ROAD TO WAR -
|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
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
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
“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
|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
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) &
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
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
Lieutenant G.S. Cather V.C
|He was eventually buried where he fell, to the south of Beaumont
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
|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 –
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…!!!