The two Conlig Lodges (Conlig Village Star LOL 696: and Johnston Memorial Lodge 862) have been holding a wreath Laying in the Somme Museum for a numberof years and invite the brethren of Bangor No18 and Newtownards No.4. The Ex servicemens lodge LOL1952 (Newtownards) generally bring theirbanner and lay thewreath. The band that lead us each year is the Johnston Memorial FluteBand (Conlig) and the buglers are from 1st Bangor Boys Brigade Company.The piper is Mr Stephen Beers who has preformed this service for us fora number of years now.On 1st July we will be joining the many thousands across the province in remembering those who have given their lives in the service of heir country and in particular those who died at the Battle of the Somme. But this evening (the Friday before the 1st July) we hold this event to remember especially the brethren of our Orange Institution who have paid the supreme sacrifice for our freedom, not just at the Somme but in many world conflicts, even within the last few months in Afghanistan.
Most people recognise the infantry attack by the British on the German lines on 1st July 1916 as the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. In reality the Battle of the Somme began 95 years ago on this date 24th June with the artillery bombardment to destroy the German trenches and barbed wire defences that lay between the British and the Germans.
It is estimated that 200,000 members of the Orange Institution Worldwide saw active service during the First World War, with approximately 80,000 of these coming from Canada alone.Orangemen in every part of the Empire enlisted in high numbers. In Scotland, it is estimated the 85% of he Orangemen eligible enlisted and on the other side of the world, Australian and New Zealand Brethren joined in large numbers to serve King and Country
On the outbreak of war, Sir James H. Stronge, Grand Master of Ireland, said “It is not for Orangemen to limit their patriotism to service on our shores or to wait until the law compels them to take up arms. It is for us to do our duty betimes and with a good will as citizens of a great united Empire, trusting God will deliver us from the dangers both foreign and domestic, by which we are now encompassed”.
The Ulster Volunteer Force, created to oppose any attempt to remove Ireland from the United Kingdom, responded to the call and as the 36th (Ulster) Division had many Orangemen within its ranks. But even before the 36th Division was formed, many Ulster Orangemen had already volunteered and joined the ranks of other British units.
The Grand Orange Lodge of England showed their commitment to the cause when in October 1916; they launched an Appeal Fund on behalf of a hospital ward for the exclusive use of Ulstermen and Orangemen at the Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital in Nottingham. The Duke of Portland officially opened the Ulster Recreation Hut and Orange Ward on 16th January 1917.
The Grand Orange Lodge of England also tried to cater for the Spiritual needs of the men at the Front by setting up a fund to supply Bibles to the troops and there is evidence of The Good Book literally saving a soldier’s life when he was shot – the bullet was stopped by the Bible inside his tunic.
The Orangemen wanted to continue with their Orange meetings at training Camps in England and applied to the Grand Orange Lodge of England who issued warrants to newly formed Military Lodges and in due course, as many as fifteen Lodges were holding meeting on the Western Front. Every opportunity was taken to further the Orange cause and the military Lodges lost no time in seeking out new candidates.
A report of the December 1915 Meeting of Young Citizens Volunteers L.O.L.871, meeting in the attic of a bomb damaged house, advised that there was a long list of candidates proposed. In many places along the front line, Lodges held meetings in any available building or if there was none, in the trenches. Meetings were eagerly anticipated and proved to be a great leveller amongst the men – where else would the situation have arisen where an Officer would have to address a Private as ” Worshipful Master”
One of the better known Military Lodge at the front was LOL 862. There are many photographs of this lodge in military uniform printed in books and literature regarding the Somme and the 36th Division.Occasionally I receive e-mails forwarded to me by Grand Lodge when individuals believe that their grandfather or Great Grandfather may have been a member of this lodge and are looking for information.
Grand Lodge forwarded these enquiries because LOL 862 (Johnston Memorial) is a lodge formed in 1908 and meets in Conlig under the jurisdiction of Bangor District No.18.Unfortunately the warrant 862 that they have discovered is one of the military warrants issued by the Grand Lodge of England.It was taken out by the East Belfast Volunteers and at the end of the war, this Lodge returned their warrant to the Grand Lodge of England and the members formed a new Lodge with a warrant from the Grand Lodge of Ireland.This new Lodge had in its ranks, many members of the Ulster Division who had fought in France and so was named 36th (Ulster) Division Memorial LOL 977 – this Lodge continues to this day.
The Boyne Anniversary at the front was first celebrated on 12th July 1915. Bro. George Sherwood a native of Belfast serving with the Canadian Army Service Corps tells the story.”We (the Canadians) all gathered together with a good many Ulstermen to celebrate the Battle of the Boyne. The procession started from “Shrapnel Square” and was headed by an old scout mounted on a white horse with its mane and tail plaited with Orange and Purple ribbon. Next came the fife and drums well decorated with Orange Lilies and “No Surrender” was painted on the flag we carried”
There are many reports of Orange celebrations taking place on the front, just as they would at home – on one occasion in December 1915, the South Antrim Volunteers LOL 863 celebrated the closing of the gates of Derry in 1688, by parading through a village complete with band, fireworks and two effigies of the traitor Lundy, which were promptly burned, to great cheers from the Brethren and onlookers
Many Lodges, both at the Front and back home, were decimated due to casualties sustained in the battle.
In Belfast, as a mark of respect, there was no Twelfth Demonstration that year, but the Grand Lodge of Ireland held a service in the Ulster Hall on 10th July, at which they passed the following resolution: “That we express our intense gratification at the heroism and self-sacrificing stand made by the Ulster Division in France. That we express our deep sympathy with those who have been bereaved and also with our gallant soldiers wounded and in hospital and we pray that the God of all grace may pour out His spirit of comfort on the multitude of sorrowing hearts”.
The First World War has been described as Orangeism’s greatest triumph and its greatest defeat: its greatest triumph in the number of Orangemen who fought in the war and its greatest defeat in the number of Orangemen who paid the supreme sacrifice. Frequently I have tried to place myself in the mind of one of the soldiers in the trenches at the Somme in those few minutes before the whistles blew on the morning of the 1st July 1916.I like to think that I would have acted with courage and honour as they did.
I am eternally grateful to those whose courage and valour at the Somme and in many other conflicts across the world has removed from before me the reality of having to validate that belief.In keeping with that commitment to “Remember Them”, I believe that it is of utmost importance that we take opportunities such as this evening remind ourselves and educate others of the cost of our freedom.To do that – I am pleased to introduce Mr Matthew Gamble – a member of the Somme Centre Staff who has kindly agreed to fill that role for us this evening.