Belfast Telegraph

The Twelfth 2016 Belfast: Somme takes a central role as city reflects on the Fallen

By Rachel Martin

The sight of Army uniforms last seen in action 100 years ago at the Somme took centre stage at this year's Twelfth celebrations in Belfast.

Actors in First World War replica military uniforms headed this year's parade as it left City Hall. They paid tribute to the Orangemen who died as they headed towards the German lines in France a century ago.

Thousands lined the route as the procession, which included a vintage medical vehicle, passed through the city centre. Women dressed as First World War nurses also led the Women's Land Army at the start of the parade.

Among those marching were three generations of one family, including young Luke (8) and Adam Ferguson (5), who sneaked into the procession at Balmoral Avenue.

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The boys are still too young to join - they'll have to be 18 before they can become full members of the Orange Order - but they hope to follow in the footsteps of their uncle, Mark Baird, and their grandfather, Alex Baird, some day.

The boys' great-grandfather, Alec Baird, was a founder member of the Cloverhill Temperance LOL 455 in 1944.

Mark said: "I've been a member since I was 15 or 16 years old. I'm now 31 so it's been a while now. My grandfather was a founding member of the lodge and then my father joined and now I've joined. For the three of us, it's always very much been a family thing.

"It's the companionship and a good day out which we enjoy, and my nephews love to come and watch everything going past.

"For me, today was not just about the commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne, but also the Battle of the Somme, because my great-grandfather was injured in the Great War.

"I was clearing out my grandfather's roof space last year and found something signed by King George. It was a bit the worse for wear so I couldn't read it all, but I could make out he had been discharged for medical reasons."

Dundonald families the Cowans and the Farghers brought along babies Jack and Amelia who were taking in the sights and sounds of the Twelfth for the first time.

The families always stop to watch the parades at Balmoral Avenue and have now included the next generation in the tradition. Ruth Fargher said: "It's always been a family thing - we would come down with my nanny to this spot. It's tradition.

"We just like it here. There's always lots of families and it's got a nice atmosphere and you can watch all the bands passing."

For others it was a case of getting there early and being prepared.

The Sloss and Bell families arrived at 7am to claim their annual spot along the Malone Road, where they set up a marquee beside the Kitchen family - who had stocked their spot with food, drink and even a portable toilet just in case anyone was caught short as they waited for the bands.

Six-month-old baby Annie Kitchen, from Comber, was a contender for best dressed in her knitted tot-sized sash as she waited to cheer on her dad Glen. Her grandfather was also a member of the Craigy Defenders - the family lodge.

Back at the field, the mood was one of reflection. As families enjoyed a day together in the sun, Brexit, loyalty to the Queen and intolerance for Orange culture were all on the agenda for the afternoon service.

In his speech, Henry Dunbar, Grand Master of the Orange Order in Scotland, poured scorn on demands for border polls in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the wake of the vote to leave the EU.

He said: "It's not more referendums we need. It's a gospel revival and a return to the inspired word of God that made this country great.

"It's time for politicians to get on with the job we elected you to do - steer our country through what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult period."

He added: "We live in troubled times, brethren. And it's right we should organise to defend those things we hold dear - our civil and religious liberty, our constitutional monarchy and our democracy.

"I have never felt more proud, more motivated or more inspired to be an Orangeman than I've felt in this momentous year of 2016. It's a year that has brought the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, and the 90th birthday of Her Gracious Majesty the Queen. The Somme Centenary might not be a pleasant one, but it's certainly a proud one."

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