In memory of my Great, Great Uncle who died of wounds on the 14th July 1916.
Although I haven’t traced the exact circumstances yet, it is most likely he was wounded on the 1st of July as the 12th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles went over the top on the first day of the Somme. 100 years later it is fitting that we still remember them.
Whilst the letter below is fictional, it is written in the style of many of the young Lieutenants of their day. Sadly, seven Lt or 2nd Lts of the probable sixteen in the Battalion were killed in action on the 1st of July 1916. The final death toll for the 12th Rifles as a result of that first day’s battle was a truly appalling 153 officers and men.
It is likely the 12th went over the top with about 800. That’s a mortality rate of almost 20% – one in five. However, few escaped without one kind of physical wound or another.
It is doubtful if any escaped what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder. While the vast majority of casualties in the 12th Rifles were drawn from the rank and file, the percentage of officers killed and wounded was extreme.
Sources: http://www.freewebs.com/ballymenaww1/deathonthewire.htm & http://www.1914-1918.net/whatbatt.htm
France – 30th June 1916
My Dearest Evelyn
Thank you ever so much for thinking of sending the writing paper, it is wonderful to have properly weighted paper again. And so much of it, I have enough to write you volumes. Although I trust that you will not get bored by my stilted and befuddled manner. You write such wonderful letters and mine are such twaddle in comparison. I wonder how you cope reading them and am sure you shake your head at my amateurish efforts. Yet, I know you shall be sitting in the bay window, looking out over the harbour and saying out loud, ‘Oh no, I love your letters’. You are such a kind girl.
I can happily report that all the chaps are in very good spirits. I know the news has been promising before, but this time it is tangible. The enemy is being cowed at each turn and we are making real progress. Oh darling it is, I think, almost done and I have gotten here just in time. Even Colour-Sergeant Thompson, who as you know has been here the longest, thinks this time is different.
We even had a visit from the top-brass yesterday. General MacRae stopped by my post. He was in terrific form and praised me for the wonderful turn-out of the lads. I told him that being their Officer was easy as the real qualities came from their Ulster blood, passion and fire. He gave a hearty laugh and slapped me on the back. I must admit I was very touched that he took the time to come to see us. He spent a good few minutes talking to me and recalled that night in the Officers’ Mess when we were all home last. He even remembered that I was engaged and asked how my ‘Charming Fiancée’ was.
You see darling, even my General thinks you are a charming and wonderful girl. I told him you were volunteering in Randalstown’s Convalescent Hospital. He was most impressed and said that the men of our Regiment were strengthened by the fortitude of the women we have come here to defend. How right he is.
Oh sweetheart, it is such a bind to be away from you but, as you said many times, how could one not be here? How could a fellow look at himself in the mirror if he hadn’t done his bit? You and I know that, as do all the chaps here and when we return home we shall know, as we go about our business, who was here and who wasn’t.
I do thank the good Lord for allowing us to keep all the men together. The morale that is built from the friendly cajoling and banter of the Larne boys alongside the Ballymena and Whiteabbey men is palpable. Add to that the strength and sturdiness of our Central-Antrim stock and I can see no one standing in our way. I must admit, that much as I miss you, it is a wonderfully thrilling feeling to know that I am here with all these fine fellows and that we will see things through to the finish. Truly, I really cannot see how the enemy will withstand us. Without giving too much away there has been a magnificent barrage recently and I am sure the Bosch will be reeling from it. What with my firm belief in the likes of General McRae to set us on the right path, my absolute faith in God’s grace and blessings and my surety that your prayers watch over me, we shall merely have to walk across the battlefield and sweep the foe before us.
Well Evelyn, Sergeant McManus, (you’ll remember him from Victoria Road, the younger brother of the blacksmith) has just come to fetch me for evening rounds. I shall have to smarten myself a little as it wouldn’t do to appear even a little dishevelled despite the cramped conditions. With all my love and do not forget to remember me to your parents,
Sgt James Mc Manus 829. 12th Bn. Royal Irish Rifles. Died of wounds 14th July 1916. Age 37.
Son of Ellen McManus, of Mount Pleasant, Larne, Co. Antrim, and the late Alexander McManus.
Buried in A. 26. 10 in Server Cemetery, Rouen Seine-Maritime, France.
HAMEL MILITARY CEMETERY, BEAUMONT-HAMEL - Somme HAUGHTON, Lieutenant, THOMAS GREENWOOD, 12th Bn. Royal Irish Rifles. 1st July 1916. Age 25. Son of Thomas Wilfred and Catherine Isabel Haughton, of Hillmount, Cullybackey, Co. Antrim. I. A. 15. SERRE ROAD CEMETERY No. 2 – Somme McCLUGGAGE, Lieutenant, WILLIAM, "A" Coy. 12th Bn. Royal Irish Rifles. 1st July 1916. Age 23. Son of Thomas and Annie McCluggage, of Ballyboley, Larne, Co. Antrim. B.Sc. (Civil Engineering). VII. J. 3. THIEPVAL MEMORIAL - Somme CAMPBELL, Lieutenant, LAWFORD BURNE, "C" Coy. 12th Bn. Royal Irish Rifles. 1st July 1916. Age 20. Son of Robert Garrett Campbell and Alicia Anna Campbell, of Coolgreany, Fortwilliam Park, Belfast. Pier and Face 15 A and 15 B HOLLYWOOD, Second Lieutenant, JAMES, 18th Bn. attd. 12th Bn. Royal Irish Rifles. 1st July 1916. Age 23. Son of Elizabeth Hollywood and the late James Hollywood. Pier and Face 15 A and 15 B LEMON, Lieutenant, ARCHIE DUNLAP, "B" Coy. 12th Bn. Royal Irish Rifles. 1st July 1916. Age 41. Son of the late A. D. Lemon, J.P., and Mrs. Lemon, of Edgcumbe House, Strandtown, Belfast. Pier and Face 15 A and 15 B RICHARDSON, Second Lieutenant, WILLIAM TURNER, 12th Bn. Royal Irish Rifles attd. 103th Coy. Ma-chine Gun Corps (Infantry). 1st July 1916. Age 34. Son of the late Thomas and Mary Richardson, of St. Doloughs, Raheny, Co. Dublin. Pier and Face 15 A and 15 B MACNAGHTEN, Second Lieutenant, Sir EDWARD HARRY, 1st Bn. Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) attached. 12th Bn. Royal Irish Rifles. 1st July 1916. Age 20. 6th Bart. Educated at Eton. Son of the late Hon. Sir Edward Charles Macnaghten, 5th Bart., K.C., D.L., of Dundarave, Co. Antrim, and of the Hon. Lady Macnaghten, of Sandhurst Lodge, Berks. Pier and Face 10A
Ian Andrew is the author of the alternative history novel A Time To Every Purpose, the detective thrillers Face Value and Flight Path and the Little Book of Silly Rhymes & Odd Verses. All are available in e-book and paperback. Follow him on social media: