Retired soldier whose grandfathers fought in First world War makes Somme visit

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A retired soldier whose grandfathers fought for the Irish and Ulster Divisions during the First World War has made his own personal pilgrimage to the Somme.

Charlie Bennett, 67, who lives near Belfast, is a retired Royal Irish and Ulster Defence Regiment officer.

His maternal grandfather fought with the Royal Irish Rifles in the 36th Ulster Division, while his paternal grandfather came from Cork, joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and served in the 16th Irish Division.

They rarely spoke of their experiences other than to joke.

Mr Bennett said: “One grandfather spoke very briefly about going through the trenches and opening fire on a dead German soldier because he thought he was about to shoot him then realised he had already been killed.”

The former military man said their experiences belied the perception of the 16th Irish Division as raging nationalists who came to fight for what they believed in and the 36th Ulster Division as pure unionists and Ulstermen who fought for what they believed in.

His Cork grandfather was from a Church of Ireland background and served with Dublin Fusiliers of many denominations.

“Never once did he comment that they had maybe a different political view than himself.

“They were soldiers in the First World War who came here and very quickly learned about the horrors that they were fighting in.”

The 36th and 16th Divisions joined forces during an assault on Messines Ridge in Flanders in 1917.

Mr Bennett added: “It means a lot for me to reconcile that my grandfathers fought in the First World War and they fought in the two Irish divisions.

“A soldier was a soldier and again, when you take the whole situation forward where the two divisions fought side by side, it is indicative of what is common among us as opposed to what is different.”