A delegation of soldiers has paid a visit to Normandy as part of a history tour ahead of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Around a dozen soldiers each from 1 Royal Irish and 2 Royal Irish visited the battlefields where troops had given their lives in a campaign which ultimately liberated Europe.
The Royal Irish Regiment is partly formed out of the old Royal Ulster Rifles, which was the only British Army regiment to have its two regular battalions land on the beaches during the D-Day operation – one landing by sea, and the other by airborne glider.
Ken Johnston, spokesman for the MoD in Northern Ireland, said it had been part of a bid to “acquaint soldiers with the exploits of the antecedents” as the nation prepares to remember the anniversary on June 6 – the date when Allied forces first landed.
And some of those visiting, who ranged in rank from private to lieutenant colonel, believe that they can even apply lessons learned seven decades earlier to modern-day war scenarios as well.
Owen Lyttle, Reservist Commanding Officer of 2 Royal Irish, said following the visit: “The Normandy battlefield study has allowed personnel to research and consider some of the battles that took place in Normandy during D-Day and after.
“Personnel have been able to stand on the same ground as their predecessors, and think about the challenges.
“By comparing current tactics and training, they have been able to draw out useful lessons for future conflicts.
“During the visit we have had a focus on The Royal Ulster Rifles involvement in D-Day, in particular the battles by 1 RUR at Longueval and 2 RUR at Cambes.
“We also took the opportunity to lay wreaths and hold short commemoration services at the RUR memorials at each site.”
Sergeant John Fowlie, a reservist from Dundonald, said: “I found the battlefield tour to be a humbling experience that everyone should try.
“To see the ages of the soldiers who died on the gravestones brings into perspective how much today’s generation owes to the young soldiers of the 1940s who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Europe from tyranny.”
Regular officer Major Paul James, from Aghalee and serving with 1 Royal Irish, echoed these sentiments, and called the trip a “superb opportunity” to get closer to their reservist colleagues.
The 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment is Northern Ireland’s Army Reserve infantry battalion, headquartered in Portadown, while the 1st Battalion is an air assault battalion based in Shropshire.
Major Gareth Semple laid a wreath at Longueval in Normandy to mark the fallen as part of the visit.
He is a member of 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish, and said it had been an honour to take part in the ceremony of remembrance for the courageous fighters who had gone before them.
During the last 12 months the 2nd Battalion has seen its soldiers posted overseas across four continents on 13 occasions.
These deployments have ranged from the island of St Lucia in the Caribbean to South Korea, and from Germany to the African state of Burundi. They have also been posted to Afghanistan.