PTE THOMAS HUGHES VC

Private Thomas Hughes of the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers was born in Corravoo, Castleblayney, in 1885. He was 29 when the Great War began. He was awarded the V.C. for actions at Guillemont in France during the Battle of the Somme on 3rd September 1916. Plaques at the Catholic church in Guillemont commemorate him and two other holders of the Victoria Cross. Our group visited the church on the third day of our visit to World War One sites.

The citation read: “For most conspicuous bravery and determination. He was wounded in an attack but returned at once to the firing line after having his wounds dressed. Later seeing a hostile machine gun, he dashed out in front of his company, shot the gunner and single handedly captured the gun. Though again wounded, he brought back three prisoners”.

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King George V presents Pte Hughes with his VC in Hyde Park in 1917

Walking with the aid of crutches, Hughes was personally awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V at an investiture at Hyde Park in London on 2nd June 1917. He also received the 1914–15 Star, British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal. Hughes was later promoted to the rank of Corporal. It was his custom each year to attend the Armistice Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in London. When he returned to Ireland, it was a very different country to the one he had left. Soldiers who had gone to fight in the British cause were often shunned and their exploits were largely forgotten.

Thomas Hughes died on 8th January 1942, aged 56, and is buried in the cemetery at St Patrick’s Church, Broomfield. His Victoria Cross medal is held by the National Army Museum, Chelsea in London.

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Grave of Pte Hughes in Broomfield, Co. Monaghan Pic. Monaghan Heritage

Speaking at the unveiling of a blue plaque memorial for Pte Hughes in Castleblayney in February 2017, Minister Heather Humphreys said she had travelled to Thiepval and Guillemont in July and September in 2016, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, and to remember the many Irish men who died there from the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division. In the small, beautiful church in Guillemont, a tiny village in Northern France, she saw the plaques on the wall in honour of Thomas Hughes.

Hughes is one of 27 Irish holders of the Victoria Cross for whom the British government arranged a paving stone to be placed at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, paid for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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Stone for Pte Hughes VC unveiled at Glasnevin

Despite the romance sometimes portrayed in newspaper columns such as the Northern Standard, recruitment to the British Army remained very low for the county for the entire war. By October 1916 only 738 men from County Monaghan had answered the call to enlist, the majority being Protestants (although they represented approximately one-fifth of the population at the time). Slow recruitment was blamed several times on the prominence of agriculture in the county, with the farming classes accused of not wanting to go to war because they were prospering financially.

In total around 2,500 Monaghan men served in the Great War. There were notable contributions from some families. Seven Roberts brothers from Killybreen in Errigal Truagh all joined the British army at different stages. Seven sons of Sir Thomas Crawford of Newbliss served, and three of these were decorated for gallantry. Four Steenson brothers from Glaslough joined up and two were killed. In all, nearly 540 Monaghan men were killed in the war, about half of them Protestant and half Catholic.

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Blue plaque in Castleblayney for Private Thomas Hughes VC

The unveiling of the Ulster History Circle blue plaque for Private Hughes in Castleblayney was attended by his niece Josephine (Hughes) Sharkey from Dundalk, and her daughter Siobhan. Other relatives included PJ McDonnell, (originally from Broomfield), Chair of the Monaghan Association in Dublin. His father’s mother and the mother of Thomas Hughes were sisters. Other relations came from the Donaghmoyne area, including Ann Christy, a grand niece, Brian Conway from Castleblayney, Pauline McGeough (Broomfield), Rosemary Hughes-Merry (Castleblayney), Angela McBride from Carrickmacross and a distant cousin, Frank Hughes, originally from Laragh.

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Niece of Pte Hughes, Josephine Sharkey from Dundalk, with his portrait

The attendance included former members of the Irish Defence Forces from the Blayney Sluagh group, representatives of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the regimental museum in Enniskillen, members of the Lisbellaw and south Fermanagh WW1 Society (who also visited the grave of Private Hughes), and the curator of Monaghan County Museum, Liam Bradley, who had organised a number of events for the 1916 Somme centenary.

Siobhan (Hughes) Sharkey read a poem which had been specially composed for the occasion of the presentation of the Victoria Cross to Private Hughes in 1917. On his return to Castleblayney, the urban district council with Lord Francis Hope arranged an address of welcome for Hughes to celebrate his bravery on winning the “coveted trophy which is emblematical of the highest bravery on the battlefield”. Local dispensary Dr J.P. Clarke said it was with great pleasure he read in the press of the coveted decoration “being pinned to the breast of our hero.” He did not know whether it was time for poetry or not, but anyhow he could recite them a few lines he had composed for the occasion (in Castleblayney in 1917)…

POEM: THOMAS HUGHES V.C.

Before the Kaiser’s war began with frightfulness untold,

How many a peaceful hero worked in many a peaceful fold,

How many a valiant soldier strove to keep the home fires bright,

How saddened skies weep over their graves in pity through the night.

From Suvla Bay to doomed Ostend, from Jutland to Bordeaux,

They fought and bled and died to save these countries from the foe;

In Flanders, France and Belgium, from Seine to Grecian shore,

Brave were the deeds and bright the hopes of boys we’ll see no more.

‘Mongst them times forty thousand men picked out from Ireland’s sons,

Who went to fight the Austrians, the Bulgars, Turks and Huns,

How few returned with due reward their valour to repay,

But Thomas Hughes of Corravoo, V.C., is here to-day.

A Blayney man whose noble deeds uphold our country’s pride,

Who saved his comrades, took the gun, cast thought of self aside,

And changed defeat to victory in blood-soaked trenches when,

He ranked with bravest of the brave — the Connaught Rangers men.

Tom Hughes was reared where sun at dawn makes shadows lightly fall,

Across Fincarn’s ancient hill so sacred to us all;

For there tradition tells an Irish hero proudly rests,

Strong Finn McCool, the warrior, enshrined in Irish breasts,

Near by the road in Lackafin, beside lone Corravoo,

Remains of Irish chiefs are found in cromlech plain to view,

Among these scenes his youth was passed, no recreant was he,

For when his chance to fight arrived he well won his V.C.

He faced grim death while all around like Autumn leaves men fell,

He fought good fight and gained the day despite the raging hell

Of bullets, bayonets, shrapnel, Jack Johnson’s gas set free.

Now raise three cheers, and three times three, for Thomas Hughes V.C.!”

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Unveiling of plaque in Castleblayney by Minister Heather Humphreys TD (right) and relatives of Pte Hughes VC

PIPERS’ MEMORIAL

Piper’s Memorial at Longueval

A Scottish soldier playing the bagpipes is depicted as stepping forward over the parapet of a trench to pipe forward the troops for an array on German lines. The Pipers’ Memorial was unveiled in July 2002 in the centre of the village of Longueval, not far from Ginchy and Guillemont.

Pipers’ Memorial at Longueval

The statue itself by sculptor Andrew de Comyn received some criticism at the time it was unveiled because it is composed of a bright white alabaster stone about 3m in height. However when the sun is shining on it, as it was on the day of our visit when temperatures reached a record high of over 42C, this made it more spectacular. In contrast to the white figure of the soldier, the bagpipes are jet black in colour.

Inscription on Piper’s Memorial

Crests of various regiments that had pipers

The crests of various Scottish and Irish regiments that had pipers are incorporated in a wall beside the statue. They include the Irish Guards and the Royal Irish Regiment.

Crest of the Irish Guards

Crest of the Royal Irish Regiment

Longueval

Our visit to the memorial was brief and unfortunately we missed the group from Campbell College Belfast CCF Pipe Band who stopped off there just before us. Pipe Sergeant Matthew played a lament. (Reproduced by kind permission of Campbell College CCF Pipe Band).

Pipe Sergeant Matthew of Campbell College Pipe Band at Longueval

LIVERPOOL PALS

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Liverpool Pals Memorial

The Liverpool Pals were battalions of Pals who joined the British Army togerher and formed up during the First World War as part of the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment. Along with the Manchester Pals, they are commemorated at a small memorial at Montauban in France. They captured the village on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Liverpool Pals Memorial

The Liverpool Pals consisted of:

    • 17th (Service) Battalion – 1st City, formed at Liverpool by Lord Derby on 29th August 1914;
    • 18th (Service) Battalion – 2nd City, formed at Liverpool, 29th August 1914 by Lord Derby;
    • 19th (Service) Battalion – 3rd City, formed at Liverpool, 29th August 1914 by Lord Derby;
    • 20th (Service) Battalion – 4th City, formed at Liverpool, 16th October 1914 by Lord Derby;
    • 21st (Reserve) Battalion – formed at Knowsley Park, August 1915 from depot companies of 17th and 18th Battalions;
    • 22nd (Reserve) Battalion – formed at Knowsley Park, August 1915 from depot companies of 19th and 20th Battalions.                        Further information on the Liverpool Pals can be found on this website:          http://thebignote.com/2016/07/03/a-brief-stop-in-montauban-the-liverpool-manchester-pals-memorial/

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      Jersey Pals Memorial near Guillemont

Ian Ronayne’s story of the 326 volunteers known as the Jersey Pals can be found here.

  • Countryside around Ginchy

    “The Pals battalions began in a communal spirit of patriotism and camaraderie. They left behind communities saturated with loss.” See Andrew Knighton’s article in War History Online.

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    Jersey Pals Memorial near Guillemont

LT TOM KETTLE

Looking out at Trônes Wood near Ginchy from Guillemont Road Cemetery

From Guillemont Road cemetery you can look across the fields to what was once known as Trônes Wood, outside the village of Ginchy. Although the scene today is that of a beautiful rural landscape, it would have been very different during the Somme offensive in 1916.

Ginchy is a small village

The trees in the wood would have been burned down and just scarred and scorched trunks remained.

The countryside near Ginchy

It was in this area that Lt Tom Kettle met his death. He was a temporary Captain with ‘B’ Company of the 9th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

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Tom Kettle BL c.1905

Kettle (then aged 36) was involved in an attack on German lines on 9th September 1916, near the village of Ginchy. During the advance Kettle was felled when the Dublin Fusiliers were ‘struck with a tempest of fire’. Having risen from the initial blow, he was struck again and killed outright.

The view from Guillemont Road Cemetery

His body was buried in a temporary grave by the Welsh Guards, but it could not be located when hostilities ceased. His name is etched on the huge monumental arch for the missing of the Somme at Thiepval.

Thiepval Memorial

The erection by of a commemorative bronze bust of Kettle in Dublin, commissioned from the sculptor Albert Power and finished in 1921, was beset for almost twenty years by controversy and bureaucratic obstruction owing to the antipathy of the state authorities post-Independence towards Irishmen who had fought in World War 1. It was finally raised in 1937, without an unveiling ceremony, in St Stephen’s Green.

A stone tablet commemorates him in the Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines in Belgium.

Memorial at Irish Peace Park quoting Lt Tom Kettle, poet and soldier

He is listed on the bronze plaque in the Four Courts in Dublin which commemorates the 26 Irish barristers killed in the Great War. Kettle is also commemorated on the Parliamentary War Memorial at Westminster Hall in London, one of 22 present and former Members of Parliament that lost their lives during World War 1 to be named on that memorial.

WWI Memorial at Westminster Hall

A further act of commemoration came with the unveiling in 1932 of a manuscript-style illuminated book of remembrance for the House of Commons, which includes a short biographical account of the life and death of Kettle.

GUILLEMONT ROAD CEMETERY

Guillemont Road Cemetery

This CWGC cemetery is just outside the village of Guillemont, which has a special significance for the 16th Irish Division and the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. It is 12km east of Albert. The first grave we searched for was that of Private John Hayden of the 6th Battalion, Connaught Rangers. He died on September 3rd 1916.

Finding the grave of Pte John Hayden of the Connaught Rangers

Captain William Joseph Murphy of the 9th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers died on 9th September 1916, aged 36. He was mentioned in despatches. He was the son of Edward and Mary Murphy from Tullow in Co. Carlow. Joined the Cadet Corps, Leinster Regiment, in November 1914; appointed Lietenant in the 9th Dublins the following month and was promoted to Captain in March 1915.

Headstone for Captain J. Murphy, Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Guillemont was an important point in the German defences at the beginning of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. It was taken by the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers on 30th July but the battalion was obliged to fall back, and it was again entered for a short time by the 55th (West Lancashire) Division on 8th August. On 18th August, the village was reached by the 2nd Division, and on 3rd September (in the Battle of Guillemont) it was captured and cleared by the 20th (Light) and part of the 16th (Irish) Divisions. The cemetery was begun by fighting units (mainly of the Guards Division) and field ambulances after the Battle of Guillemont, and was closed in March 1917, which it contained 121 burials. It was greatly increased after the Armistice when graves (almost all from July to September 1916) were brought in from the battlefields immediately surrounding the village and certain smaller cemeteries.

Grave of an unknown soldier at Guillemont Road Cemetery

Guillemont Road Cemetery now contains 2,263 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. 1,523 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to eight casualties known or believed to be buried among them. The cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker.

2Lt G.C.M. Hamilton of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers

Second Lieutenant G.C.M. Hamilton from the 8th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers was killed on 7th September 1916.

QUARRY CEMETERY

Margaret Nolan places a wreath at the grave of Pte O’Keeffe from Co. Kilkenny

Margaret Nolan from Bennettsbridge, Co. Kilkenny, who was part of our group guided us to the Quarry Cemetery at Montauban in France.

Remembering 2110 Pte Patrick O’Keeffe

Private Patrick O’Keeffe from Clinton, Co. Kilkenny, is buried here. He served in the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment and died on September 1st 1916, aged 22. His Battalion was part of the 16th (Irish) Division and was involved in the Battle of the Somme (July 1st 1916).

An unknown soldier is buried beside Pte O’Keeffe

Quarry Cemetery Montauban

Quarry Cemetery Montauban

A small tricolour marked the nearby grave of Corporal J Conroy from the Leinster Regiment.

Grave of Cpl J. Conroy Leinster Regiment

Among the other Irish born soldiers to be buried at Montauban are two from Longford. The website longfordatwar.ie records them as Corporal James J. Gilchrist or Gilchrest from St Michael’s Road in Longford town, and Gunner John Mallon from Kilcourcey, Edgeworthstown.

Grave of Cpl J. Gilchrist Leinster Regiment (longfordatwar.ie)

James Joseph was born in Naud’s Yard, c. 1886. He was married to Ann (later O’Connor), and by 1911 they had one daughter, Mary-Kate. Ann lived at 54 St. Michael’s Road, Longford during the war. James left his property and effects to Ann after his death.

The Longford Leader dated25th September 1915 printed a letter Gilchriest sent to his father, which talks about his leisure time, but is especially noteworthy as it mentions other men from Longford town with him in a Longford Section of the 2nd Leinsters at the Yser Canal, now known as the Ieperlee, a canalised river in Belgium. The article reads:

James J. Gilchriest, son of Mr. Patk. Gilchriest, of Ross’s Yard, Longford who has been at the Front with the 2nd Leinsters since the outbreak of the war, writing home to his father under the date 14th September, says:-

“I am enjoying a day’s eel fishing, but my tackle is not the best; I have a safety pin for a hook, and a telephone wire for a line, but still I am catching some good ones. We are on the bank of the Yser Canal, and there is plenty of bream.
“I may tell you we are not strong enough for the firing line, so if you see any stragglers, you might send them to the old “109 Royal Canadians”, or the “Mad Mullahs”, as we are called since the last engagement, for we want Irishmen and nothing else.
“We have Dick Healy, here, another of the Gods; that is the sort we want. I have a fine selection in my section, the Longford Section – Shiels, Reilly, Lenehan, Cowan, Hayden, Healy, and myself. We are game for anything; nothing cows us, and we live high as far as poaching goes. I was expecting a few more of the boys, but they are gone to the Dardanelles.” And he then breaks into rhyme on the subject of the “Charge of the 2nd Leinsters” and at the end adds “feeling thirsty, but no relief,” and by postscript he writes: “Tell Jim McNally there is plenty of hides and skins..”

Grave of Gunner J. Mallon Royal Artillery (longfordatwar.ie)

Gunner Mallon (101166) was killed during the Battle of the Somme. According to longfordatwar.ie:

He enlisted in Warwickshire in England. John was was born c.1895 and was the eldest of the children of John and Annie Mallon, Kilcourcey, Edgeworthstown. He and his brother James joined the British army in 1915. James was later discharged because it was discovered that he had lied about his age.

John served as a Gunner in the Ammunition Column, 86th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. He was on active service for only two or three months before being killed on 25th July 1916. its believed the Battery he was serving with came under shelling from the Germans at Caterpillar Wood near Guillemont. The Longford Leader on the 19 August said the following on his death:

Edgeworthstown Notes: Obituary – We regret very much to record the death of Gunner John Mallen [sic] R.F.A., eldest son of Mr. James Mallon, D.C., Cranleybeg, Edgeworthstown, who was killed in action in France, on the 25th July last. Gunner Mallon enlisted with his brother last year, and has been on active service in France for the past two or three months. He has not yet reached his 21st birthday, and was a fine handsome young Irishman. The greatest possible sympathy is felt for his father and mother in their very sad bereavement, and the only consolation they have is in the thought that their son dide [sic] gallantly, with his face to the foe, and was well-prepared to make the great sacrifice. -R.I.P.’