Canadian Freda’s thoughts go with locals on their March to the Somme

Crowds gather by the War Memorial in Hillsborough for a service organised by Hillsborough Old Guard in tribute to 10 villagers who died when they were hit by an artillery shell as they were moving out of the French village of Martinsart to take up forward positions on the Somme on June 28 1916.
Crowds gather by the War Memorial in Hillsborough for a service organised by Hillsborough Old Guard in tribute to 10 villagers who died when they were hit by an artillery shell as they were moving out of the French village of Martinsart to take up forward positions on the Somme on June 28 1916.

As a party from Dromore’s Royal British Legion marched to the Somme last week, the thoughts of Canadian Freda Graham went with them.

Freda’s grandfather, Banbridge native and later Dromore man John Coey, served at the Somme and Freda had planned her own trip to France, until ill health struck.

Forced to postpone visiting the Somme in honour of her grandfather, who survived the war and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Freda read a Leader report on the Dromore party’s fundraising march, but found she was too late to contact its organisers.

“I would have liked to be able to get in touch with either Colin Ward or Adrian Hawthorne,” said the Ontario woman, “just to let them know they are also making a pilgrimage for me and my late grandfather John Coey. He was born in Banbridge, also lived in Dromore and later Belfast, after World War One.

“Perhaps he knew Colin Ward’s grandfather, as they both served in the Royal Irish Rifles and would have lived in Dromore at the same time.”

Freda, who was herself raised in Belfast, said her grandparents were buried in Dromore Cathedral churchyard.

Last week’s March to the Somme involved Legion members and supporters in a five-day, 100-mile trek, kitted out in replica WWI uniforms, to mark the centenary of the battle while raising money for the Poppy Appeal and Macmillan Cancer Support.

Freda now hopes to hear from some of those who took part and can be contacted by email at jograham@cogeco.ca. “I would be more than happy to hear from anyone,” she said.

Meanwhile, relatives of local soldiers, 11 from Dromore - who were killed in the days immediately prior to the Battle of the Somme, were among those to gather in tribute at Hillsborough recently.

Some 23 men, 10 others from Hillsborough and two from Banbridge, died after they were hit by an artillery shell while moving out of the French village of Martinsart to take up forward positions on the Somme on June 28, 1916.

Hillsborough Old Guard organised a commemoration, at which young people read aloud the names of the fallen, from Dromore - Company Sergeant Major Joseph McCoy, Rifleman Thomas John Bell, Rifleman William Darragh, Rifleman Alexander Jones, Rifleman Joseph Martin, Rifleman Richard Crawley, Rifleman Thomas Brown, Rifleman Arthur Burns, Rifleman David Frame and Rifleman Stanley Guiney; from Banbridge - Rifleman John Carson and Rifleman David Dale and from Hillsborough - Regimental Sergeant Major James Beaton, Rifleman Albert Crangle, Rifleman Samuel Hamilton, Rifleman George Heenan, Rifleman Thomas Mercer, Rifleman Joseph Thompson, Rifleman William John Berry, Rifleman Oliver Crossey, Rifleman Robert Harrison and Rifleman John Smith.

Hillsborough Presbyterian Church’s RevBert Tosh read a scripture passage, while Hillsborough Parish Church, Rector, the Rev Dr Bryan Follis, led the prayer.

Garvey Silver Band led the praise. The Marquis Of Downshire’s Bugler, Andrew Carlisle, sounded The Last Post and wreaths were laid by Hillsborough Old Guard and descendants of those who were killed at Martinsart.