Northern Ireland

Battle of the Somme: Magheramorne band remembers William McConnell

William McConnell Image copyright Family
Image caption William McConnell was injured on the first day of the Somme and two more times subsequently

A County Antrim Somme veteran has been remembered by the band of which he was a member for more than eight decades.

William McConnell, from Magheramorne outside Larne, was one of the last surviving veterans of the Battle of the Somme when he died in 1995 aged 101.

On Thursday night, Magheramorne Orange Lodge and Silver Band held a commemoration at his grave in Larne cemetery.

It coincided with overnight vigils across the UK.

They marked the centenary of one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

Electric shock treatment

Historian David Hume interviewed Mr McConnell when he was 99 years old.

"He wasn't someone who spoke about the Battle of the Somme and his involvement often, but given his age he decided to share his experiences and his memories were still so lucid," Mr Hume said.

"On the first day he was wounded, and he remembered other soldiers falling around him at Thiepval Wood.

"He remembered the confusion of trying to get back to his own line, he said everything was so mixed up in the aftermath."

Image caption The commemoration was held at Mr McConnell's grave in Larne

Mr McConnell had described receiving medical treatment in "a bath with electric bulbs".

It was only following further research that Mr Hume realised he had been recalling electric shock treatment, prescribed for shell-shock.

After the Somme, Mr McConnell continued to fight in other battles during World War One and was wounded three times in all.

Shot in shoulder

It was his last injury that would prove most memorable.

Mr Hume explained: "He told me he had come face to face with a German soldier and tried to shoot him, but his rifle jammed.

"The German soldier winked at him, and shot him in the shoulder.

Image copyright Newspaper cutting
Image caption Mr McConnell, pictured in 1990, spoke to an historian about his Somme experiences when he was 99

"He could have killed him, but he chose only to injure him instead. Such an injury was called a 'Blighty', because it got the recipient sent back to Britain."

Mr Hume, who spoke at Thursday night's event, said it had been an "honour" to interview Mr McConnell.

"I was very aware at the time that there weren't many Somme veterans left, and I have always seen it as an immense privilege to have met William McConnell and heard his stories."

Mark McKinty is a UUP councillor and assistant conductor of the Magheramorne silver band - William McConnell was honorary president at the time of his death.

Image caption Young and old turned out on Thursday night to remember Mr McConnell

He said: "William McConnell's family attended the service and we played Abide With Me at his graveside because that was his favourite hymn.

"When the UK is remembering men like William McConnell and his comrades, it's important for us to do something because the local community is very proud of him.

"When I am taking part in remembrance events and I think of William and all that he did, I walk two inches taller."

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