Somme: Jackie's pride over towering achievement
A Belfast man credited with reviving flagging interest in the Battle of the Somme looked on with pride yesterday at the commemorations to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the ill-fated campaign.
Before Jackie Hewitt took an interest in the battle and the sacrifices of thousands of local soldiers, the Ulster Memorial Tower at Thiepval was in disrepair, and he only came across its sorry state by chance. "I was returning home in the early 80s from Paris with a group of young people from the Shankill, Dublin and Ardoyne on a Farset community trip and because we were early for the boat we stopped and look at the Ulster Tower," he said.
"It was all closed up and we had to get the key from a woman in the village of Thiepval. Inside, the tower there were spiders and cobwebs and dust everywhere. Then the kids - who had been fascinated by what happened at the Somme - asked if they could do a project about it, and that was the start of the Farset Somme project.
"The youngsters talked to a surviving old soldier about his experiences and then they offered to paint the tower and carry out repairs.
"The whole thing snowballed, and the Somme Association was formed and they took over the running of the Ulster Tower.
"The rest, as they say, is history, but it would never happened without that initial enthusiasm from the kids on that Farset community initiative."
Mr Hewitt, an Orangeman, is a regular visitor to the scene of the Somme.
His grandfather, Joseph Hewitt, emerged unscathed from the battle and was wounded at Messiness, but he died in an accident at a shipyard after his return to Belfast.