Descendants of over a dozen Ulster brothers who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme attended a moving commemoration service in St Anne’s Cathedral yesterday.
Those remembered include the 2,000 members of the 36th (Ulster) Division who died in the first two days of battle and members of the 16th (Irish) Division, who lost 1,200 men.
The battle began on July 1, 1916. At the end of nearly five months of fighting there were 420,000 British, 200,000 French and 660,000 German casualties - carnage which forever changed the face of modern warfare.
After yesterday’s service First Minister Arlene Foster said she was particularly touched by singing from wives of soldiers who likewise risk their lives in action today - accompanied by the Band of the Royal Signals.
“This service for me was particularly poignant because of the music,” she said. “Both the cathedral choir and the Northern Ireland Military Wives Choir gave wonderful performances which made it a particularly special occasion.
“It is right that we reflect, a century later, on the enormity of what happened on that fateful day and on a scale of sacrifice that is difficult for us to comprehend. Events have taken place in virtually every corner of our Province, reflecting that no town or village was spared the scars of young men who left our shores never to return.”
The names of the 17 sets of Ulster brothers who died on the first day of the battle were read out, as were the names of four members of the 36th (Ulster) Division who were awarded the Victoria Cross for valour: Rifleman William Frederick McFadzean VC, The Royal Irish Rifles; Captain Eric Norman Frankland Bell VC, The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers; Rifleman Robert Quigg VC, The Royal Irish Rifles; and Lieutenant Geoffrey Cather VC, The Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP said it was “a day of great significance” as a result of the actions of the 36th (Ulster) Division, which lost over 5,000 soldiers, killed and wounded.