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Legion members starting 100-mile march in memory of Somme victims

By Cate McCurry

Published 25/06/2016

Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston and Suzanne Wylie, chief executive of Belfast council, watch as the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester sign the visitors’ book at the City Hall yesterday. The royal couple were guests at a civic dinner to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme
Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston and Suzanne Wylie, chief executive of Belfast council, watch as the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester sign the visitors’ book at the City Hall yesterday. The royal couple were guests at a civic dinner to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme
Colin Ward

Royal British Legion members and supporters will be embarking on a 100-mile march tomorrow to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

The group from Dromore, Co Down, is using the event to raise funds for the Northern Ireland Poppy Appeal and Macmillan Cancer Support, as well as to commemorate the tens of thousands of lives lost in one of the most important battles of World War One.

The idea to march 100 miles - one mile for every year since the battle - across northern France started life as a throwaway remark by Dromore branch standard bearer Colin Ward, but was quickly taken up by others.

Colin and branch chairman Adrian Hawthorne are heading up the group of seven walkers, who will set off from Boulogne Harbour and make the five-day journey to the Ulster Tower at Thiepval.

The Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest of World War One. Fighting began on July 1, 1916, and lasted for 141 days. In total, 60 nations from the British Empire and Europe were involved in the fighting across a 25km front. When the offensive came to a halt on November 18, 1916, the Somme had claimed a million casualties - 430,000 from Commonwealth countries.

Last night, members of the Dromore branch of the Royal British Legion dressed in replica First World War British Army uniforms marched to the town's war memorial, where an act remembrance was held.

Colin's grandfather, William Fitzgerald, a private in the Royal Irish Rifles, was among the tens of thousands who died in the battle. Colin's son, Alastair, who is also taking part in the march, will wear his medals as part of the uniform.

"This journey is sentimental to us and it means quite a lot to take part in this," Colin said.

"We plan to do 24 miles a day for four days, which leaves us four miles left to do on June 30.

"For the last mile, as we make our way to the grounds of Ulster Tower, we plan to wear the World War One uniform.

"Originally, we were going to collect for just the poppy appeal, but in the last five years Dromore Branch have lost quite a few members sadly to cancer - and so we thought it fitting to also collect for Macmillan Cancer Support as well.

"It also takes about £10,000 a day to support the injured soldiers and their families, so we wanted to raise money for them too."

  • To make a donation, go to the Justgiving page www.justgiving.com/teams/MarchtotheSomme or contact any branch member

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