Exhibition hopes to breathe life into images of fallen heroes
In April 2013, a box of old lantern slides was found in the organ loft of Alexandra Presbyterian Church. The images were of soldiers and sailors in First World War uniforms and were made by the famous Belfast photographer Mr Alex. R. Hogg.
The committee minutes of Castleton Church state that in 1918 Mr Hogg was asked to put together a lantern slide exhibition "of our men at the front which was to be shown on December 16, 1918. Tickets for the lantern slide show were sent to the families of serving men.
The slides were not named and Alexandra Presbyterian Church have been attempting to identify the men in the slides.
To date, over 20 men have been identified but there are many more faces to put names to.
Red Barn Gallery have stepped in to help the project attract a wider audience, to enable the families to see their ancestors' images and to ask the people of Belfast to visit to aid in the identification of the men.
The importance of finding the families of the men is demonstrated by some of the stories being told. One such story is of Francis Ernest McCann and James McCann. Francis served in the Royal Army Medical Corps and James served in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. On July 1, 1916 (known as The Somme), Lance Corporal James McCann was killed.
James is commemorated at Thiepval Memorial and his photo was listed in the Belfast Telegraph when he died. This enabled the identification of James as Slide Number 58.
David Morrow, a reader of the Castleton Lanterns blog got in touch with the Lanterns project to say that that these men were his relatives and was able to identify Francis Ernest McCann as Slide Number 5 and provide a photo to confirm. Francis was married in 1916 to Sarah Baird Crossan, survived the war and went on to have children. He died in 1937 of cardiac failure having suffered from bronchial problems as a result of being gassed in the trenches.
During the Belfast Blitz of April 1941, Francis' wife Sarah and two of their daughters were sadly killed in Glasgow Street. One daughter survives today. David was also able to confirm that Slide Number 58 was James McCann as suggested, evidenced by his treasured family photos.
Karen O'Rawe, Project Manager of Castleton Lanterns said: "The example of James Magill, Francis Ernest McCann and James McCann demonstrate just how closely connected all the Castleton Lanterns men were. They were brothers, best friends, pals and colleagues.
"It's important to find their stories and tell them, to understand their lives and remember them, coming up to the anniversary of the start of the Great War. It is sad to hear the stories of those who were lost or wounded beside those who lived and flourished and I'm sure the families who gathered to watch the lantern slide show in 1918 must have felt something similar."
"We are asking everyone who had relatives around the York Road at the time to visit the exhibition, and to log on to our website at castletonlanterns.co.uk. We have a list of all the men on the Roll of Honour for Castleton listed and you may find that your family member is pictured. We'd love to hear your stories and see your family photos.
"It is easy to forget how much these families gave up, how a whole generation of young men was lost and how much the community needs to remember not only the sacrifice of those
who died, but also the sacrifice of those who lived. The attempt to identify the men, their stories and their families is a way of shining a light on their lives.
"With no remaining veterans of the Great War, it is especially important that these faces do not become numbers or statistics. These men have names, families, memories and experiences that with research and your help, we will be able to record for generations to come."
Frankie Quinn, Director, Red Barn Gallery said "The Red Barn Gallery is delighted to be involved in this important historical project. This project compliments our aim to inspire and educate through exhibitions, projects and workshops with the objective of encouraging the appreciation of photography in Belfast.
We have a particular interest in "Shoebox Archives", photographs of people, places and events which have sat unseen for years. This recently unearthed treasure is an important part of our shared history and a must see for anyone with an interest in the history of our city."
The exhibition launches on Thursday 3rd October 6pm – 9pm, and runs until Friday 15th November, at Red Barn Gallery, 43b Rosemary Street, Belfast.