By Eddy Butler
|Capt. E N F Bell VC||Royal Inniskillin Fusileers||(Thiepval)|
|Pvt. W McFadzean VC||Royal Irish Rifles||(Thiepval)|
|Pvt. R Quigg VC||Royal Irish Rifles||(Hamel)|
|Lieut. G St. G C Carther VC||Royal Irish Fusileers||(Hamel)|
ON THE MORNING of the 1st July 1916, the Battle of the Somme began. This fateful day was the most costly for the British Army in all the annals of its glorious history. At dawn, the British Army attacked the German positions, and the conspicuous gallantry that day of the 36th (Ulster) Division, will forever be remembered. This Division was composed entirely of the previously outlawed Ulster Volunteer Force, which joined up to a man in their country's hour of need. They now formed up, battalion after battalion in their adoptive Regiments: The Royal Inniskillin Fusileers, The Royal Irish Fusileers and The Royal Irish Rifles.
British soldier in a conquered enemy trench: quiet and steadfast, and in triumph, merciful.
At dawn, the Ulster Division spear-headed the assault up the valley of the Ancre. Their objectives were to take the villages of Thiepval, Ginchy, Beaumont Hamel and Lesboeufs. These names were to haunt the fields of Flanders for the duration of the Great War. Despite a heavy British artillery barrage, the German trenches were hardly scratched, and their guns were not silenced. To cries of “No Surrender” and “Remember the Boyne”, the sons of Ulster swept irresistibly forward, further than they were supposed to go. This momentous charge left the Ulstermen far ahead of their comrades on either flank. This included the 16th (Irish) Division, which had failed to make as much headway. Nevertheless, despite fearful casualties, the men of the U.V.F. held out, earning immortality in the process.
A contemporary account of the charge, described as “one of the most glorious charges to death in history”, sets the scene better than anyone could today. “The Inniskillins won the ridge and vanished into the smoking furnace of the valley, and there they were joined by the long-jawed and stern eyed Covenanters, who had swept over two lines of enemy trenches and were charging deeper into the hostile works ....
“They remained defiant and full of menace. Blood told .... Always they had been the most persistent fighting race in Western Europe, and in a century of peace they had maintained their extraordinary fury of character by provoking annual street fights with the Catholic Irishmen ....
“In the valley of death by the Ancre the amazing race of Ulstermen, with their curious combination of Puritanic grimness and Celtic perfervidness, displayed to their Catholic countrymen on their flank, who were themselves among the finest fighters in the field, the sheer, dreadful, driving power with which they went to war ....
“The old Ulster Volunteer Force, originally designed for the event of Civil War, sacrificed itself for the Empire and the cause of humanity”.
Four V.C.s were won on this day. Perhaps the most famous was immortalised in that haunting song, The Ballad of Billy McFadzean. This Belfast U.V.F. man sacrificed his life, at the age of 20, by throwing himself on some bombs which were about to explode, so saving his comrades' lives.
Later in the Great War, the Ulster and the Irish Divisions again charged together. In June 1917 at the Battle of Messines, in August 1917 at the Third Battle of Ypres and in November 1917 at Cambrai. On these occasions, the only rivalry between them was that of gallantry. In days yet to come, we will surely see soldiers from all four Irish provinces go into battle side-by-side once again, along with their brothers from mainland Britain, to defend these sacred shores from our common enemies. The traditions of the Irish Regiments, particularly the Ulster units, are now kept up by that fine Regiment, the Royal Irish Rangers. Militant Loyalists have now once again been forced to stand to arms, defending their homeland, against alien-inspired Communist rebels.
The sacrifices of our brothers in Ulster must never be forgotten by us on the mainland. On numerous occasions they have loyally taken their place at our side. Asking for and expecting no thanks. Now it is the mainland's turn to stand by our kin. Their blood is our blood. Their victory is our victory. Their defeat is our defeat. If we stand together shoulder to shoulder, the Nations of Britain have nothing to fear from any quarter. United we stand, and in unity we will never fall.