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Somme Centenary: Dispatches from the front line

By Staff Reporter

NI Legion members finish memorial walk: Seven Royal British Legion members from Dromore completed a 100-mile walk to the Somme yesterday - a mile for every year since the battle.

Dressed in replica military uniforms, the group, which has raised more than £3,000 for charity, marched up to the Ulster Memorial Tower at the end of their journey from Boulogne in northern France, with onlookers' applause in their ears.

For Colin Ward and Adrian Hawthorne, it was a personal quest. Colin said: "I lost my great-grandfather, William Fitzgerald, who died at the Somme on July 1,1916. My son, Alistair, is wearing his medals"

Adrian's great-great grandfather, John Byrne, from Dublin, and his great-uncle John Hawthorne, from Banbridge, also died in the battle.

The money raised by the group is going to the Poppy Appeal and to the MacMillan cancer nurses.

Orangemen remember their fallen brethren

Orangemen held a symbolic meeting yesterday in Thiepval Wood, from which members of the Order went into battle at the Somme.

Members of the 1916 Thiepval Memorial Orange Lodge also unveiled a new banner beside the trenches.

After prayers, the lodge's lay chaplain dedicated the banner, which replaces one dedicated on the same spot two decades ago.

After the service, the Orangemen marched to the Ulster Memorial Tower as police stopped traffic for them.

The former Orange Grand Master, Robert Saulters, said the trip was emotional for him because his father, David, had survived the Somme.

Former Newtownabbey mayor Frazer Agnew added yesterday was an important milestone for the lodge. "For it to meet here is highly emotional," he explained.

Family secret of ex-serviceman

A Chelsea Pensioner who travelled to the Somme for yesterday's commemoration has revealed he was 65 before he discovered his grandfather had fought in the battle.

"He never mentioned it - not once,"said San Cameron (72), who is originally from Tigers Bay in north Belfast.

He added that he stumbled on the discovery after a cousin spoke about it as he examined his family tree.

"I visited my grandfather twice a week, but his wartime service never featured in the conversations," Sam explained.

"Knowing now what happened here, why would anyone want to talk about it? I went to London and found his military record. It was scary stuff"

The former serviceman said he had visited the scene of the battle to pay homage to his grandfather and all the soldiers who failed to make it back home from World War One.

Man overcomes hatred of flying for ceremony

A Newtownards man who hates flying jetted to Europe to attend a ceremony to mark the start of the Battle of the Somme, at which his grandfather was injured.

Stephen Beattie, a member of the Raven Somme Memorial Association in east Belfast, said: "The Somme is very special to me and to all the other members of our association.

"We have 25 members and 16 of us are here for the service at the Ulster Tower. We have also been visiting a number of other memorials and cemeteries.

"I have been to the Somme three or four times, and it is always very emotional."

Mr Beattie's grandfather Malcolm Deane, from Bushmills, Co Antrim, was wounded in the arm during the horrific battle.

He was one of six brothers from the same family who fought in the Great War.

Father and son's emotional journey

A man has made a poignant trip to the graveside of his relative near Thiepval to play the Last Post in an act of remembrance for the Somme.

William Sayers, from Dunnamanagh and his father, George are on a visit to Belgium and France in memory of Samuel Sayers, who fought from 1914 until 1916 before losing his life.

Ten years ago, William and his father discovered Samuel's final resting place. William said it was important that they visit again because it might be their last chance.

"I play the bugle, so I brought it with me and I will play the Last Post at Samuel's grave while my father lays a small poppy on his grave," he added.

"Being here hammers home in a dignified way man's inhumanity to man. I think it is so important for people to never take for granted the peace we have that men like Samuel gave their lives for."

Belfast Telegraph


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