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Those who serve worthy of gratitude

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 28/06/2016

Lost lives: thousands of brave men died during the Battle of the Somme
Lost lives: thousands of brave men died during the Battle of the Somme

As we approach the centenary of the Battle of the Somme - which resulted in one of the greatest slaughters of combatants in the history of warfare - it is fitting that the Queen on the second day of her visit to Northern Ireland will honour one of the heroes of the horror.

Bushmills man Robert Quigg was awarded a Victoria Cross for his gallantry on the second day of the battle, going out seven times into No Man's Land to search for his missing platoon leader. He never found that officer, but dragged back seven wounded men from virtually under the noses of the German forces.

Her Majesty will unveil a bronze statue to Robert, and also a blue plaque erected on the school he attended.

Robert embodied many of the attributes we associate with the thousands of men who went from Ulster to fight at the Somme. For the most part they were ordinary men who went on to display extraordinary courage. Even amidst the horror of battle they took time to look out for each other as best they could. That was decency as well as heroism.

Their motivation was to fight for their country, to ensure that it did not fall under a foreign yoke and that the freedoms they enjoyed would be passed on to their children and grandchildren.

Sadly, so many of them did not return to see their families again, and at this poignant time of remembrance we should recall those who fell in the defence of freedom. Their names are carved in stone in cenotaphs all over the province even if their graves are on foreign soil. Indeed, the final resting place of so many is unknown.

The Queen and Prince Philip have given their own sterling service to the United Kingdom over six decades - not least in helping to create a new spirit of reconciliation on these islands. And that in turn has led to a greater recognition of the role of men and women from both parts of Ireland in the armed services of the UK.

While this is a time for remembering the Somme, Irish men and women have never shirked their duty in all the conflicts since then, up to and including Afghanistan. Whether one agrees with war or not, one can never deny the heroism of those who don the uniform of their country and serve to protect the timeless values of honour, freedom and democracy. Like the Queen, they fully deserve the gratitude of the nation in return for their unstinting and outstanding service.

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