Councillors join in Somme ceremonies

Dromore Ulster Unionist Councillor and Banbridge District Council Chairman Olive Mercer (right) with Dromore DUP Councillor and council Vice-Chairman Hazel Gamble laying a wreath at the Ulster Memorial Tower during a visit to the Somme.
Dromore Ulster Unionist Councillor and Banbridge District Council Chairman Olive Mercer (right) with Dromore DUP Councillor and council Vice-Chairman Hazel Gamble laying a wreath at the Ulster Memorial Tower during a visit to the Somme.

Banbridge District Council’s Chairman and Vice-Chairman recently joined Somme commemorations for those killed during the WWI battle.

Dromore Councillors Olive Mercer (UUP) and Hazel Gamble took the opportunity afforded during the singing of the final hymn at the Ulster tower to place a wreath along with those of other organisations represented.

“To visit the Somme and other areas associated with the First World War is both a memorable and humbling experience,” said Council Chairman Mrs Mercer.

“The loss of life and level of sacrifice made by those who fought in the Great War is something which we must never forget and should seek to learn from so that such an event may never recur.”

The two councillors pointed to the Thiepval Memorial as a striking example of the enormity, and worldwide inpact, of the Battle of the Somme.

Standing in 40 acres on a ridge overlooking the Somme battlefield, the memorial records the names of 72,085 Commonwealth soldiers whose graves are
unknown.

It is also a battle memorial to the Franco-British offensive on the Somme in 1916 with a Franco–British cemetery laid out behind the it.

The names of a further 54,896 soldiers are recorded on the stone panels of the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, in Belgium, while the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing records 34,984 soldiers.

Tyne Cot cemetery, which along with the other cemeteries is immaculately maintained by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, contains nearly 12,000 graves each marked with a headstone.

However, where it was not possible to identify the bodies, which at Tyne Cot was the case for almost 8,400 fallen soldiers, the graves are marked “A Soldier of the Great War, Known to God”.

Councillors Mercer and Gamble said the scale of devastation was difficult to comprehend and although the large cemeteries were an impactful reminder of the huge numbers of lives claimed by the war, the small cemeteries, with less than 20 graves, were equally poignant.

Their visit culminated with services on July 1 at the Thiepval Memorial, Ulster Memorial Tower and the village of Guillemont, to commemorate the 97th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, which began on 1 July and ended in mid-November
1916.

Wreaths were laid by Theresa Villiers MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and also by representatives of the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, the Irish Government, the British, Irish and French Armies. Mike Nesbitt MLA laid a wreath on behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party.