The Somme: The Londonderry flute band who served as Somme stretcher-bearers

Many band members lost their lives during the war
Image caption Many band members lost their lives during the war

When World War One broke out in 1914, members of Londonderry's Hamilton Flute Band joined up "to a man".

They served as stretcher-bearers at the Battle of the Somme, performed concerts to lift spirits and their bass drum was even used as a communion table.

The Somme took the lives of Lance Corporal Joseph Scott, from Moore Street, and Rifleman George Mills, from Pine Street.

They were killed on 1 July but many more would die before the end of hostilities.

Image copyright Hamilton Flute Band
Image caption Band members at the 1960 Somme commemoration in Derry

Established in 1856, the Hamilton Band is one of the oldest in Northern Ireland.

They formed the nucleus of the regimental band of the 10th battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

Following completion of training in Ireland, the 10th Inniskillings moved to England and subsequently to France.

Once there, the men encountered combat and the awful reality of trench warfare for the first time.

Image caption The band's drum was used to serve communion at the front

After the Armistice those members who had survived the war undertook the process of re-building the band.

They had a bit of work to do as the battalion band had taken most of the instruments with them to the front.

It meant that when the band was revived, all of the drums and most of the flutes were missing.

Eventually the original drums were returned and Ian Bartlett, curator at St Columb's Cathedral, said they now hang in the Chapter House.

"This (bass drum) was in use right through the First World War and was, in fact, used to form a communion table on the battlefield on Sundays when the band celebrated the sacrament of Holy Communion.

"It was re-presented to the band when it reformed in the city after the war. They used it, I believe, until the 1970s when it was then laid up in the Chapter House."

Image copyright Hamilton Flute Band
Image caption Members of the band were said to have signed up "to a man"

Robert McGonagle, Hamilton Flute Band secretary, praised the men's courage.

"I just wonder would it happen now if we met such circumstances?

"The dedication and the bravery of all those people that joined up and went away into the unknown was amazing and probably wouldn't be repeated nowadays."

Those who lost their lives will be honoured during the act of remembrance at the war memorial in Derry.

This year there will also be a special drum service held at St Columb's Cathedral to mark the contribution of the Hamilton Flute Band.

"We felt that a wonderful way of marking the commemorations was to have a piece of music specially composed," said Robert.

"We commissioned a piece built around the Battle of the Somme and how the members joined up, marched to the war and went over the top of the trenches."

You can hear more about the Hamilton Flute Band and their remarkable story here.

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