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THE ROAD TO WAR -
Kent
 
V.C Heroes of the 36th Ulster Division and The Royal Irish Rifles !
 
The 36th Ulster Division and The Royal Irish Rifles heralded from County Armagh, Northern Ireland. They fought exceptionally, heroically and gallantly that day, of 1st July 1916, on the Somme
One such “Hero” of this Division was 20 years old Billy McFadzean, who fought with the 14th Battalion of The Royal Irish Rifles.
Little did Billy realize that he would soon give his life for those of his friends working and fighting so close together. He would become a “Hero” and win the coveted Victoria Cross...before the “Battle of the Somme” had even begun!
Earlier that morning in Thiepval Wood, at approximately 07.00am in readiness for an advance half an hour later, they were preparing for their attack soon to come.
The Ulster Tower Memorial images taken in 2013 & 1999 (C/Right-Ian R Bridle)

“Billy” on a Memorial Plaque
Billy was involved with the distribution of the bombs and hand grenades, he lifted a box of grenades from the floor of the trench to cut the safety cord, in doing so the box slipped and two bombs fell out shedding their safety pins as they fell to the earth, without hesitation and his own safety never in doubt and knowing full well the consequences of his rapid actions, Billy knew only too well that he had only about 4 odd seconds before they would explode, without any hesitation and with pure unquestioned Courage, Private McFadzean hurled himself on top of them and smothered the bombs with his body from the blast that that was to come, the sudden explosion killed him instantly.
He had saved the lives of his close comrades and took his own life to save theirs...although two of his friends suffered injuries in the ensuing blast. Private George Gillespie who was at McFadzean’s left side had to have his leg amputated, many were ultimately saved by Billy and by his...Heroic action!
Many who knew Billy wept openly when the few remains of him were found scattered around the trench, which were placed on a stretcher and carried from the place of his death.
It is so very sad that this boy not only gave his life for those of his comrades…but he was tragically blown to pieces, his body was never found.
He is commemorated, with his name, rank and number on the near-by Thiepval Memorial…to those who have no-known grave that were missing in action are remembered, so very close to where he gave and lost his Heroic life…! .
William Frederick McFadzean…would always be remembered by his loyal friends in The Royal Irish Rifles and in the Irish 36th Division…on that day before his untimely death he is remembered as singing
“My little grey home in the West”, always boosting the morale of his fellow soldiers.
He in an Incredible Heroic Gesture for his fellow countrymen sacrificed his young life for those, his fellow brothers…one year later for his undoubted act of Courage he was posthumously awarded the Greatest Honour, “For Valour”…The Victoria Cross.
 
Lieutenant G.S. Cather V.C……9th Royal Irish Fusiliers
The order was given, and the men from the front line trenches moved out onto the battlefield in a hope to reach their objectives. The first wave of the 9th Battalion left their trenches at 07.10am, but the German defences were overwhelming them with horrendous machine-gun fire, cutting them down, but many had succeeded in reaching shelter on the North side of the village of Hamel.

Meanwhile the 108th Brigade of the Ulster’s on the 9th Battalion’s left side, made significant and excellent progress towards the Schwaben Redoubt, in a quest to capture German positions south-east of the village of Beaucourt and Beaumont Hamel, these too were overwhelmed by strong incessant machine-gun fire.
The battle continued 20 minutes later after reforming the men, the Irish Fusiliers first wave also came under severe German attack with machine-guns, the following waves of men were completely mown-down as they desperately tried to reach the ravine for shelter.
German front line machine-gun bunker overlooking the British Lines at Beaumont Hamel
(C/Right..www.edenbridgetown.com – 2015) (Top Left) & (Bottom)
The men of the 12th Irish Rifles in their attempt to capture the station at Beaucourt, were confronted with murderous fire from strong German positions on the high ground…the battle ground was strewn with those killed during the opening hours of the Battle of the Somme.
The Germans seeing that they had partially succeeded in killing so many had time to restore and strengthen their positions.
A roll-call of the men in the attack was made in the evening the results were severe…there were no officers that survived, 244 men were either killed or wounded including 9 officers, with only 80 men left unwounded!
Lieutenant G.S. Cather of the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Battalion Adjutant, on that same day 1st July, Heroically decided to go out at night into “no man’s land” and rescue and bring in those who he could find that were wounded, he heard a voice calling him and headed in that direction, he gave water to all those he could find and gave hope to those who had been lying seriously wounded for many hours - That help would come soon. Heavy German fire was heaped upon him as they could see him doing this work, but by midnight he had carried three severely wounded men across his shoulders back to the safety of the Irish lines.
The next morning 2nd July at 08.00am in broad daylight he went out again over the parapet in full view of the enemy guns as he heard a man calling for help, made his way to him and rescued him, carrying him back to safety all the time under direct German machine-gun fire and occasional artillery fire.
He was successful in reaching another wounded man and gave him water. He continued to call out to see if he could find any more wounded and saw a hand waving feebly, while still being machine-gunned he endeavored to get to the man but...he never reached him!
Tragedy struck at 10.30am he was killed instantaneously by machine-gun fire, being shot in the head …dying at the age of 25 years old! .



Lieutenant G.S. Cather V.C
He was eventually buried where he fell, to the south of Beaumont Hamel.
Sadly his grave could not be found after the war, probably due to the intense shelling that continued in the area, and tragically no burial place for his family to visit.
His name is carved on the walls of Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.
Lieutenant G.S. Cather for his Extreme acts of Bravery and Heroism was awarded (posthumously) the most prestigious medal …The Victoria Cross..!
 
The 36th Ulster Division and The Royal Irish Rifles, despite the previous day’s severe heavy losses continued to fight their way forwards and towards the village of Thiepval.
The battle was extremely tough going, German machine-gunners held the high ground…these soldiers were easy targets for the merciless gunners and the German shelling was ferocious against them, as shells in a bombardment rained down all around them, blasting craters in the ground and blowing their near-by comrades to oblivion.
The Germans were trying to seeking out their strong points and destroy these men huddled together in crater holes, but their gallantry won the day as they fought their way ever nearer the enemy who was continually machine gunning them.
 

Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, over 73, 412 names are carved on this massive structure that were killed between 1916 – 1917.
Who have no known graves! (Copyright www.edenbridgetown.com 2016)
Eventually with horrific losses they succeeded in reaching Thiepval their objective, and on the way winning them the Schwaben Redoubt. The odds were certainly against them, the German machine-gunners terrifying and accurate, and the artillery shells killing many hundreds around them. They had fought the battle and won!
But their Gallantry would not go unrewarded, for that day alone four soldiers of the 36th Ulster Division would be awarded the Greatest Honour “For Valour”…The Victoria Cross…!!!
2 were awarded to 109th Brigade and 2 awarded to the 108th Brigade.
Three of the four soldiers awarded this prestigious medal did not survive the first days of the Somme battle.

Their Bravery was an Inspiration to All the infantry from Northern Ireland.
During the long struggle in the “Battle of the Somme”… They paid a horrendous price in lives they lost, but…Nine Victoria Crosses were to be awarded “For Valour” to the 36th Ulster Division and The Royal Irish Rifles…such was the Heroism of the men that fought there...!!!
The dead now lie in Mill Road Cemetery, which now lies next to a beautiful small park and an incredible lovely memorial -The Ulster Tower - set on the site venerated as being the place where the 36th Division won their Glory on that day... 1st July 1916, in a supreme effort they all gallantly attempted to reach their objectives…They ALL did it Most Heroically…!!!
   
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