Armistice centenary: Belfast remembers the fallen

The fallen of the world wars and other conflicts were remembered in Belfast on Monday with the opening of the Field of Remembrance at the city hall.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 5th November 2018, 7:16 pm
Updated Tuesday, 6th November 2018, 8:46 am

Representatives of the Armed Forces joined with civic and church leaders in a poignant service marking 100 years since the guns fell silent to end the Great War.

Around 1,000 small crosses – bearing the names and brief details of the fallen – have already been placed in the garden but space has been left for those who wish to commemorate their own family members or friends.

It is one of six Royal British Legion (RBL) Fields of Remembrance across the UK and will remain open until November 18.

The Belfast Field of Remembrance takes place at Belfast city hall. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

One of those placing his own tribute was Harold Gordon from Saintfield.

The 85-year-old was at the city hall cenotaph in honour of his uncles Reuben Peake and Jack (William John) Peake MM from Ballywalter in Co Down.

“One of my uncles Reuben Peake was only 19 when he was killed in August 1917,” he said.

“Two brothers joined together and the older one, Jack Peake, was a 24-year-old corporal. Jack’s sergeant was killed leading his men over the top so the corporal, Jack, had to take over and he was killed with the rest of them. He did his duty well and was awarded the Military Medal.

Harold Gordon from Saintfield placed two crosses at the Belfast City Hall in memory of his uncles Reuben and Jack Peake of the Royal Irish Rifles

“That was at 7.30 in the morning on the first day of the Somme on July 1, 1916. He is buried in the Thiepval memorial cemetery.”

Mr Gordon was proudly sporting the campaign medals of his uncle Reuben, while one of his sons attended a separate RBL event wearing those won by his great-uncle Jack.

“There’s no point in being asked to look after medals if you’re not going to pay your respects,” he said.

“We have been researching their story and we now have the full information about them. Reuben has no known grave but his details are on the Menin Gate memorial at Ypres in Belgium. I’ve been there to visit it myself.”

Lorna Miller, who is originally Scotland but now living in Belfast, attended Belfast's Field of Remembrance in tribute to great-grandfather Sergeant John Cochrane who died in WW1.

Another Peake brother joined the Royal Engineers but he remained in England helping to prepare the Army’s horses for battle on the Western Front – a vital part of the war effort depicted in the 2011 Steven Spielberg film War Horse.

Mr Gordon said he was unable to watch War Horse when it was shown on TV at the weekend.

“I saw the beginning but couldn’t watch the rest. Besides the boys, horses are also close to my heart.

“One scene showed one of the soldiers down beside his horse then it was dying and he had his arm around it like it was a comrade. It was all too upsetting,” Mr Gordon added.

Lorna Miller, 28, who is originally from Coatbridge in Scotland but now living in Belfast, was also at the city hall to honour a fallen relative.

Ms Miller’s great-grandfather Sergeant John Cochrane of the Highland Light Infantry was killed in World War One.

“I remember him every day,” she said.

“I even tell my daughter, who’s only four, about him and what the Armistice commemorations are all about.”

Ms Miller said she has been saddened in recent years by many of the divisive commentary around the poppy and Remembrance.

“It’s not that we want to have armies or wars, but it’s to remember that we wouldn’t have our freedom if it wasn’t for these brave men.”

She added: “People’s religion didn’t matter and it shouldn’t be an issue – everyone was in it together.”

More than 100,000 tributes are expected to be planted at the six Royal British Legion Fields of Remembrance, including the Muslim crescent, star of David, Sikh khanda, Hindu orn or secular tribute as well as the small Remembrance crosses.