a Poppy Cross on their respective graves. It was then on to Pozieres cemetery and memorial where Dr F Kelly visited the memorial for his other uncle, Lt A G Dignan, South Irish Horse. Here during the service, Maurice Clements, Cookstown pronounced the exhortation and Dr Kelly placed a wreath as the Piper played the lament.
Thursday 12th Day 7

The site of “The Armistice“ at Compiegne was the first visit for Thursday morning. Here the members saw the replica of the railway carriage used to sign the Armistice that would bring the Great War to an end. I t was then on to the Australian Cemetery and Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, near Amiens.
The new Sir John Monash Visitor’s Centre was hailed by all as one of the best museums/interpretive centres on the “Western Front” area.
Last stop for the day was the huge crater caused by an explosion as a prelude to the opening of the Battle of the Somme, known as the “Lochnagar Crater” this privately owned site allows the visitor to realise the power of explosives. The charge of 66,000 lbs would leave a crater measuring 98ft deep and 330ft wide.
Friday 13th Day 7

Friday, the last day, would see the group travel by Boulogne-Sur-Mer for a visit for Lorraine Scott, Newtownhamilton, to the grave of Guardsman JW Preston Scots Guards, in Boulogne Eastern War Cemetery. Here after Walter spoke from the gospel, Bobby Dickson pronounced the exhortation and Lorraine laid a Poppy wreath as the Piper played a lament.
The final war cemetery visit was to Wimereux. Here the group gathered at the grave of LT Col John McCrae for a service to remember all the dead of the Great War. Walter spoke from the gospel and after the Lord’s Prayer, Glenda Rodgers-McCormick read Lt Col McCrae’s poem, “In Flander’s Fields”.
Jason Lamont, Cookstown laid a poppy cross during the playing of the lament by our piper Trevor.
Saturday 14th Epilogue

During the tour individuals traced and visited the graves/memorials to soldiers from their districts, as part of their research, these included Ray Hyslop, Larne and Dan and Glenda Rodgers, Bushmills.
It was then onto Zeebrugge via a stop off in Oostende, before catching the overnight ferry to Hull.
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