‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’. Poppy dedicated at Downpatrick

 

An important part of the remembrance service at Downpatrick NSP Church on Remembrance Day, Sunday, 12th November 2017 was the dedication of a new memorial to Rifleman John Hayes of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles who was a member of the congregation who was killed in the First World War at the Battle of the Somme on 31st October 1916 at the age of just 24. The memorial contains a ceramic poppy from the Tower of London. The Tower was the location for ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ an impressive special installation produced at the start of 2014 which contained 888,246 hand-made ceramic poppies, one for every man or woman from Britain and the Commonwealth who died in military service in the Great War.

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Poppies at the Tower of London, 7th November 2014 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The poppies were designed by Paul Cummins and each one was individually hand made by a large team of volunteers so that no two flowers are the same. The poppies gradually encircled the Tower, creating a spectacular visual display and a moving location for personal reflection. The scale of the installation, containing so many individual poppies, was intended to bring home the magnitude of the event commemorated and over five million people travelled from all over the world to see the display. It was an impressive creation which continues to have a profound effect. All the poppies were sold to members of the public in memory of those who died, raising millions of pounds for service charities and extending the practical effect of the memorial all over the country which is how the poppy came to Downpatrick. Thelma Lowry, church member and a niece of John Hayes, bought one of the poppies and presented it to the church on behalf of her family in memory of her uncle.

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Memorial, First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick

The church has a war memorial from the First World War containing the names of the 32 members of the congregation who served in the First World War as well as the three members who made the supreme sacrifice – Craig Nelson, Francis McMurray and John Hayes.

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Cover of the church’s leaflet about the three members who lost their lives in the First World War. For more details see:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/three-lives-remembered/

At the service Jack Steers played the Last Post on the trumpet and Laura Neill played ‘Abide with Me’ on the bagpipes following the dedication. This new memorial is a family memorial but of a church member who was killed during the Battle of the Somme over one hundred years ago. As such it ties the church into a remarkable act of remembrance that began at the Tower of London but which has travelled around the world taking poppies from the installation back to the cities, towns and villages which were once the homes of those who were killed in the Great War.

A special site now records the locations to which the poppies have travelled:

https://www.wherearethepoppiesnow.org.uk/the-poppy-map/

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Memorial plaque

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Pew Numbers

 

It is hard not to imagine that every feature of dissenting meeting-houses has been subject to some serious scrutiny at one time or another. The regular publication of surveys of non-conformist churches and the work of the Chapels Society are testimony to the ongoing interest that there is in these types of buildings. But I was led to reflect on one aspect of the history of old meeting-houses that may not have had too much attention over the years by the ‘discovery’ recently of a long discarded pew number in my church at Ballee.

It wasn’t really a discovery since I and many people knew it was there all along but, for the first time, I took a close look at it and realised that it is a work of art in its own right. When the Ballee meeting-house was refurbished in 1912 they replaced the old box pews with ‘modern’ open ones. They may have re-used the timber from the old pews to make the new ones, they certainly used the old pews to make partitions and features in the rooms they created in both ends of the long arm of the ‘T’ of the church.

This number 12 is in the inside of a cupboard in the vestry. When you look at it, a lot of the wood which was used there and in the library and in the store room at the other end of the church, must clearly have once formed the original box pews, probably dating back as far as the early eighteenth century. Much of it has been stained a very dark colour but in some places the original colouring can be seen and there are two places where the pew numbers are visible. One is a slightly faded number 22 but the other is this one inside the vestry cupboard.

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Inside the cupboard

It has been protected from the sun for over a hundred years and it is clear that at some point after it was painted on the door of the pew when in situ someone had carefully left it untouched when re-varnishing the rest of the door. An expert could probably date this number more or less exactly. I would guess it dates from the end of the eighteenth or the start of the nineteenth century. It is certainly very carefully done. It must have been an important project for the congregation at that time to see that their pews were so clearly labelled, and done in such an attractive manner.

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A panel high in the corner of a store room – number 22

For most types of dissenting congregations pew numbers and pew rents were a central feature of the finance and management of a church or chapel. Who owned which pew and who sat where were important questions so their clear numbering was an important thing. For the historian financial records of pew rents are an important source but I can’t remember much discussion of the way numbers were added to pews.

In the nineteenth century, and probably before, it was possible to buy ceramic or brass numbers to fix on pew ends or doors. But very often the numbers were painted on. The pews in Ballee today are all unnumbered, as they are in Clough. In Downpatrick, which still has its original box pews, the numbers have all been removed downstairs but they survive in the galleries. These are very neatly done and to me look like eighteenth-century adornments.

Some of the Downpatrick numbers

But the now almost completely vanished pew numbers from Ballee must have looked very impressive. I will look out for more examples of historical pew numbering from now on.

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Number 12

Events in July at the Lakeside

 

In July we had two highly successful events at the Lakeside Inn, Ballydugan. We were blessed by good weather on both occasions and both events were really well supported.

The first, on 8th July, was a joint Afternoon Tea for members of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough. This was a very pleasant gathering at which a special presentation was made to Myrtle for her thirty years as treasurer of the Downpatrick congregation. As always the lake looked particularly impressive and we were joined (see picture at the top of the page) by the swans, their cygnets and a heron.

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Inside the marquee

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Cakes

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Afternoon tea

On 22nd July we held our Treasure Hunt and Hog Roast. This was another wonderful occasion with many people participating and around £1,000 raised for Downpatrick church funds. It was an especially beautiful night to be travelling around the countryside of this part of county Down and we are indebted, as ever, to those who set the tricky questions, those who marked them, the team who set the cars on their way and those who helped with the parking. Dr Milhench and his family won the Treasure Hunt and very kindly gave the prize back to the church. As always the Lakeside Inn is such a tremendous venue for occasions like this and we are grateful to Margaret and Geoffrey for hosting the event so wonderfully well.

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Setting off from the car park on the treasure hunt

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Annabel, Marion and Margaret

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Gathering after the treasure hunt

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Renee on the keyboards

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Queuing for the hog roast

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Announcing  the results and the winners

St Patrick’s Centre Terrace Garden Downpatrick

Walking through the Garden at the rear of the St Patrick’s Centre in Downpatrick I noticed how attractive the Garden now is. The little details are worth examining, like St Patrick’s ship (not the original one I would think), the standing stone, and the fairy thorn brought there from another site but growing well set in a Celtic cross just to remind people of Patrick’s victory over superstition. The Cathedral and the Southwell School provide a marvellous backdrop.

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Looking towards the Southwell School

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The Fairy Thorn

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Standing Stone

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St Patrick’s Ship and the Cathedral

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The case of the Clough meeting house (1836): law reporting and pamphleteering

Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

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Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church opened for worship in 1837

PUBLIC LECTURE

by

John F Larkin, QC

Attorney General for Northern Ireland

 

The case of the Clough meeting house (1836): law reporting and pamphleteering

The Lecture will take place in the meeting house on

Wednesday, 24th May 2017

at 7.30 pm

Followed by refreshments in the hall. Admission free. Everyone welcome.

Abstract

The case of Dill v Watson (1836) determined which of two parties in Irish Presbyterianism was entitled to the ownership of the Meeting House in Clough, County Down. It was the first Irish battle in a campaign in which litigation was the adjunct of theological controversy, and in the Clough case there is almost a fusion of legal and theological debate. What is striking (and fascinating) about the Clough case is that both parties published reports of the decision. Law reporting was for the parties to the Clough litigation no abstract record of a judicial decision but a further way for historical, legal, political and theological debate to be carried on. The two reports of the Clough case opened a distinct front in a pamphlet campaign that lasted until the Dissenters Chapels Act 1844 – if not beyond. This lecture explores this litigation and its background through the prism of the two partisan reports of the Clough case and the later law report by Thomas Jones. It examines the significance of the Clough case as a turning point in wider legal and theological controversy.

For further information contact: Rev Dr David Steers, nspresb@hotmail.com

Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, Castlewellan Road, Clough, BT30 8RD

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The interior of the meeting house. The venue for the lecture

Ballee’s Carnegie Organ

In 2012 Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church celebrated the centenary of their two manual pipe organ with a twelve hour ‘Hymnathon’ from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm, finishing the day with a special service at 7.00 pm. The organ was officially opened on Sunday, 23rd June 1912 and its centenary was marked by a very effective and widely supported cross-community celebration with clergy, choirs, musicians and visitors from all local churches taking part.

 

But back in 1912 the organ was installed as part of an extensive renovation of the church that significantly modernised what previously must have been a largely untouched early eighteenth-century meeting house and which gives the church its essential appearance to this day. The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine for August 1912 reported that:

 

On Sunday, 23rd June, successful services were conducted by Rev. H. McLachlan, MA, BD, of the Unitarian Home Missionary college, and sermons appropriate to the re-opening of the renovated church were preached to large and appreciative congregations…An outstanding feature of the day was the fact that two neighbouring rectors of the Episcopal Church held no services, thus leaving their people free to attend…a gracious compliment to minister and people

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Rev Dr Herbert McLachlan c. 1912

The report went on that the new manse, which was nearing completion, was much admired by the numerous visitors and nearly one hundred pounds was raised on the day. In addition considerable work had been done to the church:

 

The building has been thoroughly overhauled, new high-pressure heating apparatus set up…The old graveyard has been mapped and numbered and gravelled paths laid out. The tinted glass windows set in Castlewellan granite jambs are especially noticeable for their reposeful simplicity and strength. The grand old timbered roof, which was raised at the first renovation of the church in 1773, is unique, and showed out beautifully in the favourable light of the summer day. The old rough hewn flagged floor has been replaced by a patterned maple wood block floor, which still adds to the quiet neatness aimed at by the promoters of the scheme…The work which, which gives universal satisfaction, was wholly carried out by members of families belonging to Ballee Non-Subscribing Church.

 

All this was done under the direction of the Rev J.H. Bibby, himself a considerable benefactor to the Ballee congregation. However, a centrepiece of the day was the opening of the new organ, itself the result of a charitable donation of a very different sort:

 

…a fine organ, built in solid oak by Dalladay of Hastings, has been erected…The musical part of the service was rendered  in a devotional spirit by the Choir, augmented by voluntary helpers. The beautiful instrument was ably handled by Mr R. McCullen, CE, who is honorary organist of the church.

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Rev J.H. Bibby

 

The report doesn’t mention it but the new organ was paid for by a donation from the Carnegie Fund.

 

The organ came to Ballee just over 100 years after protestant dissenting churches in Ireland, mainly those of a liberal or non-subscribing outlook, first began to use organs in their worship. The first organ seems to have been opened in Cork in about 1801. In 1806 Belfast’s Second Congregation and the Presbyterian church in Dundalk both installed organs. In some places this remained an incredibly controversial topic throughout the nineteenth century. Almost certainly Ballee will have used a harmonium without any controversy for some time before but in 1912 it moved into a different league with the installation of their Dalladay organ.

 

The choice of organ builder was an interesting one. It is not known whether Dalladay built any other organs in Ireland, it certainly was a long way for the firm to travel to fulfil the contract. In Organs of Hastings and St. Leonards Julian Rhodes writes of him:

 

Samuel Frederick Dalladay (1865-1955) built or rebuilt some ten organs in the town [Hastings]. A Londoner, Dalladay was a skilled performer who gave recitals at the Royal Albert Hall and the Crystal Palace in his youth. In 1886 he moved to Folkestone and opened an Academy of Music; he became organist at St. John’s Church, Folkestone. His organ-building activities are known to date from as early as 1903, though it was not until just before World War I that he moved to Hastings and opened the Sussex Organ Works, which remained in business until about 1939. From time to time he built instruments for churches throughout England, though most of his work was in the southern counties. His two largest jobs appear to have been a 4-manual 26-stop instrument for St. Bartholomew, Reading in 1910, and a 3-manual 36-stop rebuild at Holy Trinity, Aldershot in 1925.

 

The organ underwent extensive repairs in 1954 and was rededicated at a service on 12th September 1954 by the Rt Rev John Radcliffe, the then moderator. In 1972 an electric blower was installed. Prior to this date it had to be pumped by hand and it was not unknown for the man employed to do the pumping to nod off during the sermon and need a gentle reminder to return to his labours for the final hymn! However, its genesis as an organ paid for by the Carnegie Fund gives it a unique provenance, at least in relation to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.

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Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline, Scotland on 25th November 1835. The son of a poor domestic hand-loom weaver his early life was not easy and at the age of 12, along with his parents and younger brother, he emigrated to Pittsburg. Here begins a story that encapsulates the American Dream. His first job was as a ‘bobbin boy’ in a cotton mill at $1.25 per week but was soon ‘promoted’ to work as an operative for $2 per week, doing work that was physically hard and dangerous and which daily induced nausea in the 13 year old. But through hard work, ingenuity, resourcefulness, drive and some luck, by the age of 30 he was earning $50,000 per year. Most of his income came from investments he had made during the Civil War and by the time he came to retire at the age of 65 his personal fortune was estimated to be the largest in America. He sold his family holdings in his steel and other companies for $480 million in 1901 and turned his attention, full-time, to philanthropy.

 

Carnegie draw up a set of priorities as to where he would help. They were in order:

 

  1. Universities
  2. Free libraries
  3. Hospitals
  4. Parks
  5. Halls suitable for meetings and concerts
  6. Swimming baths
  7. Churches, but only the buildings and accoutrements and not to support religious activities other than music making.

 

Churches were right at the bottom of his list. Although Carnegie was a Scots Presbyterian by birth and was a member of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York his religious views were not conventional and he had little time for church preachers. But he did like church music and thought that churches had an important cultural role in this area. As a result he offered grants for church organs, buying a total of 7,689, including, for instance, 219 in Ireland and 1,005 in Scotland, 4,092 in the United States and one each in India and British Guinea, all to a total cost of over $6,000,000.

 

Early on funds were provided for half the cost of an organ on the basis that the congregation would find the rest, although later on the Carnegie Fund appears to have supplied the full cost. However, stringent rules existed for the supply of an organ from the fund. Applications for organs alone ran as high as about 3,000 in one year. In the first 20 years there were approximately 40,000 applications, showing that the successful award of a grant was far from a foregone conclusion. All applicants had to provide a detailed financial statement and explain how a new instrument would contribute to their congregational life.

 

A report commissioned by Andrew Carnegie into the effectiveness of these grants found that the introduction of a new organ had a wholly beneficial effect in business terms as well as every other way:

 

The pastors of the churches visited were questioned closely as to the effect produced upon the contributions of the members by a gift as large as that made by the Corporation. The unanimous declaration was made that it had been a stimulus to individual giving and in many instances illustrative figures were presented to show that the benefactions of the church had been doubled since the installation of the organ. A part of such increase was usually ascribed to the larger congregations attracted by the better music.

 

So this is the background to the grant of the Carnegie organ to Ballee Church, one of the 219 in Ireland. None of the correspondence relating to the acquisition of the organ has survived but the organ has remained an integral part of regular worship ever since.

 

Andrew Carnegie’s report into the effectiveness of his organ bequests concluded three things:

 

  1. Churches are contributing instrumentalities in the social and cultural advancement of a community – the aggregate of communities make the Nation.
  2. The efficiency of the services of a church is augmented by the use of a pipe organ, hence, through the church, the organ indirectly contributes to the social and cultural advancement of the community, and
  3. Directly, the organ when used in recitals and by students of music, renders an important cultural service.

 

Although written in a slightly strange jargon no one could argue against these observations as being true in Ballee. The pipe organ has contributed much to congregational life and consequently to the life of the wider community. The congregation are glad to have it and value it as part of both their witness and their heritage from over one hundred years.

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Harvest Thanksgiving

 

The services of Harvest Thanksgiving at the congregations of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Churches were all joyous and uplifting occasions.

At Downpatrick we welcomed the Rev Dr John Nelson as guest preacher and the Harlandic Male Voice Choir conducted by Elaine Hawthorne to lead our worship. Laura Patterson played the organ and the church was very thoughtfully decorated to represent the changing seasons of the year as well as the sacrifice of those who served in the First World War.

At Ballee the walls were decorated by the Sunday School with the first verse of W.G. Tarrant’s hymn “Go work in my vineyard, my garden and field, and bring me the fruits and the flowers they yield. The voice of the Master the labourers heard, and into his harvest they went at his word” and each window was superbly decorated with a different line from this. Our visiting preacher was the Very Rev William McMillan and we welcomed back the Bailliesmills Accordion Band who played at the service. The organ was played by John Strain.

At Clough I was the preacher and we welcomed the Clare Chorale under the direction of Sheelagh Greer to lead our worship. A large and accomplished choir their singing filled the church which was beautifully decorated for the occasion. Alfie McClelland played the organ.

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Clough

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In a forgotten corner

As the congregation was preparing for the Harvest Thanksgiving service at Downpatrick on 2nd October some members turned over an old grave stone that had lain face down for as long as anybody could remember. Indeed it had fallen such a long time ago that there was no record of the inscription. Having lain flat to the ground for so long it was not a surprise to see how crisp and sharp the lettering appeared when it was turned over. However, what was surprising was to see that the stone’s inscription included a long quotation in Greek.

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Made by Hastings the local stonemasons who had crafted many of the gravestones in the locality it was a good example of their art. They can’t have been called upon very often to execute inscriptions in the Greek alphabet but they certainly weren’t daunted by the challenge. The Greek letters were as sharp and precise as the rest.

 

It is the grave of Mary Ann McNea (1820-1884) who was clearly a devoted and much loved servant of the Nelson family. The Nelsons were a highly scholarly ministerial family. James Nelson had been minister at Downpatrick from 1792 to l838 and kept a classical school in the town. His father, Moses Ne(i)lson, had founded the famous Rademon Academy and many of his descendants had entered the ministry. James’s son Samuel Craig Nelson joined his father as minister in Downpatick in 1835 and remained for the rest of his life until he died in 1891

 

Mary herself could have spent 50 years in the service of the family. In the nineteenth century domestic service accounted for a very large proportion of the working population. She could have been with them from a very young age and when she died they added a verse from Philemon to her memorial:

 

FAITHFUL, KIND AND TRUE,

THE NELSON FAMILY

GRATEFULLY REMEMBER HER

ουκετι ώς δουλην

αλλ’ αδελφην αγαπητην.

φιλ. 16.

(PHILEMON. 16 v.)

 

I would take the Greek to mean something like “more than a servant, a beloved brother [sister]”.

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Clearly remembered fondly and honoured by a scholarly family, the wording of their tribute in the language of the New Testament was hidden for many decades but was brought to light again on the day after the feast day of St Jerome, Eusebius Hieronymus, the person responsible for translating the Bible into Latin, and the patron saint of translators.

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Three Lives Remembered

At the annual service of harvest thanksgiving at Downpatrick on Sunday, 2nd October we also launched a colour leaflet that commemorates the sacrifice of the three members of the congregation who were killed in the First World War. This has been carefully put together by Mary Stewart, the church secretary, and includes pictures of two of the men as well photographs of the various graveyards and memorials in which they are commemorated.

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Of the three who were killed one – Captain Craig Nelson – was a professional soldier from long before the war. Craig Nelson was the grandson of the minister of the church, the Rev S.C. Nelson, and had joined the Royal Irish Rifles and served in the Boer War before transferring to the Indian Army. He was an officer of the 3rd Brahman regiment and attached to the 69th Punjabis when he was killed on the western front on 25th September 1915.

Rifleman John Hayes had joined the 1st battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles at the start of the war and was killed at the battle of the Somme on 31st October 1916. Sergeant Francis McMurray served with the 7th battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was killed in France on 9th March 1916.

All three men are recorded on the church war memorial, however, the name only of Captain Nelson is inscribed on the town memorial and it seems very strange that the names of the other two were never added since they were both born and lived in Downpatrick before their war service.

At the harvest service two windows were decorated to commemorate those who served in the First World War with memorabilia being provided by members of the congregation and also including the commemorative certificates issued by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the three members who were killed. Most of the men who joined up in the locality would have served in the 36th (Ulster) Division, but in this case of those who died in the congregation one soldier (John Hayes) was with the Ulster Division, one (Craig Nelson) with the 7th (Meerut) Division of the Indian Expeditionary Force and one (Francis McMurray) was with the 16th (Irish) Division.

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John Hayes’s niece Thelma Lowry is a member of the church and she kindly provided the photograph of her uncle for the leaflet and loaned a ceramic poppy which had been part of the notable art installation at the Tower of London in 2014 – Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.

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After the service with the leaflets: Rev Dr David Steers (minister), Mrs Thelma Lowry and Mrs Lorna Thompson (nieces of Private John Hayes), Miss Mary Stewart (church secretary) and Rev Dr John Nelson visiting preacher at the church harvest.

We don’t have a picture of Sergeant McMurray and would be very pleased to hear from anyone who is related to him or who has a picture of him.

The Downpatrick leaflet will also be uploaded to the Faith and Freedom Great War Project which can be seen here:

http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm

Copies of the leaflet are available in the church.

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The first day of the battle of the Somme

The centenary of the battle of the Somme gives us an opportunity to reflect on its impact in the context of our churches and our denomination.

The battle of the Somme began at 7.30 am on 1st July 1916. The German lines were subjected to a sustained bombardment for days in advance.

Lieut. Col. G. Bull the Commanding officer of the 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles described it like this:

The bombardment, which had lasted seven days without ceasing reached its climax at 6-25 a.m. on the morning of the 1st July, and from 6-25 a.m. until 7-30 a.m. the German trenches were treated to a perfect hurricane of shells.

But although this was intended to destroy the enemy and break up their lines it did not have that effect and meant that thousands of troops, when they went over the top, stood little chance.

Private William Roberts of the 18th Durham Light Infantry kept his own diary, and of the day the battle of the Somme began recorded:

Opened a violent bombardment on the German lines. 7am a village blown up by our mine and 7.30am advance started. We were the 4th Battalion to go over, which we did about an hour later.

The short but terrible rush through the fierce curtain fire with men falling on all sides I shall never forget. High explosive shells fell all round us. The sights I saw are too terrible to write about and men almost blown to pieces were lying side by side.

Unable to proceed further, the order to retire was given and I thanked God that I came through the terrible ordeal unhurt.

I went to work in our front line at night but had to come away as it was almost blown to pieces.

There again I saw dead and wounded lying side by side. Some were moaning and others had so far lost their reason that they were laughing and singing.

Of the members of our three churches of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough at least seven were killed in the First World War from amongst the many who joined up. Three of them were killed in 1916 two of them at the battle of the Somme – including a member of Downpatrick, Rifleman John Hayes of the First Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, who was killed on 31st October 1916, and Rifleman Robert Kirkpatrick, a member of Clough, and of the 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles who was killed on 1st July, 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme. Both young men are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the memorial to the 72,195 British and South African soldiers who were killed at the battle of the Somme and have no known grave.

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Memorial, Clough NSP Church

Without doubt the battle of the Somme was one of the most bloody in the history of the British army. There were 57,470 casualties on the first day alone and 19,240 soldiers were killed on that day.

One of those killed on the first day was a member of Clough but a glance at the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine for August 1916 shows four obituaries all relating to members of the denomination who were serving in France and who were killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme.

These were:

Captain W. Haughton Smyth of the 13th Royal Irish Rifles, a member of Banbridge, who was killed on 1st July.

Captain J.S. Davidson, a director of the Sirocco Works in Belfast, one of the largest engineering works in Ireland and a business set up in 1881 by his father to produce machinery for the tea industry. A member of a prominent Non-Subscribing family connected with Holywood who was killed at the start of the battle.

Lieutenant J. Dermot Neill, from Holywood, who had been commissioned into the 13th Royal Irish Rifles and subsequently transferred to the Machine Gun Corps who was killed on 1st July.

Private Joseph Harper, from Templepatrick, a member of the 11th Battalion the Royal Irish Rifles [according to the published obituary and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, although the Templepatrick church memorial has 18th Battalion] who was also killed on the first day of the Somme.

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Captain W. Haughton Smyth

And these are only the ones who have published obituaries in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine, there will have been many more. This just shows the enormous impact of the battle of the Somme on the whole country, on big towns and cities, and rural hamlets and villages, on industries and agriculture and communities and streets and families.

In the whole of the War there are only 16 obituaries in the magazine. Of these 16 obituaries 14 are of officers and most include a photograph of the deceased. Of this total of 16 obituaries four of them appear in the August 1916 issue, being of soldiers killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme. Generally the only people to have written obituaries in the magazine were officers so Private Harper was an exception. But if you look at the memorial in Templepatrick church you see on the list of those who were killed in the war right next to Joseph Harper the name of Private James Harper of the 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles [the Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives 15th Battalion – another difference with the memorial], presumably Joseph’s brother, who was also killed on the first day of the Somme.

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War Memorial Old Presbyterian Church, Templepatrick

In the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine there are also three additional brief notices, one of them is for one of the sons of the Rev Alexander Gordon, one is a mention of a death in a Rademon ‘News of the Churches’ report. But the third of these three brief notices is one of another soldier killed on 1st July 1916 listed as Private John White, Royal Irish Rifles (Holywood Volunteers) a member of Holywood. Another member of the 13th Battalion he was 24 years old and is buried in the Suzanne Military Cemetery nearby.

Private John White NSP

So out of a total of only 19 obituary notices in the magazine five of them – more than a quarter – relate to soldiers killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme alone, and these will by no means be the full list of those killed at that battle.

A record of the all engagements were kept by the battalion commanders throughout the war. The first day of the battle of the Somme is recorded as a day of confusion and slaughter. The death of Captain W. Haughton Smyth is noted in the report of the day by Colonel William Savage as:

No 9 Platoon came on under the command of Capt W.H. SMYTH, who was killed almost immediately. They were the carrying platoon and some of them reached the first line with material, which after dumping there or carrying to second line was not required, as all the time was spent consolidating, holding the line & helping the fighting platoons.

Captain J.S. Davidson’s participation in the battle of the Somme is similarly recounted in the war diary of 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. William Savage, the Colonel commanding the battalion records that:

Very little, almost no information, was sent in, this was due in the first place to most of the officers becoming casualties, and the difficulty of getting men across the fire swept zone of NO MANS LAND.

Signalling wires had previously been laid out by the Signalling Officer of the 17th but all attempts by the signallers to take a line forward were useless. I had 10 signallers killed and wounded. I append a list of the officer casualties by Companies 2/Lieut Fullerton of D Coy is the only officer who went over who has come back unwounded & has very little information to give about his Company.

He goes on to say that Captain Davidson and his company were sent out at 8.06 am. Eventually news came back that they had got so far but could not possibly advance any further and asked for reinforcements and additional ammunition. But it was impossible to get men or supplies out to them. Later at 12.40 pm they heard back from Captain Davidson:

A message from Capt Davidson 108th M.G.C. arrived “I am holding the end of a communication trench in A line with a few bombers & a Lewis Gun. We cannot hold much longer. We are being pressed on all sides and ammunition almost finished.”

But the situation continued to be confused, reinforcements could not be got out to him and the Germans were counter-attacking. At 3.20 pm a rifleman found his way back:

and reported that Capt Davidson had been wounded in the knee & while he & another man were carrying him out, he was shot dead between them.

The obituary of J.S Davidson in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian recorded that

with the outbreak of war he felt that his country had need of him, and gave up peaceful pursuits for military practice. As in business, so likewise in his military duties, he gave of his best. Taking nothing for granted, but making himself familiar with every detail of his duty, his work was characterised by extreme conscientiousness and thoroughness.

Captain JS Davidson 1916

Captain J.S. Davidson

But all the obituaries of those killed on the first day of the Somme express their patriotic motives and the sense of the rightness of the call that led the men to join up. Of Captain William Haughton Smyth the Rev J. Glynn Davies of Banbridge said he

had lost his life in a sacred cause, but he has lost it only to find it nobler and brighter than ever before. His body lies in the cold earth, but that which is greater than all matter, that which cannot be crushed or shattered by German explosive shell or pierced by German steel remains – the soul has gone to its God who gave it.

But sentiments like this must have been expressed all across the country as they coped with the terrible slaughter of so many young men. Of Lieutenant J. Dermot Neill, who is commemorated by a memorial along with his brother on the wall of our Holywood church, as well as on the memorial at Queen’s University, the unsigned obituary says:

Lieutenant Neill was one of those brave Ulstermen who, not on any rash impulse, but after cool deliberation of all the sacrifices and dangers involved, freely and cheerfully offered his services to his country.

He goes on to quote the minister:

Lieutenant Neill’s response to the call of duty – a call which, from the world’s point of view, had little promise to offer – but, on the other hand, much of danger, of privation, of hardship, and to face suffering and death. But he nobly gave his services to his King and country, and for that noble ideal that is sending Britons to war upon war, that in the peace which shall follow their glorious self-sacrifice, the nations of the earth, both great and small, may be free to follow the pursuit of industry and peace.

Lieut J D Neill 1916

Lieutenant J. Dermot Neill

The obituary of Private Joseph Harper is very poignant and is written by someone who knew that his brother was serving somewhere near him yet who did not know that his brother had been killed on the same day:

Joseph was nineteen years of age, and enlisted into the Army eight months ago. Comrades have written home to say that they saw him fall: that he fell in a great charge, when the 11th battalion earned for itself undying fame, and when many another brave boy gave all that he had to give for his King and Country. He fell as a brave boy would fall, with his face to the foe. An uneventful life had been his. He came out of a small cottage on the roadside in our parish, and had been mainly concerned with the duties that belong to the work on a farm. But he had a great heart in him, and when he left his home to go France, he left with a happy smile on his face, and with a spirit of hope and cheer and fearlessness in his heart. He has answered the roll-call in a better world than this. He was a member of our church, and occupied his place on our Roll of Honour. We express our deep sympathy with his widowed mother, his brothers (one of whom is fighting not far from where Joseph fell) and his sisters in their great loss.

But both Joseph and James were serving with the Royal Irish Rifles in different battalions and in fact both were killed on 1st July 1916 and the names of both are preserved on the Thiepval memorial.

But just this small sample from within our own household of faith is a reminder of the terrible impact of the battle of the Somme on so many people. So many families were left bereaved with fathers, sons, and brothers killed in the battle.

Everyone will perhaps have their own loved ones who they might remember as having served in the First World War, perhaps at the Somme. My own grandfather served throughout the First World War and was there present at the Somme. But we all have our own memories and ways of remembering.

In what I have said here I have looked briefly at a few men from our household of faith. There is much more that could have been said. I could talk about the impact at home on families, of the economic results of the war and of the effect on society that resonated across the last hundred years. But at the heart of any act of marking this terrible event of one hundred years ago should be remembrance, and today we make our small act of remembrance.

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

(from ‘Aftermath’, Siegfried Sassoon)

From an address given at a joint service of Ballee, Downpatrick and Clough churches at

Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on Sunday, 3rd July 2016