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16 October 2014
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Lurgan Men in the Great War

The men of Lurgan thought that the Boer campaign would be their last experience of war, they hadn't reckoned on the horrors to come at the Somme.

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(words by Jim McIllmurray )
As the bells of Christ Church rang in the new Century at midnight on December 31st 1899, many Lurgan men were leaving the town centre to return to barracks in Armagh after a short leave over the Christmas period. These were men of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and they knew within days they would be leaving Lurgan bound for South Africa to take part in the Boer war.

On June 1st 1902 the news that the townsfolk had been waiting for with such expectancy finally broke. The banner across Market Street announced “The war is over – peace is proclaimed”. Two years and eight months after it started.

Soon after, the battles of Transvaal, Orange free state and Talana were being relived from the top of Shankill Street to Queen Street. Medals were proudly shown around the family and ornate items from far off lands adorned modest homes.

The war in South Africa was victorious and overshadowed the loss of life to Lurgan, which was relatively slight, considering the hazards of disease etc.

When the great War came in August 1914 Lurgan men came in their thousands to enlist in the 15 Irish regiments of the period. Many men went to the regiments their fathers had fought in 12 years earlier but the majority joined at the recruitment drive at Brownlow House in September 1914.

The Royal Irish Fusiliers had come to Lurgan first as part of a recruitment drive to raise its quota of 2,500 men. This was achieved within three days alone. It stood as a record for a town of its size. Another regiment which attracted a lot of recruits was the 16th Batt. of the Royal Irish Rifles. Other popular regiments were the Connaught Rangers and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Many joined to see the far off places their fathers spoke about and many joined for a steady wage, good food and footwear. Talk on the streets was that it would all be over by Christmas anyway!

Battles:
The swirling battles of the rivers in Northern France had given way to a new type of warfare with lines of opposing trenches stretching from the sea to the Swiss border. The use of aircraft, Zeppelins and submarines should have told many what lay ahead for them.

going over the topIn May 1916 it was decided to go ahead with the ‘Big Push’ an all-out assault on German lines scheduled for July 1st. At 07:30 that morning, whistles blew and men from every street in Lurgan climbed out of their trenches and walked towards the German lines. Many lit their pipes. Some played football as they advanced. There was nothing to fear… after all one of the longest artillery bombardments of enemy lines had just taken place for the past two weeks and surely no German could still be alive…

Not so. The Germans were well aware of the Big Push and sat comfortably in their deep dug trenches until that fateful morning. As the artillery stopped and the smoke cleared they came out of their bunkers and assembled their machine guns and watched as men of Haig’s new army walked towards them in extended lines, their bayonets fixed and each man carrying a personal kit and weapons to a minimum load of 30 Kgs.

Mortars:
Ten minutes later it started. The squeal of the machine guns, the deafening blows of the mortars and the cries of young men being scythed down in their thousands. Thirteen divisions went over the top that day. Among them the 9th Batt R.I.F. made up mostly of Lurgan men and, later in the day, the 16th Batt R.I.R.

By the end of the first day 19,000 men lay dead. 57,000 were wounded.

carrying the woundedThe blood of Lurgan’s youth flowed onto the battlefields of the Somme. As night came the cries for help came from shell-holes. Brother called to brother, father called to son. Many made attempts to retrieve the wounded only to rise to their feet and fall to the snipers’ bullets. The Battle of the Somme raged on until November by which time 420,000 men were lost. German losses stood at about 450,000, many drowning in seas of mud.

Haig’s new army died on the Somme and with it died the idealism of men who had marched so eagerly to war. It was a week later before the telegrams began to arrive in the town of Lurgan. Few streets were spared the rattle of young telegram boys on the cobblestones. Witnesses remember the cries and screams as the news spread from one street to another. One woman, Mrs Hobbs of Union St. received news that, of her four sons, three were dead and the other missing.

Hardship.
That Saturday night a list went up outside the town hall and all the churches remained open all night. Lurgan men suffered great hardship in every theatre of operation in World war I and stories of the horror of the Somme are equaled in the Daranelles and Gallipoli. Lurgan men are found in all of the 15 regiments of that period and Lurgan’s list of gallantry medals reflect that bravery.

In the Great War of 1914-1918, Victoria Crosses were awarded to all arms of the services. 18 of these went to Irishmen. Nothing more needs to be said.

Lurgan’s dead of WWI totals 395. several hundred returned as broken men, gassed maimed and shell shocked. Many died as a result of their injuries within a few months of coming back home. Men from every tradition and from every street serviced together, fought together and died together. They belonged to all of us. The suffering of WWI went on for many years after. Widows tried to raise large families alone, men crippled and unfit for work existed on a pittance of an allowance. Alcoholism was at its highest level. This surely was the darkest period for the town of Lurgan.

See also:

Somme hero: Robert Quigg VC 1885 - 1955

Battle of the Somme

Battle of the Somme - Memorabilia

The Larne Fallen

An Enniskillen VC

Lurgan Men in the Great War

World War I: Soldiers of Down

The Peake Brothers at War 1914-18

YOUR RESPONSES

DOUGLAS from Co Armagh N.Ireland - July '08

My Grandfather is Thomas Lyness is listed, I would love to hear from any relatives, I can be contacted via email drumgor at tiscali dot co dot uk


Update on 9th Bat The Royal Irish Fusiliers D CompanyDetails of names taken from article that appeared in The Lurgan Mail 1914.

John Addis, Queen St Lurgan. Robert Addis, Queen St Lurgan. Henry Allen, Drumgask. Robert Allen, Bleary. James Bell, Agnes St Lurgan. Robert Bell, Kircassock. John Brown, Bleary. Thomas Bunting, Donegreagh. David Caldwell, Monbrief. James Carson, Bleary. James Carson, Queen St. William Lurgan. William Duffy, Union St Lurgan. William Thomas Duke, Union St Lurgan. Ralph Dynes, Bleary, Henry Fox, Princess St Lurgan. Francis Girvan, Tarson. Joseph Girvan, Bridge St Lurgan. Thomas Gregson, Drumgor. Thomas Hamilton, Corcreaney. Adam Hewitt, William St Lurgan. Frederick Irwin, Corcreaney. James Johnston, High St Lurgan. William Johnston, Kilmore. Arthur Lennon, Bleary. Edward Long, Edward St Lurgan. Thomas Lyness, Drumgor. Robert Matthews, Toberhuney. William James Maxwell, Drumgor. William Monaghan, Derryadd. Joseph Morton, Tamnificarbet. Thomas McCleary, George St Lurgan. Henry McCourt, Bleary. Jackson McGeown, Kilmore. John McKerr, Drumgor. William McKerr, Drumgor. Norman Reid, !
Corcreaney, William Sands, Bleary. Joshua Sloan, George St. Lurgan. Thomas Topley, Bleary. James Torrens, Union St Lurgan. William Uprichard, Derrymacash. James Well, Avenue Rd. Lurgan. John Wilkinson, Bleary. Alexander, Union St. Lurgan. James Wilson, Monbrief. Thomas Wilson, 12 Agnes St, Lurgan.

 

William Carson - Jan '08
Douglas I knew your grandfather, he fought with me.

Ingrid Heming - July '06
Very moving article on the men of Lurgan. My uncle, Victor Dillon of Princess Street, Lurgan joined C Company 9th batallion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and died at the Somme. I believe he was only 18. My mother, Edna Dillon, who was only a child when he was killed, remembered the telegram arriving and my grandmother fainting at the door. I have a picture of him in his uniform perhaps taken before he left, or home on leave. Such a tragic waste of the lives of these fine young men.

T Higgins - June '06
Heart breaking information about what the men went through. My great grandfather fought at the Somme and I have heard that he never ever spoke of it.
The one good thing to read was that they all fought together and religion wasnt the big issue or problem that it is now. Unfortunately the marches that take place to commemorate the Somme seem to illustrate the opposite of what our ancestors fought and died for. My grandfather was a protestant and I am a catholic - I cannot wear a poppy to show respect for him and his friends as this now symbolises something different here than was originally meant to. They deserve our greatest respect and we shouldnt be allowed to forget them or what they did for us.

Joanne Vella - June '06
This article was heart wrenching. It really brought out the hardships these soldiers and people had to go through. I was especially moved by the picture of that lone soldier by the grave. The picture speaks a thousand words and it is what drew me to this article. In my opinion it gives out a feeling of loneliness and despair. I am glad that you showed how much people suffer because of war and how it's affects are long lasting because sometimes people tend to forget. I believe there is a need of more articles that show the true picture of war and not a sugar coated one so world leaders think twice before declaring war and citizens also think twice before supporting it.

Ruth Bennett - April '06
Douglas,
What a wonderful thing it would be if anyone could name any of the men in your photograph before memories disappear with time. Someone might have this same photo tucked away with family memorabilia, and with the name of their relative written on the back. My great uncle James Powell of Lurgan was in this regiment but I have no idea what he looked like. Do you know which battalion this is?
Best wishes,
Ruth.

Douglas Mowbray - April '06
John, at present i have no names, only my grandfather thomas lyness from lurgan returned from france but his brother in law james jones and cousin francis mckerr were killed in france.

John - March '06
My own grandfather was one of the first to enlist with the The Royal Irish Fusiliers along with his brother bernard my grandfather was only 16 at the time of his enlistment, he was wounded in france and at galipoli and i believe he was on the hospital ship the Britannic when it went down, he was also on a hospital ship called the Donegal when it was sank coming from france , he reenlisted to the R.I.F in 1939 and was sent to THE ROYAL ENGINERS instead where he was wounded at Dunkirk. i would be interested if douglas has had any names to his foto.

D J Casey - November '05
An extremely interesting piece of history about the people of Lurgan. I grew up in Lurgan and my grandfather was a soldier from Lurgan who served on the western front. He never talked about his experiences and I never pressed him on the matter but my other grandfather was from Portadown and he had no hesitation discussing his time during the war.

Lauren - February '05
This article is very good it has given me a good insight of what it is like in the war.

Douglas Mowbray - December '04
Good Day, thank you for your article on the men of Lurgan 1914 -1918 War, this was very interesting. I have been trying to trace some information relating to my grandfather Thomas Lyness of Lurgan who spent time in France along with his regiment The Royal Irish Fusiliers, I have attached a photo taken in France, I would be interested if anyone can identify any soldiers in this photo.

WW1 photo

Best Regards, Douglas Mowbray.


If you liked this story you may also find the Lurgan Ancestry website interesting.
http://www.lurganancestry.net

Share any information or stories you might have, discuss this article at the bottom of the page or e-mail ypam-online@bbc.co.uk.

click here for a moving audio visual presentation of the Great War at the BBC History site.

Click to return to 'Battle of the Somme'

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