Somme: Talk is better than war, says ex-soldier

Members of the Irish Guards attend a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated.

Members of the Irish Guards attend a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France, where 70,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers with no known grave are commemorated.

A retired sergeant major from Co Armagh has said talking is better than war after he travelled to the Somme on a personal pilgrimage of remembrance.

Alan Woods, 66, from Portadown, served in the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) and comes from a family of soldiers. His uncle died on the Somme.

He bemoaned bad tactics and repeated confrontations between Britain and Germany which resulted in one of the bloodiest days in military history on July 1 1916.

“We have all got our different battles but this was so wicked, so, so wicked.”

Mr Woods said today was poignant.

“My family have all been through the Army and it is something that you follow up on.

“A hundred years before, they were fighting Napoleon. You had the Prussians coming in. And 100 years later we were fighting the Germans.”

He had an uncle who fought in the Somme and is buried nearby.

The former soldier has studied war deeply and said tactics had not changed between the turn-of-the-century Boer War and the First World War.

Men marched out against well-armed German defensive lines to their deaths.

Mr Woods said: “That was why there was such slaughter. They have not learned anything. In the Second World War, whenever they could not get through any of the defence lines they brought in the Irish regiments and they cut their way through.

“Every time they had a hard fight, they brought in the Irish and you say to yourself, are we boneheads?”

“A hundred years ago we were all friends and then we fell out again. So it is better to talk.”