Names of soldiers who died in Flanders around the Ieper area whose remains were never identified. They are inscribed on the panels of the impressive Menin Gate CWGC memorial.
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.
The trees in the wood would have been burned down and just scarred and scorched trunks remained.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kemmel Chateau Cemetery outside the village of Kemmel was one of the many such graveyards and memorials designed by the famous British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, whose work included the Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge in Dublin.
The Chateau itself was north-east of Kemmel village which is on the road between Ieper and Armentières, close to the border with France. The cemetery was established on the north side of the chateau grounds in December 1914. It continued to be used by divisions fighting on the southern sectors of the Belgian front until March 1918, when after fierce fighting involving both Commonwealth and French forces, the village and cemetery fell into German hands in late April.
The cemetery was retaken by the Allies later in 1918, but in the interval it was badly shelled and the old chateau was destroyed. There are now 1,135 Commonwealth burials of the First World War in the CWGC cemetery and 21 from the Second World War.
Here I found several graves of members of the Royal Dublin killed between November 30th 1916, December including St Stephen’s Day 1916 and March 8th 1917.
When the Lyric Theatre decided last year to put on “Mixed Marriage” as the first of four in the Tales of the City series, little did they think that a drama set in Belfast over 100 years ago would have a modern resonance. The play was written by St John Ervine, a distant relative of playwright Brian Ervine and his late brother David of the PUP. The backdrop was the 1907 lockout strike led by James Larkin. For a time, Catholics and Protestants joined together in a common cause but later on sectarian tensions were stoked up and rioting broke out, which the police (RIC) and military had to deal with.
The play is directed by Jimmy Fay, associate artist with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, where Mixed Marriage had its first performance in March 1911, before moving to London and then New York. Ervine who was born in Belfast in 1883 went on to become General Manager of the theatre in 1915 but did not last long in the post, becoming disillusioned and resigning in 1916 soon after the Easter Rising.
He then joined the Dublin Fusiliers regiment in the British Army and fought during world war I in Flanders, losing a leg. As well as writing Mixed Marriage (1911), Ervine also authored two other plays, Anthony and Anna (1926) and The First Mrs Fraser (1929). He also wrote a biography of George Bernard Shaw, which was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial prize in 1956.
Following the performance, the cast returned to the stage along with Jimmy Fay and held a very interesting discussion with the audience, of which more later. By chance this morning I received a newsletter “What’s on at Queen’s” from the QUB Alumni office. The first item on the agenda is a seminar being held on Monday 4th February at 6pm by the School of Creative Arts: “In Conversation with Jimmy Fay”. He didn’t mention it to me as we chatted while leaving the theatre last night, when he was returning briefly to Dublin. But I am glad to get the opportunity to mention the event here as the interaction with him at the Lyric was very useful. Admission is free.