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Somme sacrifice honoured at Belfast parade and re-enactment

By Linda Stewart

Thousands of loyalists marched through Belfast at the weekend to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson and a number of leading UVF men took part, sporting armbands that referred to the battalions that formed part of the 36th Ulster Division.

Men in First World War-style uniforms carried replica guns, alongside a group of women dressed in nurses’ uniforms, complete with capes trimmed in red. The Women’s Land Army was also commemorated.

The ‘2016 Committee’ organised the parade and a re-enactment to commemorate the anniversary and remember those who lost their lives in the battle.

There was a heavy security presence for Saturday’s event.

Feeder parades moved from the north, south, east and west of the city before mustering at Belfast City Hall where a lone piper played as a wreath was laid at the Cenotaph in memory of those who died at the Somme in 1916.

The commemoration parade then travelled to Woodvale Park where thousands of people watched a re-enactment of the first day of the Somme.

The air was filled with smoke following deafening volleys from replica cannons as men in World War One uniforms played out what it would have been like to go ‘over the top’ of the trenches.

The scenes were captured on camera for a feature film about the Somme directed by Jonathan Waite, who is hoping to show it at Cannes Film Festival next year.

Hundreds of people took part in the film without payment, he said. “It’s aimed towards a Game of Thrones scale,” he said. “They are all willing participants, they are bandsmen and people from Somme commemorations and people that are just generally interested in their history. It seems to be working, it is creating different ways to enjoy culture.”

The script centres on a relationship between a father and son. “That’s a father-son story, which has come down through the generations and to me that’s the important part, to try and identify a small snippet of what the Somme means to me.”

Around 5,500 men from the 36th Ulster Division fell on July 1, 1916, the first day of the battle. By the time it ended that November, more than a million from both sides had died or been injured.

Among those taking part in Saturday’s parade were East Belfast UVF leader Stephen Matthews, South Belfast UVF man Colin Fulton and senior west Belfast loyalist Harry Stockman.

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