Thiepval Memorial

On high ground overlooking the River Ancre in France, where some of the heaviest fighting of the First World War took place, stands the Thiepval Memorial. Towering over 45 metres in height, it dominates the landscape for miles around. It is the largest Commonwealth memorial to the missing in the world and is maintained by the CWGC.

Thiepval Memorial

Thiepval Memorial was designed by the famous British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and comprises a series of intersecting arches which increase in height and proportionate width. Construction began in 1928 following lengthy negotiations about the site with foundations dug to a depth of thirty feet. Wartime tunnels and unexploded ordnance were discovered during its construction.

Thiepval Memorial side detail

Thiepval Memorial was unveiled on 1st August 1932 by Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales. The ceremony was in English and French. Each year on the anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme (1916) on 1st July, a ceremony is held there.

On 1st July 2016, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, thousands of people attended a special ceremony including members of the British Royal family, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, French President François Hollande, President Michael D. Higgins and Minister Heather Humphreys from Monaghan, who was then responsible for Commemorations. I attended in my capacity as a member of the Irish veterans’ group, O.N.E. along with its Chief Executive Ollie O’Connor.

Michael Fisher and British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP at the Somme 100 ceremony at Thiepval in July 2016

Behind the memorial is the Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery. The cemetery contains the graves of 300 Commonwealth servicemen and 300 French servicemen. The majority of these men died during the Battle of the Somme, but some also fell in the battles near Loos and Le Quesnel.


Sign for Ocean Villas Tea Rooms, Auchonvillers

In 1992 Avril Williams and her two children arrived at Auchonvillers and moved into an abandoned farmhouse. Over the past twenty-five years the family has renovated the farmhouse and it has become well-known as a popular venue for visitors to the Somme battlefields. Among the many regimental and other plaques on the wall was one left by my colleagues in the Military Police Association of Ireland, who were there last year.

MPAI plaque at Ocean Villas

The village of Auchonvilliers was renamed “Ocean Villas” by the British soldiers after they arrived on this part of the Somme battlefront in the summer of 1915.

Avril and her family named their farmhouse “Ocean Villas” and have expanded the site to comprise numerous educational facilities for visitors, including a venue for lectures, the museum and an orignal section of British trench.

This is a collection of rare and important militaria and memorabilia from the First and Second World Wars, gathered over many years by military historian and collector André Coillot. To prevent the collection from being dispersed Avril Williams purchased it in its entirety and has re-housed it in a refurbished building next to her guest house and tea rooms.

Plaque at Hamel for Essex Regiment, Battle of the Somme

This plaque on the side of the rebuilt church at nearby Hamel remembers the men of the 1st Battalion Essex Regiment killed there on the first day of the Battle, July 1st, and the other Essex battalions who fought on the Somme in 1916. It is not far from Thiepval Wood where the 39th Ulster Division went into action.

Map (table mat) of British lines around Thiepval 1916

This museum at Auchonvillers is the only military collection on the Somme battlefields which comprises First and Second World War artefacts. This museum was opened on 1st July 2008 by Major Tonie and Mrs Valmai Holt.

Plaques on the wall including MPAI at Ocean Villas tea rooms and museum


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”.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)…


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.!”


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


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


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 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:


      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.


    Jersey Pals Memorial near Guillemont


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.


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.