Private William McBride

As we prepare for tomorrow's Act of Remembrance at the Peace & Memorial Garden at Fort Dunree,  we hope that you will all find the following video of interest, and look forward to seeing you all at 2.30pm afternoon tomorrow!

Remembrance by irishimport

The following is an extract from 'Armagh & District History Group

“The Suffering, The Sorrow…”

Willie McBride died on the 22nd of April 1916. We know from the “The History of the 36th Ulster Division” the conditions he and his comrades were suffering on that day – “On the 22nd and 23rd the infantry took up the positions it was to occupy during the bombardment ; the 9th Inniskillings in the right section of Thiepval Wood, the 11th Rifles in the left, and the 9th Irish Fusiliers in the Hamel trenches. These troops had a purgatory to endure. For the most part in the narrow slit assembly trenches, with the rain pouring steadily down upon them, they were under furious German bombardments that wreathed the wood in smoke and flame, and made the crashing of great trees the accompaniment to the roar of bursting shells.” Kevin Myers tells us “This is November, might I suggest that you drive out to the country, walk into a field and stand absolutely still for 10 minutes. That should do it – and then remember that the men of the Great War would spend two unbroken weeks in the front line. Two weeks without any heaters or fires or dry feet or proper waterproof clothing, just wool and flannel and hobnailed leather, with absolutely no exercise by which to stay warm. Two weeks almost without moving as the wind blew down from the North Sea bearing sleet, snow or rain or endless penetrating damp. Two weeks immersed in bitter wet loam and their own cold excrement. Two weeks without sleep year after year after year”. Again in the “Story of the Two Irish Divisions”:- we are told “The story is black in tragedy, they were left in the line for 16 days before the Somme Battle and were shelled and gassed incessantly as they crouched in wet ditches. Every day groups of men were blown to bits until the ditches were bloody and the living lay by the corpses of their comrades.” “If they had had the power to dry up miles and miles of waist deep mud there would have been some sense in it. As it was the Ypres battlefield just represented one gigantic slough of despond into which floundered battalions brigades and divisions of infantry without end, to be shot to pieces or drowned, until at last and with immeasurable slaughter we had gained a few miles of liquid mud which were of no use to anyone.” (Irish Voices from the Great War) One British divisional history recorded that two companies which had taken part in the Somme assault of November 18th had disappeared entirely being overwhelmed by machine gunfire. “Once seen the landscape is an unforgettable one in this neighbourhood of villages meadows, woods and fields – there was literally not a bush or the tiniest blade of grass to be seen, every hands breadth of ground has been churned up again and again, trees have been uprooted, smashed and ground to touchwood ------ hills have been levelled and arable land made a desert”. (Ernst Junger – A German Soldier) Despite the slow but progressive British Advance, poor weather – snow – brought a halt to the Somme offensive on the 18th November – The British and French attack had gained 12 kilometres of ground resulting in “420,000 estimated” British casualties. At the Battle of Albert, four of the five Battalions of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers lost more than half their strength. The five battalions combined casualty figure was 2,208 (from the Inniskillings).

Who Was Willie McBride?

The song has had various names “Willie McBride”, “No Man’s Land”, and “The Green fields of France”, and was composed by Eric Bogle, a Scottish singer from Peebles who had immigrated to Australia. The change of title of the song to “The Green fields of France” was attributed to “The Fureys” by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair who nominated the words as his favourite peace poem. The song is a powerful indictment of war and has been recorded many times since it was written in 1975. A version by Makem and Clancy is the largest selling folk single in Irish recording history. In the 9th Battalion there were three McBrides – one has no known grave and two are buried at Authuile Cemetry – one McBride is identified by the single initial “w” and the other by the full name “William McBride. W J Canning when writing “A Wheen of Medals” the history of the “9th Service Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers contacted Eric Bogle, the songs composer who replied confirming that the grave he sat by was that of William McBride of the “Tyrones” in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers who was the son of Joseph and Lena McBride, Roan Cottage, Lislea, Armagh (Commonwealth Graves Commission). Willie McBride lived in Roan Cottage,Lislea, Armagh, attended the Temple Presbyterian Church (1st Keady) and went to Crosskeys National School where Miss Adamson was Principal. He served his time in the shoe trade, firstly as an apprentice in Aitkens, Cootehill. He then went to Irvinestown for a short time before moving to Allinghams, North Street, Belfast. He enlisted in the army in Belfast nine months before his death. Willie had 3 brothers, one of whom went to Canada, his sister, Lena, sang in the choir at the Temple Church where his service in the 1914-18 War is commemorated on the War Memorial. At the time of his death he was acting as Orderly for 2nd Lieutenant Kelly who was wounded shortly after William was killed. The funeral was attended by the Chaplain and an Officer from his Company was present on behalf of Lieutenant Kelly who was in hospital. Mrs Lena McBride was initially notified by Lieutenant Colonel Ricardo the Commanding Officer of the 9th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers that William had been killed in the trenches by shell fire. Subsequently she received from his Platoon Commander Lieutenant Kelly the letter below. John A Kelly, 2nd Lieut. 9th Royal Inniskilling Fus.

Dear Mrs McBride
I wrote to you on the 24th telling you of you son’s health, but I am sorry to say that owning to some mistake your address in our books was Roan Lodge, Lislea, Omagh. Your nephew, who is in the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers, came over a few nights ago and I was able to get your correct address. Since, writing to you, I was given the enclosed photograph by an engineer officer. It was found near your son’s body, and was thought to belong to an officer of the Royal Engineers who was killed by the same shell as your son. I recognise it as being very like your son, and probably was his. I need not tell you how much we all miss your son, and I am pleased to be able to tell you that I had recommended him to my company commander for bravery in carrying a message under very heavy shell fire on the night of the 10th of March. You may rest assured that he died in a manner which will always to be an example to his comrades – doing their duty. Yours sincerely,
John A Kelly, 2nd Lieut.
9th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.