At the beginning of the battle, at exactly 3.10 a.m., nearly a million pounds of high explosive made the greatest earthquake ever in Northern Europe, accompanied by the mightiest crash made by humanity to that date. The 36th (Ulster) Division and the 16th (Irish) Divisions, who fought side by side, had studied the battle plan with great care, learning the lessons of the Somme.
At Guillemont and neighbouring Ginchy on the Somme, Redmond’s 16th (Irish) Division had lost heavily in the first ten days of September 1916 with casualties of 240 of its 435 officers and 4090 of 10410 other ranks among its infantry and engineer units. Two-thirds of these were wounded, another fifth missing, with the remaining 650 killed in action. Among the 9th Dublin Fusiliers were Private James Liddy of Amiens Street, a well known Dublin confectioner, as well as Ginchy’s best known casualty, Lieutenant Tom Michael Kettle.
During the time the 36th (Ulster) Division were engaged on the Somme, the 16th (Irish) Division had been in the Loos Sector, having served there since the previous December, and were waiting to be ordered to the south at any time, to join with their Ulster comrades.
It was not until early September that the 16th (Irish) Division went into action in the second phase of the Battle of the Somme, when they captured the villages of Ginchy and Guillemont. During the battle for Guillemont among the casualties sustained by the 16th (Irish) was one of John Redmond’s former Westminster colleagues, Professor T M Kettle MP, who lost his life in the first attack on the village.
Kettle had returned to his regiment from base, to where he had been ordered after suffering a bout of ill health during a short spell in the trenches. The view amongst his friends was that it was an achievement that he ever reached France due to his physical unfitness. Once he arrived it was common knowledge that nothing would deter him from staying out of any battles in which his regiment were engaged.
He foretold his own death, and on that day wrote a poem to his daughter; he also left a testament of his political views to be published after his death.
“Had I lived, I had meant to call my next book, on the relationship between Ireland and England, The Two Fools – A Comedy of Errors. It had needed all the folly of England and all the folly of Ireland to produce the situation in which our unhappy country is now involved. I have mixed much with Englishmen and with Protestant Ulstermen, and I know that there is no real or abiding reason for the gulls, saltier than the sea, that now dismember the natural alliance of both of them with us Irish Nationalists. It reads only a fait lux, of a kind very easily compassed, to replace the unnatural by the natural.
In the name, and by the seal, of the blood given in the last two years, I ask for Colonial Home Rule for Ireland – a thing essential in itself, and essential as a prologue to the reconstruction of the Empire, ULSTER WILL AGREE.
And I ask for the immediate withdrawal of Martial Law in Ireland, and an amnesty for all Sinn Fein prisoners. If this war has taught us anything, it is that great things can be done only in a great way.”
Kettle was only 36 years old at the time of his death. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Pier 16 Face C along with 434 other members of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.