A DROMORE author and amateur historian has urged locals on this, the 93rd Somme anniversary, to remember those, among them many local men, who died in the WWI battle.
Jeffrey Martin, author of 'Dromore's Great War Heroes' and the man whose research of recent years saw dozens of names added to the town's War Memorial, said of the fallen that theirs was a debt of sacrifice that must never be forgotten.
Destined to continue until November 18, 1916, and accounting for some 420,000 casualties on each side, the more than four-month Somme campaign began on July 1 of that year.
"Dromore lost many sons on this day," said Jeffrey, "including Corporal William Lunn, Cpl Henry Peden, Lance/Cpl Samuel Bryson, Private Robert J. Bell, Pte Oliver Best, Pte William G. Chambers, Pte William Fitzgerald, Pte James Gribben, Pte Robert McCandless, Pte George McIlwrath, Pte Mark Nutt and Pte William H. Rodgers.
"In the ensuing days on the Somme many others from Dromore were killed, including Pte Albert McDonald, who died at Ovillers on 11 July with the 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and Cpl Charles Allen, who died at Courcelette on 26 September with the 8th Battalion, Canadian Infantry.
"Two names amongst many recorded on the recent plaque erected on Dromore's War Memorial bear witness to this personal cost. Pte William Henry Rodgers lived in Kinallen and joined the 13th Bn Royal Irish Rifles; he died, aged 23, on the opening day of the battle.
"Today he lies in Serre cemetery with 2,425 others, of which 70% are unidentified.
"Pte William John McCormick also served in the gallant 13th Bn RIR and was wounded on 1 July 1916; a year later, at Messines, he suffered from the effects of shrapnel and poison gas which exacerbated the wound. "Sadly, despite being discharged after serving for nearly four years with the Royal Irish Rifles, Pte McCormick died on 25 July 1919; many old comrades attended his funeral, with a firing party from the Norfolk Regiment."
It was at 7.30am on July 1, 1916, almost 93 years ago to the day, that half a million infantry troops rose from their trenches and attacked along an 18-mile front against a German foe dug in for over two years; British losses were 19,000 dead and more than 30,000 injured. The 36th Ulster Division alone suffered 5,500 casualties.
Said Jeffrey, "The savagery of the fighting that summer on the Somme plains mean places such as Thiepval, Mametz and Delville Wood, are now bywords for the lost generation.
"This is most clearly illustrated in the surrounding cemeteries and on the Thiepval Memorial to the 55,000 unaccounted soldiers with no known grave. In recent years the French soil has slowly given up its heroic dead and a name, if identified, can be removed from the memorial as a military headstone is erected.
"In May this year excavations began near Pheasant Wood, where in July 1916 the remains of over 410 soldiers of the 61st British and 5th Australian Divisions were buried by their German counterparts in a mass grave behind the lines."
Jeffrey added, "A visit to the recently excavated trenches in Thiepval Wood illustrates the conditions many stood in that July morning. Acquired by the Somme Heritage Centre with the help of British Government funding, it stands as a testament to those who fought and died there on 1 July 1916."
Jeffrey Martin's book, 'Dromore's Great War Heroes' remains available from Grahams Newsagents in Market Square; proceeds to First Dromore (Non-Subscribing) Presbyterian Church Building Fund.