Saturday, November 19, 2016

The End of the Battle of the Somme #43

Yesterday (November 18th) marked the 100th anniversary of the last day of the Battle of the Somme. By the end of the battle, the British Army (including thousands of Irishmen) had suffered 420,000 casualties including nearly 60,000 on the first day alone. The French lost 200,000 men and the Germans nearly 500,000. Nothing was achieved by either side, as bad weather ended the battle. 

Image source: The History Learning Site.
In our family, we still think that my great-grandfather James Byrne fought at this battle and may have been gassed. We know he survived the war as he died in 1925. Despite long searches, we have not found any record of his service in World War I. His name is very common, and there is the difficulty with the spelling of his name - it is both "Byrne" and "Burns" in the various genealogy sites where I have found records of him. For example, here is a copy of the registration of his marriage to Margaret Colborn (also spelt "Cobourne" and "Coburn") that I found today:

He lived in Lorrha in North Tipperary, his house was located where a grotto to Our Lady is now to be found - here it is on Google Street View:

Most of the men who enlisted from his area did so in Birr, Co Offaly. In the main, they enlisted into the Irish Guards (who were at the Somme) or the Leinster Regiment. I got this clue from Gerard O'Meara who is launching a new book "Lorrha People in the Great War" this month. He is an expert on the World War I soldiers from that area, but he too has no record of James Burns/Byrne. He was not a young man when he joined up - he was 41 years old, and had a family with seven children (two more were born after the war). He worked as a farm labourer all his life. No doubt he was poorly paid and may have found the "King's Schilling" attractive, plus of course the home payments to his wife Maggie.

Image Source: Ask Ideas.
On this 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Somme, I wonder what he was thinking in 1916. Was he terrified? Relieved? Shell-shocked? Was he thinking of the aftermath of the Easter Rising a few months earlier? How many of his friends were lost in the battle? Was he longing to be home in Lorrha? Could he bear the separation from Maggie and his children any longer (including my grandfather Paddy)? Did he kill any Germans?

In memory of James Byrne - I am posting a poppy on my blog for the first time.

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