HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY

It seems strange writing about my mother and wishing her a very Happy 100th Birthday without being present in the family home in South Dublin where she has lived since 1968. But the coronavirus emergency means everyone staying at home and keeping in contact via video conferencing and other means. Thanks to my brother John we were able to share the birthday party and see the cards, cake and of course the letter from the President.

Peggy Fisher celebrating her 100th birthday

Margaret Mary Elizabeth Smyth was born at the family home at Conabury, Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan (Big Tom country) on 31st March 1920. Her parents (my grandparents) were John F. Smyth, solicitor, and Elizabeth Smyth (née McCann from Aughnacloy) who was a nurse at the original St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin.

Birthday Cake

Mum was the third of nine children, four of them boys of whom two were priests, Fr Harry Smyth CM and Fr Reggie Smyth SPS. Both of the served on the missions, including Nigeria. The only surviving sibling is the youngest daughter, Sr Nora Smyth RSCJ, a Sacred Heart nun in Armagh. My mother attended the convent there as a boarder. Thank you to all the SH sisters who sent cards to Mum and remembered her in their prayers.

Back L-R (Fr) Reggie, Peggy, Eugene, Finbarr; Front L-R Nora, Dorothy, Fr Harry, Olive, Marie Smyth from Castleblayney

MONAGHAN ARMY MEMORIAL

Defence Forces memorial at the former Monaghan military barracks site

Corporal Ernie Carter was like myself a Dubliner who lived in Tydavnet. He was one of the original members of the 29th Infantry Battalion Association in Monaghan.

One of the wreaths from the 29th Infantry Battalion Association

One of his tasks as Secretary of the Association was to help organise a memorial stone at the site of the former military barracks (now the education campus) beside the Garage Theatre on the Armagh Road.

Colour party at the memorial stone

He died in June last year. The third annual commemoration took place this afternoon, with prayers led by a former army chaplain from Co. Cavan. I was asked to read out the poem for veterans ‘A Soldier’.

Michael Fisher reads the poem ‘A Soldier’. Pic. © Denis Barry

There were 79 names of the deceased listed on a framed sheet beside the memorial. They were soldiers who served in Dún Uí Neill Cavan, the Tanagh outpost in Cootehill and the barracks in Monaghan. We will remember them. REST IN PEACE.

The names of the deceased from 29th Infantry Battalion

Paying respect to deceased members of the 29th Infantry Battalion

Standing to attention during the ceremony

One of the wreaths laid by Denis Barry

Paying respect at the memorial stone

WREATH LAYING, IEPER

Wreath laying by Michael Fisher at Last Post ceremony in Ieper

The highlight of our five day visit to Flanders was to attend the daily Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate memorial in Ieper. Buglers from the local fire brigade sound the Last Post at 8pm. It’s a tradition that was started after the end of WWI in July 1928.

Charles Wills placed a wreath in memory of soldiers from Co. Mayo

One wreath was laid by Charles Wills from Foxford in memory of Irish soldiers in the British Army who were from Co. Mayo.

Laurel wreath in memory of those soldiers from Ireland who died in WWI

I laid a laurel wreath with a tricolour ribbon attached in memory of all those soldiers from the island of Ireland who died in the 1914-18 conflict.

Waiting to lay the wreath

Along with Charles we waited in line behind some former British soldiers and a group from the Orange Order in Scotland for our turn to lay the wreaths at the memorial.

Laying a wreath in memory of those soldiers from Co. Mayo killed in WWI

The wreaths laid at the Last Post ceremony

Placing a wreath at the Menin Gate memorial

Our group at the Menin Gate following the ceremony

It was a fitting end to a very busy day visiting some of the CWGC cemeteries in Flanders around Ieper. We will remember them.

LAST POST, IEPER

Buglers from the Last Post Association

On the fourth day of our tour in July, the group attended the daily Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ieper. Two of us laid wreaths along with several other groups. See a separate report.

Wreath Laying at the Menin Gate

On Friday, 6th September a special ceremony was held in Ieper to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the city 75 years ago by the 1st Polish Armoured Division commanded by General Maczek on 6th September 1944.

Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate

The daily Last Post ceremony was held for the first time on 2nd July 1928. It was suspended on 21st May 1940, following the German occupation of the city at the start of the Second World War. It is not known whether this was a decision imposed by the occupying German authorities or was voluntarily undertaken by Richard Leclercq, who was then chairman of the Last Post Committee.

Belgian Plot at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey

From January 1941, the Ieper Last Post ceremony was continued at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey and this at the initiative of Edgar Ashley Cook, MBE. A number of members of the Belgian Defence Forces who died during their WWII service in England are buried there.

Guy Gruwez, honorary chairman of the Last Post Association: “By 5 o’clock in the afternoon of 6 September 1944, the city had already been liberated by the Polish Division that was fighting alongside the Canadian Army. There was a great sense of joy and relief. Bugler Jozef Arfeuille thought immediately to celebrate this unique moment by a resumption of the Last Post ceremony. He went with a group of neighbours and friends to the Menin Gate, where he played the Last Post no fewer than six times, or so it is claimed, to mark the restoration of our freedom. In this way, the daily ceremony was re-initiated after a gap of four years.

For many years, the City of Ieper has commemorated the liberation together with the City of St. Omer, the city in France with which Ieper is twinned. Both cities were liberated on the same day in September 1944 by the same Polish Armoured Division. The commemorative ceremony is held on alternating years in each city. In 2019, it is the turn of St Omer, where the ceremony take place on Sunday, 1st September.

Fisher J. (no relation) was an English soldier

Alderman Diego Desmadryl: “Because this year is a special anniversary, the City of Ieper did not want to let this occasion pass without some form of recognition. As a result, we arranged a programme of events in Ieper on Friday 6th September. This consisted of a short ceremony at the Polish memorial plaque on the Cloth Hall at 19:30hrs, followed by the daily Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate at 20.00. This was arranged by the city authorities in collaboration with the Last Post Association and the Royal Association of Veterans (and persons treated as such).”

Wreath laying ceremony at the Menin Gate

Benoit Mottrie, present chairman of the Last Post Association: “On 6th September 2019, the Last Post ceremony was held for the 31,520th time. During the past 25 years, public and international interest has increased enormously. For this reason, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my predecessors, all past and current members of the board of directors and all other supporters of our Association. In particular, I would like offer a special word of thanks to all past and present buglers and ceremonial assistants, who give their time so freely and so generously. In this way, we will continue to remember each day those who died for the liberation of the city and the restoration of our freedom.”

Our group after the Last Post ceremony

TROOPER WILLIAM REID, GEEL

Trooper William Reid. Pic. Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry.

Remembering Trooper William Reid aged 21 from Inchicore in Dublin.

Regimental badge

A member of the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, he was killed 75 years ago on Sunday 10th September 1944 when his C Squadron tank was hit at the Doornboom crossroads during the battle to secure the bridgehead over the Albert Canal at Geel in Belgium.

Captain John E. Mann MC

The rest of the crew, the commander Captain John E. Mann MC, Trooper Ernest Winchester and Trooper John Saunders, were also killed. All were buried by the unit’s chaplain Reverend Leslie Skinner in St Apollonia’s churchyard at Stelen two days later, where they still lie.

CWGC Cemetery Stelen Pic. Ricky van Dyck (ww2talk.com)

The padre was the first chaplain to land on the Normandy beaches on D-Day in June 1944 with the unit.
Geel is twinned with Tydavnet and Monaghan.

Grave of Trooper William Reid (ww2talk.com)

Name: REID, WILLIAM ANTHONY
Rank: Trooper
Regiment/Service: Royal Armoured Corps
Unit Text: Nottinghamshire Yeomanry
Age: 21
Date of Death: 10/09/1944
Service No: 14427894
Additional information: Son of John and Annie Reid; husband of Kathleen Reid, of Inchicore, Dublin, Ireland.
Grave/Memorial Reference: Brit. Plot, grave 15.
Cemetery: GEEL (Stelen) Churchyard

A tank of the Sherwood Foresters Yeomanry at Stationstraat Geel on 10th September 1944. Pic. Willem van Broeckhoven in ‘September Helden’ (Geerings G).

75th anniversary of Battle of Geel is marked by the Belgian Defence Forces

BATTLE OF GEEL

Moving away from WWI to WWII but staying in Belgium, this is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Geel. A number of commemorative events are taking place, including a weekend of re-enactments and other activities.

Belgium Remembers

The Battle of Geel occurred on 10th and 11th September 1944. Many of the British soldiers who fought in the Sherwood Rangers and other regiments such as the Irish Guards are buried in the CWGC cemetery in Geel. This town in Belgium is twinned with Tydavnet and Monaghan. I notice that one of the casualties was a Trooper Reid from Dublin. He is buried at Stelen churchyard.

Trooper William Reid from Dublin

From the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry 1939-45 page:

Remembering today….Trooper William Reid

Tpr. Reid, aged 21 from Dublin, Ireland, was killed on Sunday 10th September 1944 when his B Squadron tank was hit at the Doornboom crossroads during the battle to secure the bridgehead over the Albert Canal at Geel, Belgium.
The rest of the crew, Capt. John Mann MC, Tpr. Ernest Winchester and Tpr. John Saunders, were also killed and all were buried by Padre Leslie Skinner in Stelen churchyard two days later, where they still lie.

Geel commemoration for WWII

‘They are here!’ Remembering the liberation of Flanders by the Allies 1944/45

PRIVATE ROBERT HAMILTON

Name of Hamilton R. (Private) on panel 141 at Tyne Cot memorial. Our group visited the CWGC cemetery on July 25th 2019.

Pointing to the name of Pte Robert Hamilton

The panel with names of soldiers from the Royal Irish Fusiliers

Our group at the Tyne Cot Memorial following a short prayer service led by Canon Andrea Wills (Foxford)

Placing a cross at the Tyne Cot Memorial in memory of Pte Robert Hamilton of Ballinode

Private Robert Hamilton enlisted in Monaghan town in the Royal Irish Fusiliers (the ‘Faugh-a-Ballaghs’) when a recruitment party came to town in March 1915. He fought at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916 and was invalided at some stage so he would have returned home to Kilmore East. He left Ballinode on Easter Saturday at the end of March 1918 and returned to his unit on the western front in France, only to be killed in action three weeks later.

Private Robert Hamilton picture from The Northern Standard April 1918
There is also a plaque in his memory in St Dympna’s Church of Ireland church, Ballinode which has provided the springboard for a talk I gave to Tydavnet Historical Society on Friday 21st November 2014 in Ballinode. The talk would not have been possible without the research and interest shown by Marie McKenna and two distant Hamilton relations Ruby Heasty and Heather Stirratt and I acknowledge their assistance.

Plaque in St Dympna’s Church of Ireland Church, Ballinode, Co. Monaghan

TYNE COT MEMORIAL

Tyne Cot memorial and cemetery

Tyne Cot Memorial bears the names of some 35,000 men of the British and New Zealand forces who have no known grave, nearly all of whom died between August 1917 and November 1918. This area on the Western Front was the scene of the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele. It was one of the major battles of the First World War.

Cross of Sacrifice at Tyne Cot cemetery

  • It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker with sculpture by Joseph Armitage and Ferdinand Victor Blundstone. He designed many of the CWGC memorials and cemeteries in Belgium and France.
  • The memorial was unveiled by Australian soldier and veterans’ rights activist Sir Gilbert Dyett, on 20th June 1927.
  • The names are carved on the memorial on panels of Portland stone, set in high flint walls which have been built in a half circle.

Tyne Cot cemetery

The memorial is a semi-circular flint wall 4.25 metres high and more than 150 metres long, faced with panels of Portland stone. There are three apses and two rotundas. The central apse forms the New Zealand Memorial and the other two, as well as the rotundas and the wall itself, carry the names of United Kingdom dead.

Australian Division memorial at Tyne Cot cemetery

Two domed arched pavilions mark the ends of the main wall, each dome being surmounted by a winged female figure with head bowed over a wreath. The following inscription is carved on the frieze above the panels which contain the names:

1914 – HERE ARE RECORDED THE NAMES OF OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE ARMIES OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE WHO FELL IN YPRES SALIENT, BUT TO WHOM THE FORTUNE OF WAR DENIED THE KNOWN AND HONOURED BURIAL GIVEN TO THEIR COMRADES IN DEATH – 1918

At each corner of the structure there are carved wreaths. Atop each of the pavilions is a winged figure in grief surmounting a globe. The globe itself is ringed with symbols including a Fleur-de-Lys, a shamrock, an anchor, a rose, an eagle and an oak leaf.

Tyne Cot memorial and cemetery

The sculptors Ferdinand Victor Blundstone and Joseph Armitage were commissioned to work with Baker on the memorial. Blundstone carved the angels surmounting the chapels and record building, and Armitage did the wreaths carried by the angels. There was concern about the fragile state of the sculptures and Blundstone arranged for them to be completed from a scaffold after they were hoisted into place.

Tyne Cot cemetery July 2017

Tyne Cot cemetery cross of sacrifice

CAMPBELL COLLEGE WWI

Cambell College CCF Pipe Band from Belfast laid a wreath at the Ulster Tower

Our visit to the Ulster Memorial Tower at Thiepval came just after a group from Campbell College in Belfast. We met the CCF Pipe Band as they were tuning up at the nearby Thiepval Memorial and we were just leaving, but it was nice to hear them playing.

Ulster Tower at Thiepval

The Campbell College group laid their wreath at the same time as a group from the Orange Order in Scotland, who we met the following evening at the Menin Gate Last Post ceremony in Ieper.

Union Flag flies at the Ulster Tower built in memory of the 36th Ulster Division

View from the Ulster Tower towards the Thiepval Memorial

Unfortunately we were a day too early for the Campbell College pipe band’s performance at the Last Post ceremony. We also missed them at Tyne Cot cemetery where some of their pipers paid tribute to the Royal Irish Fusiliers whose names are inscribed on the huge memorial as their bodies were never identified and they have no known graves.

Campbell College CCF Pipe Band from Belfast tuning up at Thiepval

The name on the bottom right of this panel is Private Hugh Dalzell of the 9th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers. Two years ago during the Passchendaele 100 commemoration I stood at this spot and read out his name as part of the live television broadcast by the BBC. We will remember them.

Campbell College at the Royal Irish Fusiliers memorial panel 140 at Tyne Cot cemetery

It was interesting to see a plaque the following day at St George’s Anglican Church in Ieper that commemorates all the past pupils of Campbell College who died in WWI and who the pipe band were remembering on their visit, organised by Anglia Tours.

We met some of the Campbell College group again on our fourth day when we went to Tyne Cot. They were visiting Poperinge where the Toc-H house founded by Reverend Talbot is situated. (There will be a separate story on that later).

The visit by the pipe band with some of their pictures (which they have kindly given me permission to use) featured in the News Letter. There is also an interesting website with the stories of the Old Campbellians and their part in WWI. They include a former Irish rugby international, Captain Alfred Taylor from Windsor Avenue North, off the Malone Road in South Belfast.

Their photos and stories have been turned into an exhibition ‘The Men Behind the Glass” currently on display in the PRONI, Belfast.