Belfast Telegraph

Son of Battle of Messines survivor makes emotional journey to scene of clash

A man whose father fought at the Battle of Messines 100 years ago has made an emotional return to the scene.

Bryan Hanratty's father Alfie Hanratty, from Co Louth, was a soldier in the 36th Ulster Division.

He survived the bloody battle, but witnessed the death of many of his friends and comrades, both unionist and nationalist.

Choking back tears after a poignant commemoration at the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines, Mr Hanratty said it was a very special day for him.

He had in his possession his father's field map that he used on June 7 1917, the first day of a week-long battle.

"This is very valuable to me. My father survived the battle and went back to college and studied medicine," he said.

"Sadly, he died in 1958. I was just six at the time. I never had much of the personal engagement with my father, but I have the memorabilia which is the connection.

"This has been a great day. It is very emotional time. It's very special to be alive for it.

"The spirit of Messines, two tribes of the island of Ireland, worked together. It epitomises the mutual respect. Think of how relevant that is in the modern island of Ireland for people to work together constructively.

"The people of 100 years ago could work together for a common cause so we can do it again today."

Alan Williamson, whose great uncle Joseph Stevenson was killed in the battle, met with the Duke of Cambridge, Irish Premier Enda Kenny and Princess Astrid of Belgium at a ceremony in nearby Wytschaete Cemetery where many of those who died during the Battle now rest.

The Prince, Taoiseach and Princess joined him at his great uncle's grave.

"It's a very poignant and sentimental day today. The meaning behind it, the reconciliation, is very poignant," said Mr Williamson.

During the ceremony, Mr Williamson read a letter that Joseph's mother wrote in reply to the correspondence she received informing her of her son's death.

"It is very important to have this in the family's possession," said Mr Williamson.

"These men fought and died together. That is a terrific message we can take home today.

"Meeting the Duke of Cambridge was one of the highlights of my lifetime. He was so down to earth. It was wonderful to talk to him, Mr Kenny and a Princess Astrid about the significance of today."

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