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2,000 nationalists from Derry fought in trenches, McGuinness right to visit Somme, says filmmaker Gavin Patton

By Donna Deeney

Published 01/06/2016

Gavin Patton at graveyard for soldiers of Great Warof
Gavin Patton at graveyard for soldiers of Great Warof

The producer of a documentary that tells how thousands of Catholics from Londonderry fought for the British Army in the First World War has praised Martin McGuinness's decision to visit the Somme and Flanders.

Gavin Patton's film The Derry Story: Great War, Great Slaughter is his second collaboration with local historian Seamus Breslin and looks at the role played by almost 2,000 nationalists in the trenches 100 years ago.

"I will admit I really didn't know much at all about Derry men's involvement in the war," Mr Patton said. "It wasn't something that was talked about. A lot of my friends were surprised when I told them what the documentary was going to be about.

"This is a story that needs to be told. It has been kept quiet too long, and I think Martin McGuinness's visit to Belgium and France will encourage others to find out if they have relatives that fought in the war.

"Walking through the graveyards and seeing all the names so synonymous with Derry like McLaughlin, Doherty and Coyle is extremely moving.

"I came across the name Michael Patton in one graveyard, which is my own father's name, so of course I wondered if this Michael Patton was a relative."

In one cemetery there are 190 graves, 30 of them men from the Bogside, buried alongside a relative of PM David Cameron. Mr Patton added: "Making the film had a big effect on me. When I returned I looked at the War Memorial in a whole new light. This turns the history we were all told completely on its head."

The idea for the documentary came from Mr Breslin, who began researching the subject 20 years ago, when it was still taboo.

"I think from around the time of Bloody Sunday no Catholic from Derry would admit having any connection to the British Army," he said.

"When I began looking at this, I came under attack from extremists. There were republicans who gave me hassle, and there were loyalists who accused me of trying to steal their history.

"Thank God for people in the middle like the late David Ervine, who welcomed the interest.

"Up until recently it was the story of the Ulster Division that dominated history, but in Derry there were 1,600 men who joined the 16th (Irish) Division, and later more than 300 from the Bogside.

"They went to fight for Catholic France and Belgium

"In the documentary we show a statue of Our Lady created by a Parisian sculptor and paid for by the men from Derry, which is a memorial to the war dead no one in Derry knows about.

"In contrast to the way nationalists in Dublin and Belfast were treated when they returned from the war, the men who came back to Derry were well received.

"Some of their names are on the War Memorial at the Diamond, but it is only now that people are taking an interest. This is a story that until recently people did not want to hear."

  • The Derry Story: Great War, Great Slaughter by Gavin Patton and featuring Seamus Breslin is available on YouTube.

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