(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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
hero: Robert Quigg VC 1885 - 1955
of the Somme
of the Somme - Memorabilia
Men in the Great War
War I: Soldiers of Down
Peake Brothers at War 1914-18
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
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?
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.
Best Regards, Douglas Mowbray.
If you liked this story you may also find the Lurgan
Ancestry website interesting.
Share any information or stories you might have,
discuss this article at the bottom of the page or
here for a moving audio visual presentation of
the Great War at the BBC History site.