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Untold stories of the horrors of war to mark Somme centenary

Series of events will run for 141 days in tribute to Ulster soldiers who died in the battle

By Angela Rainey

The unheard stories of thousands of unsung heroes will be told during a series of events to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

Historians and dignitaries gathered at Somme Drive in east Belfast yesterday to launch Belfast Somme 100, which will run for 141 days - the same length of time as the original 1916 campaign.

More than 30,000 Ulstermen, both Protestant and Catholic, in the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) and 10th (Irish) Divisions were killed in the Great War of 1914-1918.

To mark their sacrifice and also those of the women left behind, the public are invited to a series of lectures, walks, film screenings debates and family activities to gain an understanding of the horrors of war.

Belfast Somme 100 will feature many unheard stories of the unsung heroes, changes that occurred across the country as a result of the war, and also intends to "dispel myths and stereotypes to promote dialogue with communities".

Philip Orr from the History Hub Ulster advisory group attended the launch and said that the programme will focus on previously overlooked stories of the Somme.

He said: "This is an opportunity at community level across the city to engage with the terrible campaign of the Somme, which lasted from July 1, 100 years ago, through until November.

"That's why we call it the 'Battles' of the Somme, as there is a big emphasis on our society, particularly with the death of 2,000 soldiers within the 36th Ulster Division at the beginning of July when the men were sent to war, as well as many more.

"That is very important to remember and we will be endorsing that remembrance. But the campaign went on for many months and many men were involved in it, including nationalists and unionists, and so there will be an opportunity for all to participate.

"But the war wasn't just about the men going over the top, but the women's and children's lives were affected too, and we want to be able to tell their stories.

"When the men returned home, initially it was to a heroes' welcome, particularly in the unionist communities but less so in nationalist areas. The economic environment was troubled, the Easter Rising had occurred, work was hard to find and the search for jobs is what they shared.

"For many who volunteered for war were 'virgin soldiers' - it may have been the first time they owned a pair of boots. Some joined because they sought adventure or wanted to serve.

"Nowadays we watch movies, play computer games, we see it on the news - we simulate war - but for those soldiers it was for real. They went off thinking the war would soon be over, and joined for comradeship, self-expression, and four years later many were still at the front.

"So it is important that both sides of the community come together for this centenary."

A range of events including an exhibition at City Hall, vigils across the city, a re-enactment and a book festival among many other activities have been planned.

Lord Mayor Brian Kingston said: "The battles of the Somme have great resonance for the people of Belfast. That campaign of the Somme caused more heartache to people here than any other of the First World War.

"We remember the bravery of the 36th, 10th and 16th Divisions, and the further offensives they took part in.

"It is very much an inclusive programme for both sides of the community to come together and mark this very important centenary."

For a full list of events see

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