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The Channel Islands and the Great War
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Remembering Guillemont and Ginchy, 3rd September 2009


The Battle of the Somme is rightly remembered for the high number (57,000+) of casualties on the first day of the battle, 1st July, 1916. Across much of the battlefield the outcome was nothing short of disastrous. However on the right hand end of the line the French proved successful as did the British XIII Corps adjacent to them, under Lieutenant-General Sir William Congreve, VC. However the British success that day in taking Montauban was not fully exploited because of the risks perceived in the advancing troops having their flanks exposed.

It is a considerable "What If", but what might have otherwise been an easy advance on that first day turned into a bitter slogging match subsequently, as the British advanced, and sometimes withdrew, yard by yard over the next few months, matched by stout defending by the German Army. Thrusting north and east towards the Bazentins, Longueval and the Woods at Bernafay and Trones as well as actions after having taking over part of the front-line from the French to the south of Guillemont would continue for the next two months. A look at the map will reveal, for example, that the distance from Montauban to Guillemont is barely 2000 yards.

While all this had been going on, the 16th (Irish) Division had been holding the front line in the allegedly quite sector of Loos and Hulluch. It is possible that, after the Easter Rising in Dublin a few months earlier, their reliability may have been considered suspect by British Commanders. But, any reservations were put aside, given the attrition among the Divisions already on the Somme, and at the end of August, the Irish were withdrawn from the line at Hulluch, to be moved into the Somme sector.

Within days, the 'Irishmen' of the 16th Division were involved in the heavy fighting. One Brigade assigned to operate with the 5th and the 20th (Light) Divisions would, at last, capture Guillemont on 3rd September for the British and form a front-line on the road that runs south from Ginchy. Over the next few days, the position would be consolidated, with attempts to advance east towards Combles. At this stage, other Divisions on the left flank of the Irish were attempting, without success, to advance eastwards from Delville Wood to take Ginchy. On the 9th September, the 16th (Irish) Division were given the job of taking Ginchy, and in an assault, that was hampered by German and also British artillery, the 'Irishmen' successfully stormed through and beyond the village, having to be recalled before going to far ahead of their objective. Subsequently, the Division, having taken heavy casualties, was replaced in the line, and was then sent to the Ypres Salient where the men could recuperate near Poperinghe. Any charges of 'unreliability', if these had been made, were clearly unproven, and the 'Irishmen', as ever, showed great courage.

In using the term 'Irishmen', the majority of men in the Division were indeed Irish, but of course, on a website dedicated to the Channel Islands in the Great War, the participation of some 600-700 Islanders who served with the 16th (Irish) Division cannot be ignored.

Turning to the present time, the accompanying images are of a service held at the 16th (Irish) Division Memorial on 3rd September, 2009, to commemorate the men who fought at Guillemont and Ginchy in September 1916. Among the attendees were local French dignitaries, civic representatives from Ulster, members of old comrades associations from France and the United Kingdom, members of the Somme Association, and the descendants of Victoria Cross winners at Guillemont:

  • Lieutenant John Vincent HOLLAND, VC, Leinster Regiment
  • Private Thomas HUGHES, VC, Connaught Rangers
  • Sergeant David JONES, VC, King's (Liverpool) Regiment

However, there was also very welcome military representation at the service from both the Armed Forces of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Given the difficult nature of the partition of Ireland into the North (Ulster) and the South (Republic) communities, the recognition of those from the South that had 'fought for the British' and had made the ultimate sacrifice had been muted. However, there is increasing acceptance that the Southern Irish contribution and the heroism of those men during the Great War should be properly acknowledged, whatever the political views that may exist.

Finally, it is hoped that there will be some suitable Channel Islands attendance at future ceremonies.


 

16 min 30 secs

 

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Thanks go to the Somme Association for providing the CIGWSG with the accompanying presentation and for allowing its use on this website.