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Heroic Ulster Division suffer huge losses at the Somme
An illustrated map of the Battle of the Somme Photo: Le Petit Journal, 30 July 1916

Heroic Ulster Division suffer huge losses at the Somme

Shouts of ‘Boyne’ and ‘No surrender’ as the Ulster soldiers attacked

The Somme, 11 July 1916 - Much of the province of Ulster is in mourning after the 36th (Ulster) Division suffered devastating losses British and French offensive at the Somme as part of the ‘big push’ that took place on 1 July. The Ulster men, who had been preparing for weeks for this moment, were positioned between Beaucourt and Thiepval when they attacked the German lines. On emerging from their trenches, however, they were met with a barrage of machine gun and rifle fire, later supplemented with hand grenades that cut them down in huge numbers before they could advance too far.

'When I saw men emerge from the smoke and line up as if on parade I could hardly believe my eyes’ one press observer has recounted.

‘Then I saw them attack beginning at a slow walk over No Man's Land, then suddenly let loose as they charged over the two front lines of enemy trenches, shouting "No surrender, boys". The enemy's gun fire raked them from the left, and machine guns in a village enfiladed them on the right, but battalion after battalion came out of the awful wood as steadily as I have seen them at Ballykinlar, Clandeboyne or Shane's castle.’

The British front line after an assault on La Boisselle. (Image: Manchester Guardian History of War, Vol V 1916. Full collection available at the National Library of Ireland)

Another observer of the Ulstermen’s advance, Mr. J.D. Irvine of the London Daily Express, has described it as a ‘headlong plunge into an inferno’. Despite the mounting casualties the Ulster Division continued to advance on German positions, breaking through their defences and seizing prisoners.

That these heroics have come at a huge cost in terms of human life has been acknowledged by military and political leaders on either side of the Irish Sea.

The Ulster Unionist leader, Sir Edward Carson has stated that the Ulster men had made the supreme sacrifice with a courage, coolness and a determination in the face of the most trying difficulties. His sentiments have found echo in the tributes that have poured forth from, amongst others, the Lord Mayors of Belfast and Derry. The former, in a message published in the Belfast Telegraph, has remarked upon the ‘noble example’ set by the Ulster soldiers, while the latter commented on how ‘every loyal man and woman in Ulster thinks of the gallantry of the "no surrender boys" with pride and satisfaction’.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.