Messines: The Road to the Ridge

The Road to The Ridge #Messines100

At the start of 1917, both the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) divisions were part of IX Corps in the British Second Army, commanded by General Plumer.
The year 1916 had seen two of the three Kitchener divisions raised in Ireland taking hammerings in the Battle of the Somme and other engagements on the Western Front.

Following the heavy losses, consideration was given to amalgamating the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) divisions due, in part, to insufficient reserves and a drop-off in enlistment in Ireland. There were political and military objections to this move and it was abandoned. However, the divisions still had to be brought up to strength and this was achieved by drafting in men from, primarily, English regiments and both divisions received companies from the Channel Isles, segregated, of course!

It is ironic that this decision resulted in both divisions losing their local identify during 1917.  This is apparent from a letter from Major Nugent to his wife dated 21st May 1917:

“I got a parcel of socks from Mrs Blackley in Cavan for the division but the scream of the matter is that Mrs Blackley sent them out through Lady MacDonald’s Committee instead of the Ulster one.” [Lady MacDonald’s Committee primarily provided comforts for the Irish Division.] “The dear ones of Ulster will become purple with indignation. The socks, of course, are contaminated and infected and unfit for an Ulsterman to wear, so I must give them to the Englishmen who compose nearly half of the ‘Ulster Division’!”

9th Royal Irish Fusiliers Football Team, Blacker’s Boys

Football matches were played throughout the war and the team from 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers had a particularly fine record – they played 39 games, winning 30, scoring 137 goals and conceding 26.  On 25th April 1917, they defeated the team from 6th Connaught Rangers by 2 goals to nil, following that victory with 5 nil wins over the 9th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on 5th May and  the 7th/8th Royal Irish Fusiliers on 12th May 1917.  A newspaper report on one of the inter-divisional matches recorded one wag from the 9th as saying “I wonder whether we will be disciplined for fraternising with the enemy”.  This was an allusion to the political origins of the two divisions … they probably kicked lumps out of each other during the games, but a few weeks later they would be on the same side taking lumps out of the German Army!

The Battle of Messines (7th to 14th June 1917) was a brilliantly planned and executed attack that resulted in the capture of the Wytschaete-Messines ridge south of Ypres, a feature that had given the British problems since 1914 and which was important to hold for future offensive operations in Flanders. It was one of the few successful stand-alone battles of the Great War.
As usual, the battle was preceded by several days of heavy bombardments and the detonating of 22 mines under German trenches – four of mines failed to detonate, one in the ground over which the 16th (Irish) Division was to attack. IX Corps attacked the ridge over a frontage of 6,400 yards, with the 16th (Irish) Division in the centre and flanked by the 19th (Western) Division on their left and the 36th (Ulster) Division on their right.

The 16th and 36th divisions captured the town of Wytschaete and the final consolidated line was, in places, 1000 yards beyond their final objectives – the “Black Line” from Lumm Farm on the map.

Private Jack Christie from the Shankill area of Belfast, who had been a member of the UVF, was a stretcher bearer and said this of his comrades in the 16th division, “We should not allow politics to blind us to the truth about things, bravery and loyalty is not all on one side. We had the greatest respect for the 16th, except for the odd hardliner, but great regard for the 16th”.

Another stretcher-bearer from the Ulster Division demonstrated that political allegiance had no place on the battlefield. Private John Meeke of the 11th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was awarded the Military Medal for rescuing Major Willie Redmond of the 16th Division – the Nationalist MP for East Clare, a member of Irish Volunteers and the brother of John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

Private Meeke, who had enlisted on 11th March 1916, was searching the battlefield for the wounded when he happened to see Major Redmond fall. Despite heavy machine-gun and artillery fire, Meeke made his way to Redmond’s position to render assistance, taking shelter in shell holes and other cover on the way. He arrived at the Major’s side without injury, and found him seriously wounded in the left knee and right arm at the elbow and weak from loss of blood. Meeke had one of the wounds dressed, and was working at the other, when a piece of shrapnel struck him on the left side, inflicting a serious wound. He was hit a second time but this did not deter him from his work, which he completed despite his injury. Meeke disobeyed a direct order from Major Redmond to leave him and struggled across the battlefield with his charge until he met up with Lieutenant Charles Paul and a party from the 11th Royal Irish Rifles who were escorting German prisoners to the rear. Together they got Major Redmond to the casualty clearing station located in the Catholic Hospice at Locre but he died later that afternoon.  John Meeke’s brother, Samuel, died of acute pulmonary tuberculosis on 19th January 1919, a fortnight after arriving home, and his grave in Derrykeighan Old Graveyard is marked by a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone.

John Meeke was discharged due to wounds on 23rd June 1919, aged 25, with Silver War Badge number 506596 and died on 7th December 1923, being buried close to Samuel, whose headstone records John’s death. More recently, a public subscription organised by Robert Thompson resulted in the erection of a headstone to record details of John Meeke’s act of heroism.

Battle of Messines fatalities

Whilst it is always difficult to accurately determine fatalities for a particular engagement or battle, the following are details of fatalities between 7th and 14th June 1917 where the men are buried or memorialised in Belgium. It does not include men who died of wounds in the days and weeks after the end of the battle and, whilst there were also men who died of wounds in France during the period of the battle (for example Second Lieutenant Brian Boyd MM of the 14th Royal Irish Rifles), they have not been included as it is not always possible to identify whether the wounds were incurred during the battle or preceding the battle.

British forces incurred 3,835 fatalities during the period of the battle, of which 383 (or 10%) came from the eight Irish infantry regiments, and Dominion forces suffered 2,075 fatalities. There would, undoubtedly, have been Irishmen and Ulstermen who died with the Dominion forces and with non-Irish regiments in the British Army.

Of the 383 fatalities from the Irish infantry regiments, 144 were from the 16th Division, 186 from the 36th Division, with the remaining 53 being from regular battalions of the Leinster Regiment (24th Division) and Royal Irish Rifles (25th Division).

For the 16th Division fatalities, 24 men were born in the province of Ulster, 56 were born in Great Britain, Guernsey and Malta, and 64 were born in other parts of Ireland – 39% of the fatalities were not born in Ireland.

For the 36th Division fatalities, 103 men were born in the province of Ulster, 66 were born in Great Britain, two were born in the United States of America, and 15 were born in other parts of Ireland – 36% of the fatalities were not born in Ulster.

For the 24th and 25th divisions, 15 men were born in the province of Ulster, 22 were born in other parts of Ireland, and 16 were born in Great Britain – 30% of the fatalities were not born in Ireland.

Of the 142 Ulster-born fatalities with Irish regiments,

    • 57 born in Belfast
    • 19 born in County Antrim
    • 18 born in County Down
    • 13 born in County Tyrone
    • 10 born in County Londonderry
    • 9 born in County Armagh
    • 8 born in County Donegal
    • 5 born in County Fermanagh
    • 3 born in County Cavan

     

    • 1 died serving with Connaught Rangers
    • 2 died serving with Leinster Regiment
    • 1 died serving with Machine Gun Corps
    • 3 died serving with Royal Dublin Fusiliers
    • 32 died serving with Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
    • 11 died serving with Royal Irish Fusiliers
    • 2 died serving with Royal Irish Regiment
    • 89 died serving with Royal Irish Rifles
    • 1 died serving with Royal Munster Fusiliers

     

    • 24 died serving with 16th (Irish) Division
    • 15 died serving with 24th and 25th divisions
    • 103 died serving with 36th (Ulster) Division

*Fatality statistics based on data held on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Soldiers Died in the Great War databases.
*Additional material from “Blacker’s Boys” by Nick Metcalfe and “Ulster will Fight – Volume 2” by David Truesdale (published for The Somme Museum)

By Nigel Henderson, History Hub Ulster member.

WW1 PHOTO RESTORATION PROJECT WINS HERITAGE LOTTERY FUND SUPPORT

Campbell College Belfast has received £90,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a major restoration and education project titled, The Men Behind the Glass.  Working alongside the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) and involving a cross-section of schools and communities throughout East Belfast, this project seeks to protect WW1 heritage held at the College and improve its interpretation by opening up the College archives for all.

In the Central Hall at Campbell College the photographs of 126 pupils and one member of staff who lost their lives in WW1 sit embedded in the wood panelled walls.  Deteriorating over time these images need to be preserved and digitally restored before they are lost forever.  ‘The Men Behind the Glass’ will seek to protect these images, whilst uncovering the real life stories behind these men.

PRONI will work with the College to preserve and safeguard this important collection of photographs and create digital copies that will allow the College maximise opportunities for public interaction with the images and the stories behind them.

Mr Robert Robinson, MBE, Headmaster at Campbell College commented, “We are delighted to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.  This initiative will open up our archive, utilising it as a tool for learning for the wider community.  It will bring these individual histories to life for every generation in East Belfast, discovering untold stories and keeping these stories alive for future generations.”

Mukesh Sharma, MBE, Committee Member for the Heritage Lottery Fund explains the importance of this project, “This is an exciting opportunity to open up the archives of Campbell College whose pupils played a key role in both WW1 and WW2.   It offers the chance to pay respect to those lives lost but also to involve the whole community – encouraging everyone to tell the stories behind not just these 126 men, but all the men from East Belfast who made the ultimate sacrifice in WW1.”

Crucial to this project will be the engagement with other schools and the wider community:

At Primary School Level a creative engagement initiative will be delivered in Schools throughout East Belfast;

At Secondary School Level a ’Teacher Resource Pack’ will be developed along with the provision of ten A-Level Internships open to pupils from all participating schools;

In collaboration with the Schools and the wider community a ‘Poetry Slam’ event will be delivered as part of the EastSide Arts Festival in 2018 and a collaborative ‘Story Telling Workshop’ co-ordinated with a German school with Young at Art Events.

These initiatives will be supported by a touring exhibition and an online forum all contributing to on-going learning and development as part of this project. In addition, the wider community will have opportunities to get involved with the research through a number of research workshops and sessions held at PRONI and at the College throughout the duration of the project.

 

CWGC Living Memory Project 2016

Nigel Henderson, a member of History Hub Ulster, has been involved in tidying up grave plots in Belfast City Cemetery where Great War fatalities are commemorated on family memorials.  Over time, Nigel noticed that weed re-growth had occurred at a number of plots that had been cleared of significant over-growth.

As a result, History Hub Ulster applied to the CWGC Living Memory project for funding to make plots more permanently presentable by removing the weeds/growth, laying down weed-suppressant membrane and then covering with a layer of woodbark.

Within the financial limitations of the funding, it was anticipated that six plots, all relating to men who died during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, could be treated – in the end, seven plots were treated.

History Hub Ulster regards this as a practical way of demonstrating remembrance.

Click here to read more about the memorials.

Lecture By Kate Adie on Women in the First World War

On Tuesday 6 September from 1pm-2pm the former BBC Chief News Correspondent Kate Adie will be visiting the Ulster Museum to give a FREE lecture on “Women and the Legacy of the First World War”. When the First World War broke out, and a generation of men went off to fight, women emerged from the shadows of their domestic lives. Becoming a visible force in public life, they began to take up essential roles – from transport to policing, munitions to sport, entertainment and even politics. The talk will chart the move towards equal rights with men that began a century ago and consider what these women achieved for future generations. Places can be booked online at http://nmni.com/um/What-s-on/Talks—Lectures/Lecture-by-Kate-Adie-on-Women—WW1.

 

Adie Lecture Poster

 

Appointment of Project Management Services for Somme 100

Befast Somme 100 long logo poppy

Request for Project Management Services for Somme 100

Following the recent decision by Belfast City Council to fund History Hub Ulster’s proposal for Somme 100 events across Belfast, History Hub Ulster is requesting tender proposals from individuals or companies to manage the day to day running of the project.

Please note that we will accept proposals from individuals, partnerships and companies.  Download full tender request here.

Somme 100 will produce a programme of commemorative events for the 100th anniversary of the Somme, and its place within 1916 events during the First World War.

Project Management will be required from April – December 2016.

Fee works out at £24,000 – £28,000 Pro rata. Closes 16th March 2016.

The project’s guiding principles are:

Reflect the importance of global connections as well as local relevance

Contemporary methods of production

Community based and shared space events

Collaboration

Partnership across the city

Inclusion, access and diversity

The programme will work towards outcomes of Equality, Good Relations and Mutual Understanding. 

History Hub Ulster with the input of an advisory panel will remain responsible for the creation of the programme content with the Project Manager co-ordinating and delivering the programme outputs and providing end of programme evaluation.

The successful company/ indvidual (s) will work closely with the History Hub Ulster team and therefore must have proven experience in collaborative working. 

The successful applicant will ideally be able to commence work immediately. History Hub Ulster reserve the right to extend this contract depending on funding and in consultation with the appointee.

Download full Tender request here.

HMS CAROLINE TO OPEN JUNE 1 2016. SIX MONTHS TO GO!

The count-down has begun for the opening of one of the world’s most historically significant war ships. Urgent repairs to halt the deterioration of World War One light cruiser HMS Caroline were completed earlier this year making the ship safe for the next stage of restoration. Now the final leg of restoration and interpretative work can be completed to allow the ship to function as a world-class museum, a cross-community centre and a meetings and conferences venue.

National Museum of the Royal Navy Chief of Staff Captain John Rees OBE has been leading the complex funding and restoration programme in partnership with the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. He says: “HMS Caroline is a living legend. We are breathing new life into what is an internationally significant piece of world history. We are particularly looking forward to the ship being ready for public opening on June 1 2016. This will mark the first stage of a series of phased openings. The second and third phases will see the ship dry docked for hull conservation works in the winter and then the completion of onshore facilities.

“This is a world class heritage asset and the only ship remaining from the Grand and High Seas Fleet of some 250 vessels.  We must not underestimate the value of this ship and the resonance of its history and position in Northern Ireland, so it is a matter of pride for us as well as a contribution to local communities that the ship is brought back to life as a museum, visitor and community centre.”

Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell says: “As the last floating survivor of the Battle of Jutland, HMS Caroline is an integral part of the rich tapestry of maritime history at Titanic Quarter. I have no doubt it will prove to be a popular draw for tourists when it opens as a world class museum in six months’ time.”

The vessel has been based in Northern Ireland for over 90 years and has undergone the first stages of restoration which will eventually see it opened to the public as a world class museum and heritage visitor attraction. The opening date is due to coincide with the centenary of the Battle of Jutland on May 31 2016.

NMRN in a joint venture with Northern Ireland’s Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment initially secured £1m from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to safeguard the ship, £11.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £2.7m from the Northern Ireland Government to complete the restoration, preservation and interpretative work.

COMMEMORATION OF THE IRISH SAILOR

31st May 2016, the Centenary of the Battle of Jutland, is the chosen date to mark the contribution of all involved in war and life at sea 1914 – 1918 with a Commemoration to the Irish Sailor in the Great War.  The event will be run in Belfast next to Jutland’s only afloat survivor, HMS Caroline, and will include her official opening as a heritage visitor attraction.  The commemoration will connect people in maritime activity a hundred years ago with descendants, and to those engaged in similar activity today.

If you have links to sailors, fishing, shipbuilding or other maritime activity from 1914-18 and wish to be involved, please see here:  http://historyhubulster.co.uk/irishsailor/

HMS CAROLINE Project Phasing

The project is split into three distinct phases as outlined below:

PHASE 1The Ship: These works comprise of asbestos removal, ship adaptation, audio visual hardware and software and exhibition fit-out and interpretation fit-out.

PHASE 2Dry Docking: of the ship for conservation works to the hull

PHASE 3Visitor Centre & Landscaping: refurbishment works to the Pump House blocks 1-3 including the Alexandra dock

Schedule of opening

2016

May 31: Commemoration of The Irish Sailor. Centenary of Battle of Jutland ceremonies and events at Alexandra Dock.

June 1: HMS Caroline welcomes its first public visitors.

August: Landscaping of Alexandra Dock complete.

November:  HMS Caroline leaves Alexandra Dock for dry dock inspection and hull conservation works.

December: HMS Caroline returns to Alexandra Dock and new position close to Pump House and facing out to sea.

2017

May: Completion of Pump House restoration and installation of permanent ticketing office and visitor welcome centre.

caroline pic

Living Memory Pilot Project 2015

History Hub Ulster is honoured to have been invited to participate in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Living Memory Pilot Project 2015 and has created a short video based on the War Graves and memorials in Belfast City Cemetery as part of this project.  The video will be shown at a presentation of the Castleton Lanterns in Alexandra Presbyterian Church, Belfast at 2:00pm on Saturday 14th November 2015.

Those featured are:

Typist Sarah Rachel Orr (Sadie) Hale, Mercantile Marine (SS Lusitania)

Sergeant Thomas Samuel Telford, Machine Gun Corps (Motors)

Private David Lumsden Newel, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)

Company Serjeant Major George Frank Newel, Royal Irish Rifles

Lance Corporal Walter Newel, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)

Rifleman Hugh Joseph Thompson, Royal Ulster Rifles

Private Thomas Clulow, South Lancashire Regiment

Air Mechanic 3rd Class Albert Edward Campbell, Royal Air Force

Private Charles Banford, Royal Marine Light Infantry

Trimmer William Edwin Gleave, Mercantile Marine (SS Celtic)

Greaser Robert Bodie, Mercantile Marine (SS Celtic)

Fireman George Richardson, Mercantile Marine (SS Celtic)

Fireman Samuel Routledge, Mercantile Marine (SS Celtic)

Steward Charles Jeffers, Mercantile Marine (SS Celtic)

4th Engineer Stanley MacDonald, Mercantile Marine (SS Celtic)

Sergeant Charles William Evans, Royal Air Force

Lieutenant John Alan Schwarz, Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (HMS Whitaker)

Signalman Lyn Edgar Landon Relf, Royal Navy (HMS Sarawak)

Sapper James Orr, Royal Engineers

Communities Secretary Greg Clark launched ‘The Living Memory Project’, designed to remind people of the 300,000 war graves and memorials in the UK. Many of these memorials lie in forgotten corners of graveyards; the Living Memory initiative is designed to aid their rediscovery.

Communities Secretary Greg Clark said:

“This year, of course, we’ve continued to mark the First World War’s centenary with a focus on the battlefields of Northern France, Belgium and Turkey. But we should take time to remember the brave men buried and commemorated here in the UK too. We owe our gratitude to those men, from across the Commonwealth as well as from the British Isles, who made the ultimate sacrifice during the First and Second World Wars. Paying respects at the war graves of Belgium or France is a life-changing experience, but the final resting places and memorials of thousands of brave men can also be found, not far from your home, in 13,000 locations across the British Isles. The Living Memory Project is a fitting way to pay tribute to that sacrifice and to learn about our shared history. I’d encourage people to get involved, and discover how they can pay their own tribute.”

The Living Memory Project, part-funded by the Government, is working with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and thirty-six local groups around the country to create remembrance events at local war memorials.

Thirty-six groups will work with the CWGC to re-discover war graves, pay respect to the war dead, and share their research with the wider community. “We should make a positive decision to remember these brave people,” said Mr Clark. “They may have died long before we were born, but they died that we could be free. Their sacrifice should inspire all of us.” 

The initiative will continue long after this fortnight of activity, with all communities urged to remember these hidden war heroes annually – creating a thread of memory and shared history long into the future.

CWGC Director of External Relations, Colin Kerr, said: “The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s work overseas is well known, but here in the United Kingdom there is little awareness of the graves to be found in a staggering 13,000 locations, that commemorate over 300,000 Commonwealth dead of the two world wars.

“We believe that this is wrong, and through the Living Memory Project aim to reconnect the British public to the commemorative heritage on their doorstep. With the support of DCLG, the Living Memory Pilot will encourage more people to discover and visit CWGC war grave sites in the British Isles, to remember the war dead in those places from the First and Second World Wars and to share and raise awareness of these 300,000 commemorations with their wider communities.  The aim is to roll the programme out nationwide in 2016 as part of the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the Somme campaign.”

The project has been devised in partnership with community engagement specialists, Big Ideas Company www.bigideascompany.org.

Chief Executive Virginia Crompton said: “We are proud to be contributing to such a meaningful project supporting people across the UK to discover their local war graves.”

North Belfast Remembers Job Opportunities

We are looking for three people to help with our project North Belfast Remembers. Application details at the bottom of the page.

Project:

A series of arts and heritage based events aiming to connect the local community with the Decade of Centenaries and the First World War.  It aims to engage the community with their local history and begin a dialogue about the place of remembrance in today’s society. It provides an opportunity for intergenerational storytelling aiming to enable older people and children to understand the importance of each other in the community.

NORTH BELFAST REMEMBERS PROJECT MANAGER

December 2015 – March 2016 (78 hours total / £12 per hour / Freelance)

Roughly 4 hours per week, rising to 8 hours per week in March 2016.

Role:

Project Management of 10 research workshops, 5 art workshops and a final larger scale event in March 2016

Essential:

3 years project management experience / an interest in history / ability to work to own timetable and within budget / time management skills /Ability to engage with all members of our community

Desirable:

Experience having worked with older people and children / knowledge of North Belfast particularly BT14 / BT15

_______________________________________________________________________________

NORTH BELFAST REMEMBERS ARTIST

5 x 60 mins children’s workshops in February and March 2016 (plus 5 x 60 mins prep time)

 (10 hours total / £30 per hour / Freelance)

Brief:

Artist for 5 arts workshops of 20 children each, aged 8 – 12 years old in community venues in North Belfast. The brief will be discussed in more detail with the chosen artist, but will involve decorating glass bottles.

Essential:

3 years arts experience / an interest in history / ability to work to own timetable and within budget / /Ability to engage with all members of our community / Experience working with children

Desirable:

Knowledge of North Belfast particularly BT14 / BT15

________________________________________________________________________________

NORTH BELFAST REMEMBERS RESEARCHER

December 2015  (20 hours research / £12 per hour / Freelance)

January – February 2016  (20 hours workshop delivery/ £12 per hour / Freelance)

Role:

Research of ww1 servicemen from North Belfast and delivery of 10 x 90 minute research workshops for older people in community venues in North Belfast. (plus 10 x 30 min prep time)

Essential:

3 years research experience / an interest in history / ability to work to own timetable and within budget / time management skills / ability to engage with all members of our community

Desirable:

Experience having worked with older people / knowledge of North Belfast particularly BT14 / BT15

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Applications:

Please send cover letter and CV to research@historyhubulster.co.uk

Closing Date: Wednesday 25th November 2015

 

 

Please note this email is not monitored daily and we cannot acknowledge every application.

Belfast City Council 2015 (Master) CRC logo