Remembrance Sunday: Sacrifice at the Somme

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Ireland was one country within the United Kingdom. Men north and south - Protestant and Catholic - were encouraged to join the fight against Germany and its allies.

The 36th (Ulster) Division comprised volunteers from the north. The 16th (Irish) Division was in large part made up of volunteers from the south. Both divisions fought with great distinction in one of the bloodiest engagements of the war, the Battle of the Somme, which lasted from July 1916 to November 1916.

By the start of July 1916, war had been raging for nearly two years. The opposing armies dug in and the Western Front became a grinding stalemate. The German army occupied large areas of France and held formidable defensive positions.

The Somme offensive was part of a coordinated effort by the United Kingdom and France to achieve a decisive breakthrough on the Western Front. Its aim was to capture the high ground astride the river Somme and its tributary, the Ancre, in northern France.

The theory was that a breakthrough on the Somme would allow the Allies to 'roll up' the entire German line. Instead, 1 July saw the British army suffer the heaviest single day of casualties in its history. Controversy over what the battle achieved burns to this day.

The Ulster Division's bravery on the first day of the Somme offensive was rewarded with four Victoria Crosses. Later, in the September 1916 offensive, the 16th (Irish) Division displayed outstanding courage in capturing the villages of Guillemont and Ginchy - positions of crucial tactical importance.

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An episode of the Radio Ulster series A Short History of Ireland written by Dr Jonathan Bardon

Featuring the voices of Frances Tomelty, James Greene, Patrick FitzSymons and Sean Crummey.

All images relate to World War One. Not all relate to the Somme offensive or to the 36th (Ulster) Division and the 16th (Irish) Division.

Images courtesy of Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Imperial War Museum and Getty Images. All images are subject to copyright. Music by KPM.

With thanks to the Somme Heritage Centre, Newtownards, County Down.

Audio slideshow production by Alison Finch. Publication date 5 November 2012.

Related:

World War One

Battle of the Somme

Ulster Covenant

Ulster Convenant: On the brink of civil war

Somme Heritage Centre

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