Somme Memories

Thomas Alexander Ervine, born 14th July, 1895….36th (Ulster) Division
“We had a football team and I unfortunately had to keep the ball all the time, although it wasn’t easy to carry it about with you. Our sleeping quarters were everywhere and any wee corner you could get into. We got this old barn one time and I was sleeping in the hay-loft and the other men were all down below. And here didn’t the rats scrape and scrape and nearly drive me up the walls. I had to get up in the middle of the night, and I threw the ball at them, and it bounced from one man to another, and they called me for everything for throwing it down. But the blinking rats were driving me up the walls, they were terrible!
Before the Battle of the Somme I captured a German: well, I didn’t capture him as he came up to me with his hands up. And some of the men- like, all you could see was the tops of their heads looking up over the trench-well, anyway, they were shouting at me: “Shoot him, Tommy, shoot him!” But I didn’t like to shoot a man in cold blood, it wouldn’t have been right anyway. So I took him down a hill and searched him at the bottom, but he had nothing on him- we got word at one time that the Germans had been using daggers. I don’t believe it though, because I don’t think the Germans were really bad people or wicked in any way, as far as I could see. So I walked him along to where the reserves were coming up and I told him to go on down there, and he walked down the hill with his hands up, and that was the last I saw of him.
I went back to my own battalion as the attack had opened up (1st July 1916), and I went in with them. I didn’t get very far until someone fired a gun and hit me in the leg. I fired back at him and hit him in the face, and I could see the blood running out of his face, in gushes like, coming out of his cheek. He was a nice looking young man , but he was a sniper, and if I hadn’t got him God knows how many people he would have killed before we would have got him.

Anyway I was still able to walk and I went down into the trench. I only got a few yards when a shell burst above my head and I was all shrapnel in my shoulders and my back; my arms had pieces of shrapnel everywhere, so I went out for the count right there. When I wakened up on the 4th of July I was in Colchester hospital. I don’t remember how I got from France to England.

When I wakened up I saw two nurses standing looking at me and they laughed and one of them says ” there’s a wee souvenir for you”- it was two wee bags made out of pieces of lint and they were filled with wee pieces of shrapnel and a bullet that was taken out of me.”

Tommy Jordan, born 20th May,1898- 36th (Ulster) Division
“I remember we were running up the trenches, and on the way here’s this fellow lying at his machine gun, tired looking. As I looked at this gunner I recognised him. I used to carry the goods home for my mother at the weekends, and Mr O’Hagan,who owned the grocer’s shop where my mother dealt in, had this display, a biscuit cabinet. And Mr O’Hagan used to say to this bloke “Austin, tidy up those broken biscuits, please.” So when I was running past him I shouted ” Austin, tidy up those broken biscuits, please.” He shouted “Who said that!” We had to move on but it was rather funny, with everyone asking me what it was I said to him. When I met him going to work years later, he says, “Do you know I thought I was going crackers then.”
I remember too we were in a village close to the men of the 16th (Irish) Division, and a lot of Australians. This Australian, a great fella, but very overbearing…anyway, something happened and there was a row between some of our people and these Australians. How the Irish Brigade got word of it nobody knew, but they came down and beat up the Australians. Now I saw fellas, fellas arm in arm afterwards, fellas of the 11th Inniskillings with their orange and purple patches, and the other fellas with their great big green patch on their arms…

John Spencer tells this story: There was a halt in the marching, and he was hanging over this gatewaywhen down comes a nun. John says,”Bonjour Madamoiselle”, and she replies ” What are you blethering about?”. I think she was from Kilkenny, but what on earth she was doing there we couldn’t imagine. She was a lovely girl and John talked about it with great gusto. Oh yes, it was his pet story.

There were lots of funny things as well as terrible things. Yes, some things do distress me. Now when you first came to interview me, things kept poppin’ up on me, I couldn’t sleep for weeks, things just came back. People ask me how I remember the names of all those villages, but I can’t forget it.. I belong to the Methodist Church, the little church in Ballynafeigh. I lay the wreath on Armistice Day. I think there were eighteen names on that hall table there: I knew every one, and when it comes up it bothers me. I just hate that time of year, it brings things up.”

Somme Commemoration: Chairman’s Welcome, Ulster Tower, Thiepval, 1st July 2013

On this day, 1st July 1916, 96 years ago, at the commencement of the Battle of the Somme, the men of the famous 36th (Ulster) Division advanced out of Thiepval Wood towards this point on the Schwaben Redoubt and on reaching here, passed into the pages of history, legend and high renown. This advance, when they sustained 5,500 casualties, under continuous fire, is for us the most memorable single episode of the First World War.

This memorial, erected on this sacred site by public subscription, raised in the North of Ireland, was modelled on Helen’s Tower at Clandeboye, near Bangor,where the 36th (Ulster) Division trained.

In Helen’s Tower at Clandeboye there is inscribed in letters of gold a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, of which the first four lines have been slightly altered in the memorial room in this Ulster tower to serve as a fitting tribute to the sons of Ulster who fell here.

Helen’s Tower here I stand
Dominant over sea and land;
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Ulster’s love in lettered gold.

And so we have come with the Somme Association to visit Thiepval once more and to walk again in the gardens of Valhalla so lovingly cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. On this sacred day we commemorate the sacrifice of our loved ones who died for freedom. We do not seek to glorify war but rather to see that it does not happen again.

Monsieur le Secretaire d’Etat pour Irlande du Nord, Monsieur le  Ministre d’Etat d’Irlande du Nord Jonathan Bell, Monsieur le Ministre d’Etat irlandais Dinny McGinley, Monsieur le Prefet de la Somme et Peronne et toutes les autres personalites ici aujourdhui,
 En ce même jour, le premier juillet mille neuf cent seize, au début de la bataille de la Somme, les hommes de la fameuse trente-sixièmer sortirent du bois de Thiepval pour rejoindre ce point sur la Redoute de Schwaben, s’inscrivant ainsi dans les pages de l’histoire, de la légende et de la renommée. Cette avancée, sous un feu continu, qui leur coûta cinq mille cinq cent morts et blessés, est pour nous l’épisode le plus mémorable de la première Guerre Mondiale et représente une des démonstrations de courage les plus remarquables dans l’histoire de l’humanité. D’un courage tout aussi grand étaient les hommes de la seizième division irlandaise qui se battirent à Guillemont et Ginchy en septembre de la même année.
Ce mémorial, élevé sur ce site sacré grâce à une souscription dans le Nord de l’Ireland, a pris pour modèle la tour d’Hélène à Clandeboye, pres de Bangor, où s’entraîna la trente-sixiéme Division de l’Ulster.Sur la tour à Clandeboye est inscrite en lettres d’or un poème de Tennyson dont les quatre premiers vers ont été adaptés légèrement en hommage aux fils d’Ulster tombés ici. Ainsi peut-on lire à l’intérieur de cette Tour d’Ulster:
Me voici, la Tour d’Hélène
Qui domine terre et mer
Construite par l’amour d’un fils
J’abrite en lettres d’or l’amour d’Ulster.

En ce jour sacré nous commémorons le sacrifice de ces héros tombés pour la liberté. Nous ne cherchons pas seulement à les glorifier, mais à veiller à ce que un tel désastre ne se reproduise plus jamais.

To the people of France we say:-

“People of France, mother of nations, we thank you for your generosity and kindness to these our children who rest now in peace in the most beautiful gardens on earth. We pray that their sacrifice will not be in vain and that there will be no more war and that the peoples of Europe will walk together in mutual forgiveness, understanding and respect until the end of the world”.

Au people de France nous disons:-

“Peuple de France, mére des nations, nous vous remercions de votre générosité pour nos enfants qui reposent en paix dans les jardins les plus beaux du monde. Nous prions pour que leur sacrifice n’ait pas été vain, pour qu’il n’y ait plus de guerre, et pour que les peuples d’Europe puissent marcher ensemble et se pardonner, se comprendre et se respecter mutuellement jusqu à la fin des temps”.

Zu den Franzosen sagen wir:-

Bevölkerung von Frankreich, Mutter von Nationen, wir danken Ihnen für Ihre Grosszügigkeit und Freundlichkeit für unsere Kinder, die in diesen schönen Gärten in Frieden ruhen. Wir beten, dass das Opfer unserer Kinder nicht umsonst gewesen ist und dass es zu keinem weiteren Krieg mehr kommen wird, dass die Völker Europas in Vergebung, Verständnis und Respekt miteinander in die Zukunft gehen können.

To the sons of Ulster and Soldiers of Ireland we say:-

“Sons of Ulster, Soldiers of Ireland do not be anxious. The war is over – both here and in you beloved Ireland. The Western Front is no more and Ireland at last is at peace with herself and with her people. We will always remember you, so long as the sun shines and the rain falls and the wind blows and the great river Somme runs gently to the sea”.

Innui, deir muid le fir Uladh agus le fir na hÉireann:-

“A Fheara Uladh agus a Shaighdiúirí na hÉireann, ná biodh imni oraibh. Tá an Cogadh thart – ní amháin san áit seo, ach in bhur dtír dhílis féin in Éirinn. Níl an Fronta Thiar ann níos mó, agus, so deireadh, tá tír na hÉireann faoi shíocháin léi féin agus len a pobal. Ach chomh fada is a shoilsíonn an ghrian, agus a thiteann an fhearthainn, agus a shéideann an ghaoth, agus chomh fada is a théann abhainn mhór an Somme go caoin chun na farraige, bedh cuimhne againn araibh go deo”.

And in honour of the brave American and Canadian soldiers who also fought here, I speak in Lakota (Oglala Sioux), the Hymn of the Warriors

Ho Tunkasila Wakan Tanka
Oyate oyasin unsiwicalapo na owicakiyapo
Nahan waci wicasi na waci winyan wopila tanka
Nahan oyate oyasin canku luta ognamani owicakiyapo
Lecel wacin ho hecel lena, oyate kin nipi kte.
Mitakuye Oyasin

Which in Wasicu(English) is

Grandfather Great Spirit, Almighty God,

Have pity on and help all the People
Many Thanks for the Performers, male and female,
Help all the People to walk the Red Road of Peace
This I ask so that the People will prosper
You are all my relatives

The Somme Association would like to thank The Band of The Royal Irish Regiment(TA); The 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment;Rossen Platoon, 4th Battalion The Royal Welsh, (Clwyd AFC) and especially The Rev Martin Smyth.

Thank you..

Somme Commemoration: Chairman’s welcome, 16th (Irish) Divrision Memorial Cross, Guillemont, 1st July 2013.

MONSIEUR LE MAIRE

DE LA PART DE L’ASSOCIATION DE LA SOMME, JE TIENS À VOUS REMERCIER DE VOTRE ACCUEIL AUJOURD’HUI A GUILLEMONT AINSI QUE DE L’HOSPITALITÉ GENEREUSE QUE VOUS NOUS AVEZ OFFERTE. NOS AMIS FRANCAIS NOUS HONORENT TOUJOURS ET NOUS SOMMES CONSCIENTS DU FAIT QUE LES FILS D’ULSTER ET D’IRLANDE QUI REPOSENT EN PAIX ICI SONT DEVENUS PLUS QUE DES FILS D’ULSTER ET D’IRLANDE. CE SONT MAINTENANT DES FILS DE LA FRANCE.

Here at Guillemont and neighbouring Ginchy, Redmond’s 16th (Irish) Division  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 9thDublin Fusillers were Private James Liddy of Amiens Street, a well known Dublin confectioner, as well as Ginchy’s best known casualty, Lieutenant Tom Kettle.

(A memorial to Tom Kettle by Francis W. Doyle-Jones stands in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin.  It quotes lines from a sonnet he penned to his daughter shortly before his death (‘To My Daughter Betty’):

Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
Died not for the flag, nor King, nor Emperor,
But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
And for the secret Scripture of the poor.)

On 31st July 1917, during the third battle of Ypres, Francis Ledwidge of the Royal Inniskilling Fusilliers was engaged in road making with many others when he was blown to bits with six other soldiers by a German shell. He had fought everywhere from Suvia Bay in the Dardanelles to Serbia to France and Belgium. But he was killed suddenly and almost by accident drinking tea with his friends. Born the son of an immigrant farm labourer in 1897, Ledwidge claimed the noble heritage of the dispossessed Irish peasantry. While he wrote ardently of nature and the pastoral grandeur of his native Boyne Valley, his short life – as a local political representative, an activist of the Irish Volunteers – was a passionate testimony on human rights. Although he is best known for his moving tribute to Thomas MacDonagh, Ledwidge himself was fighting in France during the 1916 rising. “I joined the British Army” he said, “because she stood between Ireland and an enemy to our civilisation, and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions.”

The poetry of Francis Ledwidge evokes an Ireland of traditional nostalgia. But Seamus Heaney had said of Ledwidge that his fate was more complex and more modern, his moral courage alone gave him “membership in the company of the walking wounded, wherever they are to be found at any given time.” He was buried, No 5, in row B of the second plot in Artillery Wood Cemetery, about 3 miles North of Ypres in Belgium, and has joined the ranks of such fellow poets as Wilfrid Owen, Julian Grenfell, Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon.

As a tribute to these fellow poets who fought and died in the Great War, known and unknown, let me read one of his last poems:

After the War 

Now is the story over

Over the grief and pain

And down in the purple clover

The red lips meet again

 

But one in the dewy shadows

Waited through all the noon

And they told her out of the meadows

Someone was coming home

 

Some lips spoke of tomorrow

And someone of yesterday spoke

But O! the heart in sorrow

On the rocks of trouble broke

 

I longed for to sing delighted

And laugh with the newly gay

But a gloom on my soul alighted

And would not go away.

To the sons of Ulster and Soldiers of Ireland we say:-

“Sons of Ulster, Soldiers of Ireland do not be anxious. The war is over – both here and in your beloved Ireland. The Western Front is no more and Ireland at last is at peace with herself and with her people. We will always remember you, so long as the sun shines and the rain falls and the wind blows and the great river Somme runs gently to the sea”.

Innui, deir muid le fir Uladh agus le fir na hÉireann:-

“A Fheara Uladh agus a Shaighdiúirí na hÉireann, ná biodh imni oraibh. Tá an Cogadh thart – ní amháin san áit seo, ach in bhur dtír dhílis féin in Éirinn. Níl an Fronta Thiar ann níos mó, agus, so deireadh, tá tír na hÉireann faoi shíocháin léi féin agus len a pobal. Ach chomh fada is a shoilsíonn an ghrian, agus a thiteann an fhearthainn, agus a shéideann an ghaoth, agus chomh fada is a théann abhainn mhór an Somme go caoin chun na farraige, bedh cuimhne againn araibh go deo”.

 

Special branch for Somme man

A fine sycamore towers in the front garden of a small house in the Donegal village of Gortahork.

People can’t remember a time when it wasn’t there.

Before he travelled to France last weekend for the Battle of the Somme commemorations, Minister for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley heard the poignant story of this stately tree. Dinny was visiting his old friend Paddy McGowan who told him about his uncle who left Gortahork in 1914 to join the British army. On the morning before he departed, 18-year-old John McGowan planted a sycamore sapling as a reminder to his family to keep him in their thoughts.

The young Donegal man was first sent to the Dardanelles, where he sustained a hand injury. After recuperating, he was transferred to the Somme, never to return home.

But the tree he planted now soars above the garden, 99 years after he planted it.

When Dinny told Paddy he would be representing the Government at the commemorations, his friend asked him to try and locate Uncle John’s final resting place. “Will you take a branch of the tree with you, and if you find him will you place it on his grave?”

Dinny was happy to oblige. Which is how it came to pass that the Minister of State travelled to France accompanied by the special branch.

Last Sunday, in the company of Niall Leinster of the Somme Association, Dinny travelled north to Étaples Military Cemetery in Pas de Calais. There, after a little searching, they found the grave of “5169 Private J McGowan, Royal Munster Fusilier”. He died on August 2nd, 1916. Dinny described the emotional moment when he stood at the headstone.

“I said: ‘Hello John, I bring you greetings from your nephew Paddy, who is now 90 years of age. Even though he never knew you, he has fond memories of you through all the stories he heard down through the years. They never forgot you. Paddy told me to be sure and tell you that the tree you planted the morning before you left is in full bloom and covers more than half the garden. It’s one of the finest trees in all of Gortahork and the surrounding area. And I’m falling down on my two knees now and bringing you a branch of your own sycamore tree’.”

Then Dinny said a silent prayer and laid it by the headstone – John McGowan’s final bough. And he left the grave of Paddy’s uncle from Gortahork with these parting words: “Codladh sámh i measc na laoch go raibh agat a John.” (Sleep peacefully among the warriors, John)

THE IRISH TIMES

Miriam Lord

Saturday, 6 July, 2013.

 

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