Belfast Telegraph

Nephew visits grave of uncle immortalised in popular anti-war song

By Laura Abernethy

The nephew of a fallen Somme soldier made famous in the song No Man's Land has visited his uncle's grave in France.

A Willie McBride features heavily in the popular anti-war favourite, written by Eric Bogle and released in 1976.

The name is believed to refer to a man born in Lislea, in Co Armagh, at some point during the late 1890s.

As thousands of people paid tribute to those who died at the Somme on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the battle on Friday, Willie's nephew, Joseph, visited the grave of his uncle at the Authille Military Cemetery in France.

Joseph, in conjunction with the South Armagh Branch Ancre Somme Association, planned the trip for more than three years.

The 66-year-old, who never met his relative, laid a wreath with the inscription "A soldier of the UVF, from nephew Joseph" at his uncle's grave as Rhonda Kennedy sang a verse from the song featuring his name.

Bogle wrote the anti-war song while visiting the graves on the Fallen during the 1970s.

It tells the story of Private William McBride, who lost his life at the Somme at the age of 19.

It is believed the William McBride referred to in the song is the Co Armagh man, who studied at Crosskeys National School before going on to become an apprentice in the shoe trade.

As the debate over Home Rule began, he joined the ranks of the Ulster Volunteers, then enlisted into the 9th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1915, but just nine months later, on April 22, 1916, he fell on the field of battle.

In a message to Mr McBride's mother, 2nd Lieutenant John Kelly of the 9th Inniskilling's wrote: "I need not tell you how much we miss your son.

"I am pleased to be able to tell you that I had recommended him to my company commander for bravery in carrying a message under very heavy shell fire on the night of the 10th March. You may rest assured that he died in a manner which will always to be an example to his comrades, doing their duty."

Joseph and 19 members of the association remembered the soldier with a short address and a two-minute silence. They were joined by the Pride of the Raven Flute East Belfast.

"I was always very aware of my uncle and his involvement in the war, but there are parts of his life that we don't much know about," Joseph said.

"The song raises the name, but I never fight to claim that it is our Willie McBride.

"Willie McBride in the song is really just every soldier who was in the war who never returned home.

"It was a moving ceremony at Willie's graveside, and I will always remember it."

Belfast Telegraph


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