Northern Ireland

Sgt Robert Quigg: Bushmills set to honour Somme hero

Sgt Robert Quigg's grave
Image caption The headstone marking Sgt Robert Quigg's military honour was erected by his comrades

Among the headstones of Billy Parish Church on a hillside overlooking Bushmills, County Antrim, stands one etched with the words: "In memory of Sergeant Robert Quigg, Royal Irish Rifles, who won the Victoria Cross for most conspicuous bravery at the Battle of the Somme."

He was given the highest military award for valour after going out into the line of fire to search for his commanding officer who was missing on the field of battle.

Lt Sir Harry Macnaghten was not simply his senior officer, he was also the heir to the Macnaghten estate at Bushmills where Robert Quigg worked prior to the war.

He went out numerous times to search for him and each time he returned with a wounded soldier but not the man he was searching for.

Image caption Sgt Robert Quigg was given the highest military award for valour after rescuing several of his wounded comrades at the Battle of the Somme

"Robert was chosen to be Sir Harry's batman so there was quite a strong bond between them and I think he felt a duty of care towards him," said his great nephew Leonard Quigg.

"He went out seven times but he never found Sir Harry.

'Fascinating story'

"It was a different era and when you think nowadays about how many people would crawl out into the hell of no-mans-land to rescue their boss, it would be relatively few.

"It is a fascinating story that crosses the rigid social barriers of the time, here was the humble estate worker trying to rescue the young squire."

Image caption Leonard Quigg said his great uncle crawled "into hell" in a bid to rescue his boss at the Somme

When Sgt Quigg came home he was hailed as a hero and given a rousing reception by his townsfolk.

He was feted by the great and good and received numerous invitations to attend grand occasions.

Image caption Sgt Quigg had tried but failed to rescue his boss Lt Sir Harry Macnaghten, and the people of Bushmills recognised his bravery at the time and again, 100 years on

Leslie Heaney of the Royal British Legion in Bushmills says the returning hero was not without his demons after the carnage of the war.

"Robert had his own problems. Nobody realised perhaps what those were after the horrors he'd experienced.

"Very few of the men who did come back would really talk much about it. They would talk about the nice bits if there were any but not the horrors they'd been through.

"The soldiers didn't really realise what they were going into in that war. It was desperate, not just for the northern part of Ireland but the south of the country as well.

"They all went to war hoping they were doing the right thing."

Driving force

Later this month, a specially commissioned bronze statue of the war hero will be unveiled in the centre of Bushmills.

Robert Thompson of the Quigg Commemoration Society was a driving force behind getting this memorial erected.

Image caption Robert Thompson said he was ridiculed for suggesting the statue tribute to the Somme soldier

"I've been trying to get a statue for Robert Quigg for the last 40 years. Every time I mentioned it to somebody they laughed at me.

"Yes, there were other VCs awarded to soldiers in the 36th Ulster Division but he was the only Victoria Cross north of Belfast. It was some effort."

The new statue will be sited in the centre of the village, looking towards the war memorial commemorating more than 20 comrades from the village who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

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