Presbyterian homage to the Somme victims

The Rev Frank Sellar

The Rev Frank Sellar

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Roll of Honour 1914-1919 records the names of 24,000 men and boys who left the cities, towns and villages of Ireland, their families and their congregations, to fight in what became known as the ‘Great War’.

To put that figure in context, the Rev Mark Donald, one of 15 Presbyterian chaplains to the UK’s three services, told the recent General Assembly that this equated to around the same number of Northern Ireland fans who travelled to France for the Euro Football Championships.

“Those who survived the war, were wounded or died in action can be found in the Roll of Honour alongside their congregations. It also records those who died at the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago and on this special centenary anniversary, we are asking our congregations to remember those who gave their lives, many of whom came from our own congregations,” he said.

Rifleman William McFadzean, for example, of the Royal Irish Rifles attended Newtownbreda Presbyterian Church in South Belfast. The 20-year-old lost his life on the morning of the Battle, saving the lives of his comrades. For his bravery, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Mark Donald explained that a resolution, passed by the General Assembly earlier this month, encouraged congregations to acknowledge the ‘sacrifice of those who fought and died at the Battle of the Somme’, on the Sunday following July 1, “or another suitable occasion”.

“To support congregations the Church’s Forces’ Chaplaincy Panel has produced a number of worship resources for congregations who want to acknowledge the sacrifice of those from their congregations who died 100 years ago.

“The resources include a prayer, liturgy, suggested hymns and scripture readings. The hymns, along with the 23rd, 91st, 93rd, 103rd and 121st Psalms, are recorded as being used by chaplains or soldiers before going into battle, especially Psalm 91 as it is sometimes known as the ‘Soldiers’ Psalm’,” he said.

By the close of the opening day of the Battle, on July 1, 1916, the 36th (Ulster) Division experienced 5,000 casualties, 2,000 of whom were killed. Names of 75 per cent of the Division’s fatalities have no known graves and are recorded on the Thiepval Memorial and Ulster Memorial Tower in Northern France.

Presbyterian Moderator, the Rev Dr Frank Sellar, will attend the main commemorations in France. Other Presbyterian clerics will represent the Church at commemorative events in Dublin and Belfast. Dr Sellar expects it will be a humbling experience. “For us 100 years on, it is difficult to imagine the scale of the loss of life and impact which that would have had on local communities back home; especially close-knit local congregations across Ulster and other parts of Ireland.

“While we take the time to remember the sacrifice of those a century ago, we also acknowledge the mission and ministry of our chaplains to the armed services. Equally, in the same pews where 100 years ago families remembered loved ones, many families today have family members serving overseas, or have served, with many having lost lives in recent conflicts.”