Somme: Visitors include relatives of those who died on first day

John Currans, left, whose great uncle lost two sons in World War I, including a son who died on the first day of the Somme, pictured with his son John Junior at the Ulster Memorial Tower, Thiepval, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, July 1 2016. By Ben Lowry

John Currans, left, whose great uncle lost two sons in World War I, including a son who died on the first day of the Somme, pictured with his son John Junior at the Ulster Memorial Tower, Thiepval, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, July 1 2016. By Ben Lowry

John Currans and his son John Currans Junior were among the many people at Friday’s ceremony to have a relative who was killed on the very first day of the Somme – in which there were huge numbers of casualties.

John’s great uncle, also John Currans, experienced the horror of having two sons who died in the Great War out of three who served.

Sandy Stewart, foreground, from Belfast joins other people looking for shrapnel and other battle remnants in the poppy field opposite the Ulster Memorial Tower, Thiepval, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, July 1 2016. By Ben Lowry

Sandy Stewart, foreground, from Belfast joins other people looking for shrapnel and other battle remnants in the poppy field opposite the Ulster Memorial Tower, Thiepval, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, July 1 2016. By Ben Lowry

The first of the siblings to die, James Currans, was serving with the Royal Irish Rifles when he fell on July 1 1916 at the Somme. His brother Stanley would die the next year at Passchendaele.

Speaking after the service, at the Ulster Memorial Tower at Thiepval, John Currans, aged 62 and from south Belfast, said: “That is why I am here. To commemorate their death. To lose two sons was a great loss to the family.”

His son, John Junior, 37, said of the ceremony held in such a setting: “It was humbling.”

Looking out across the poppy fields where so many Ulster servicemen were cut down as they emerged from Thiepval Wood and approached up towards the German lines, John Junior added: “You know what they went through, the hell for us.

“To look round and to see the Ulster Tower and Thiepval Wood – it makes you proud to be an Ulsterman.”

As the News Letter was speaking to the Currans, many of the visitors who had been at the service were searching in the poppy fields, amid grass that is almost waist high.

The fields still contain shrapnel and bullets and even bones, a century after the fighting.