Friday 2 December 2016

The 'traitors and gullible fools' blotted out of history

Dermot Bolger

Published 02/07/2016 | 02:30

German prisoners help to carry British wounded back to their trenches after an attack by 16th (Irish) Corps on Bavarian units holding Ginchy in September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. Photo: PA
German prisoners help to carry British wounded back to their trenches after an attack by 16th (Irish) Corps on Bavarian units holding Ginchy in September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. Photo: PA

One hundred years ago yesterday, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, death claimed over 2,000 Ulstermen from the 36th (Ulster) Division, as they advanced across no man's land to capture a German concrete bunker. Soon, the survivors were forced to retreat back across that quagmire killing zone of barbed wire and mutilated corpses in which 60,000 men had died or were maimed in one horrific day.

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The 36th Division had a further 3,500 men injured during that suicidal advance and bewildered retreat on July 1, 1916: the carnage which affected every village within Ulster caused the date to become enshrined in Unionist mythology as a symbol of Protestant resistance.

Death similarly stalked the Southern-born Irishmen of the 16th (Irish) Division, who made their Somme push in early September, 1916. A random hit killed the Irish poet and nationalist MP, Thomas Kettle, whose body was never recovered. Kettle was one of 1,167 southern Irishmen from the 16th Division who died during their push at the Somme. Unlike their Ulster counterparts, their deaths formed part of no national mythology.

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