Roamer: Book commemorates 72 fallen war heroes with memorial to be unveiled

Detail of Saint Barbara in window of Fivemiletown Parish Church
Detail of Saint Barbara in window of Fivemiletown Parish Church

Last May a reader sent Roamer a faded News Letter cutting which was shared on this page.

Last May a reader sent Roamer a faded News Letter cutting which was shared on this page.

Dated March 24, 1921, the almost century-old cutting recounted “a large congregation at a memorial service in Fivemiletown Parish Church held for the unveiling and dedicating of a memorial window erected by the parents and brothers of the late Major Ralph Montgomery DSO, RFA (Royal Field Artillery) who died on active service on 1 April 1919.”

Major Montgomery is one of the many war heroes in a book published next Friday entitled Fivemiletown’s Fallen commemorating “the supreme sacrifice of 72 local servicemen during two world wars,” the book’s author and compiler Mark Byers told me.

When the stained glass window was unveiled and dedicated in 1921, the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Clogher spoke about the late Major Montgomery, a son of the historic family from the nearby Blessingbourne estate.

“Four brothers from the Blessingbourne family saw active service in the war,” said the Lord Bishop, “three of them were in the Artillery. In the providence of God three came safely through it all, and the window was erected to perpetuate the memory of one who had made the great sacrifice for King and country.”

The stained glass window in memory of Major Ralph Montgomery is probably the only remaining window in Ireland depicting Saint Barbara – the Patron Saint of Artillerymen.

Last May, after receiving the cutting about the window’s unveiling - which also outlined a little of Major Montgomery’s heroism during WWI - the moving legend of Saint Barbara was shared on this page.

Regular News Letter readers will probably recall the tale of the beautiful young girl who lived around the 3rd Century with her wealthy but wicked father in Nicomedia, a region that today would be either in Turkey or Lebanon.

Barbara’s father, obsessed with amassing property and wealth, greatly disliked his daughter’s enthusiasm to help the poor and the sick.

She had many friends, and doubtlessly suitors too, who shared in her charitable enterprises, but her father preferred that she rubbed shoulders with his own, well-heeled acquaintances.

So he locked Barbara in a tower where she secretly converted to the then emerging Christian faith.

During her years of cruel incarceration her father led many suitors of his choosing up the steps to meet her, but she declined them all.

Barbara’s father ordered her to renounce her new faith or die.

When she refused to abandon her Christianity he handed his daughter over to the Roman authorities, whose extreme cruelty she miraculously survived.

Her father’s anger became increasingly manic and uncontrollable and he murdered his daughter.

When he struck her down with his sword (according to some legends he beheaded her) a bright light surrounded her body and a blinding bolt of lightning killed her father.

Thus today’s red ‘zig-zag’ lightning motif on the blue tie of the Royal Artillery, and the stained glass window of Saint Barbara in Fivemiletown.

There have been many depictions of her throughout history, most of them including the three-windowed tower where she was imprisoned.

The Trinity of windows in the tower traditionally represent her faith.

Mark Byers’ book called Fivemiletown’s Fallen will be launched next Friday, September 11 at an event that will be presented and compered by UTV’s Paul Clarke.

“Murley Silver Band and local musical talent will also take part,” Mr Byers told Roamer.

His book tells of the 72 local men who fell during WWI and WWII. “A number of Fivemiletown men who didn’t return were awarded medals for bravery,” the author told me, highlighting three of them. Sergeant John Irvine, of the 9th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was awarded the Military Medal for his actions on Messines Ridge on 7 June 1917. Sergeant Irvine was later killed in action on 6 December 1917 during the Battle of Cambrai. He has no known grave and is remembered on the Cambrai Memorial.

Private Joseph Coulter of the 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers, was awarded the Military Medal for his actions at Bailleul on August 24, 1918 and was later killed in action on October 7, 1918. Private Coulter is buried in Dadizeele New British Cemetery in Belgium.

Major Ralph Montgomery, of ‘D’ Battery, 88th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, served through the entire war on the Western Front, where he was mentioned in despatches.

Major Montgomery died from Spanish Influenza in hospital in France on April 1, 1919, and is buried in Doullens Communal Cemetery, Extension No 2, in France.

He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the King’s Birthday Honours List of June 3, 1919 for “distinguished service in connection with military operations in France and Flanders.”

Mark Byers’ book “is a quality hardback production, illustrated throughout, and is priced at £15.00.”

The author told Roamer “after the launch the book will be available for sale from Fivemiletown Royal British Legion and Ballylurgan Hardware, Main Street, Fivemiletown.”

Following next Friday’s book launch there’ll be another important commemoration of war in the town – the unveiling and dedication of the Fivemiletown Community War Memorial on Sunday, September 20, 2015.

Mark told me “a committee has been fund raising for the past two years to provide funds to build a War Memorial for the local area and donations can still be made at the town’s Royal British Legion centre on Ballagh Road.”