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St Anne's Cathedral scene of solemn Somme reflection in Belfast

By Joanne Fleming

Published 04/07/2016

First Minister Arlene Foster at the service in St Anne’s Cathedral
First Minister Arlene Foster at the service in St Anne’s Cathedral
A bugler at the memorial service
First Minister Arlene Foster lays a wreath during the service
Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston with his son Owen, an officer in the Belfast Eagle Sea Cadets, and his wife Eileen
Richard Calvert, who survived the Somme
Richard Calvert, who survived the Somme, is remembered by his daughter Anna Fleming (left) and granddaughter Deborah Burgess at St Anne’s Cathedral
Peter Campbell, president of the Royal Naval Association

The tragedy of the Somme led to a "colossal battle of human suffering" in towns and villages across Ireland as families dealt with the loss of those who died, the Dean of Belfast has said.

St Anne's Cathedral was the scene of sombre remembrance yesterday as the personal sacrifice of thousands of men who died at the Somme a century ago was honoured.

The bloody First World War battle which began on July 1, 1916 and lasted for 141 days, decimated families both north and south of the border.

Descendants of these soldiers and Second World War veterans were joined by church leaders, politicians, and dignitaries at the service.

Among them were First Minister Arlene Foster, the Lord-Lieutenant of Belfast, Mrs Fionnuala Jay-O'Boyle CBE and the city's Lord Mayor, Brian Kingston.

The names of 17 sets of brothers who died on the first day of the battle were read out at the service, as well as the citations of four members of the 36th (Ulster) Division who were awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of valour.

Members of the 16th (Irish) Division were also remembered in recognition of their heroic service and sacrifice at Guillemont and Ginchy in September 1916.

The Northern Ireland Military Wives Choir also took part in the service, singing 'Bring him Home' from Les Miserables.

In his address, the Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev John Mann, spoke of how a "colossal battle of human suffering" was shared across Ireland.

"We remember largely by telling the human story, by projecting what we know on to the screen of our own experience," he said.

"We look at words and pictures; listen to first-hand accounts and feel the emotional drive of those who left these shores and their families and their homes and their security, who dreamt of a world of stability and beauty in a situation that was far from those things," he said.

Anna Fleming, from Belfast, was there to remember her father, Richard Calvert. He died, aged 91, having survived both world wars.

"He was part of the 36th Ulster Division and fought in the Battle of the Somme," she said.

"One of his jobs was to dig the graves for those who died. They had to wrap their bodies in a waterproof cape or army blanket.

"The families were billed for the cost of the blanket and it was something that really annoyed him all his life.

"However, the war was not something he really liked to talk about. He went on to become a compositor in the Belfast Telegraph," she added.

"My great uncle Henry Gilliland died on the first day of the Somme."

Also attending the service was veteran Royal Navy Commander Peter Campbell (88), President of the Royal Naval Association.

"I joined the navy in 1945," he said.

"It was just before the end of the war, but since then we have had our moments.

"Today is very important to us, to meet fellow veterans."

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