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Young Citizen Volunteers flag carried during Flanders battle to fly there again at centenary event

By Rebecca Black

A flag borne on the battlefields of the First World War is to be taken from Belfast City Council storage to assume pride of place at a commemorative event in Belgium.

The Young Citizen Volunteers (YCV) flag was raised at Whytschaete Ridge after the German position known as Jump Point was taken during fighting in 1917.

The banner spends most of the year in storage, being brought out only for the council's annual Somme memorial service each July.

But it is to return to Flanders following a request from Gilbert Ossieur, president of the Friends of Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres.

It will be displayed at a remembrance service on June 7 at the exact spot it was flown to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Whytschaete.

It will also be carried during a walk following the route of the battle.

The service is held each year in recognition of the sacrifice made by both the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions.

This will be the final year in which the walk will take place.

The loan period will be for a maximum of one week and the flag will be returned in time for the Somme commemoration at the City Hall on July 1.

The matter was discussed by the council's strategic policy and resources committee on Friday.

The DUP's Tom Haire said it was agreed to allow the request, with no objections voiced.

The committee decision must be approved by the next full meeting of the council on Monday, April 3.

Councillors heard that the flag was a valuable and irreplaceable historical artefact, which will require professional handling and protection.

Officials from the Flanders Fields Museum will cover all necessary insurance and transport costs.

A comprehensive loan agreement will also be completed beforehand.

According to council research, the flag was carried by both unionist and nationalist soldiers at Whytschaete during the Battle of Messines which, in turn, was a prelude to the larger still Third Battle of Ypres.

On June 7, 1917, the flag was borne by 2nd Lieutenant Brian Boyd (19), a past pupil of Royal Belfast Academical Institution.

After he was fatally wounded it was carried by 2nd Lieutenant Sydney James Downey from Rugby Road in Belfast, who had studied at Methodist College.

He too was killed and the standard bearer became another soldier who was badly wounded, before the flag was finally raised at Jump Point by Corkman Lieutenant John Dwyer O'Brien.

The Battle of Whytschaete is considered particularly significant because it involved the 16th (Irish) Division fighting alongside the 36th (Ulster) Division.

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