Northern Ireland

WW1 Battle of Festubert: Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers' role recalled

Inniskilling fusiliers in trenches Image copyright Inniskillings Museum
Image caption Soldiers from the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers pictured in the trenches days before going into battle

A County Fermanagh-based regiment's role in one of the bloodiest battles of World War One is being recalled 100 years on.

A total of 252 soldiers of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were killed at Festubert in France on 15 May 1915 in what was the first planned night attack of the war.

In total, more than 20,000 men died over 10 days of fighting.

The Enniskillen-based regiment suffered its heaviest losses of World War One, enduring a higher rate of casualties than at the battle of the Somme.

While the Somme lives on in popular memory, evoking military slaughter on an industrial scale, the battle of Festubert is often overlooked.

Inniskillings Museum, which is devoted to the history of the regiment, has released some startling photographs taken of soldiers in the days before they went into battle.

Image copyright Inniskillings museum
Image caption Three days before the attack, the 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were pictured at Richebourg, a French village
Image copyright Inniskillings museum
Image caption Soldiers Crawford, Hinds, Cox, Daniels and Lyons pictured in the trenches at the French village of Cuinchy
Image copyright Inniskillings museum
Image caption These soldiers - JH Stewart, EEJ Moore, CC Hewitt and VES Mattocks - were all wounded or killed

During the month of May 1915, 392 men from the regiment were killed in battle. Some of them featured in photographs taken just a few days before.

In the months following the battle, reports would appear in the regiment's journal, the Sprig of Shillelagh, documenting the extent of what had happened.

Sgt R Langford wrote: "Many of our wounded were buried by shells in dug-outs where they had been placed for safety."

Wives would search for news of their husbands, while others supplied photographs of where their husbands were known to have died for obituaries.

The battle is also being commemorated on the Scottish isle of Skye, where the town of Portree lost 10 men in a single night.

Many of the men from Skye, Kingussie and Beauly who died at Festubert had played shinty, a fact recalled in some of the events.

Shinty commentator and historian Hugh Dan MacLennan is among those taking part in the commemorations.

He said: "Festubert is our focus because it was one of the first great killing battles, which saw death on an industrial scale.

"Not only that, but its impact on Highland communities is beyond belief."

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