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Irish commemorations in Guillemont

On 3 September 2016, commemorations were held in Guillemont at the memorial to the 16th (Irish) Division, the division which recaptured the village one hundred years ago during the Battle of the Somme.

One hundred years ago

In August 1916, the 16th (Irish) Division was transferred from Loos to the Somme. The division consisted of seven battalions from the counties of Leinster, Munster and Connacht, five battalions from the country of Ulster and the 11th Battalion Royal Hampshire Regiment. The 47th Brigade was given the task of capturing a German position in Guillemont, which had resisted repeated attacks during the month of July.

The 6th Connaught Rangers, the 7th Leinsters and the 8th Royal Munster Fusiliers showed tremendous bravery when they took the position on 3 September 1916. Lieutenant John Holland of the 7th Leinsters was awarded the Victoria Cross.

On 9 September at Ginchy, the 48th Brigade captured another strongly held German position. The only British success of the day, this attack resulted in 4330 losses (killed, injured, missing), including half of the brigade's officers. Over 1200 soldiers of the 16th Division lost their lives in September 1916.

116 French soldiers of the 265th Infantry Regiment died alongside their Irish comrades during these battles.

Remembering 100 years on

The commemorations of the 3 September 2016 paid tribute to the French and Irish troops who fought at Guillemont and Ginchy. The ceremony took place at the memorial to the 16th (Irish) Division, which takes the form of a Celtic cross adorned with the Irish clover. An inscription reads: “In commemoration of the victories of Guillemont and Ginchy Sept 3rd and 9th 1916 in memory of those who fell therein and of all the Irishmen who gave their lives in the Great War RIP.”

The day of commemoration began in the morning with the names of the 1161 Irish men and 116 Frenchmen who died at Guillemont and Ginchy being read out. Martin McGuiness, deputy prime-minister of Northern Ireland, Heather Humphreys, minister for culture of the Republic of Ireland and Geraldine Byrne-Nason, ambassador for the Republic of Ireland were present during the ceremony.

Heather Humphreys paid homage to the Irish troops who took part in the Battle of the Somme: “It has been incredibly important to me, during this centenary year that we reflect on a complete view of Irish history. In the battles of Guillemont and Ginchy, the 16th suffered 4,330 casualties, of whom 1,200 were killed.

Given that the 16th Irish included men from every province, these deaths would have impacted on communities the length and breadth of Ireland.”

The 16th Irish Division entered the Battle of the Somme, fighting for the British army, little over four months after the Easter Rising had unfolded at home. In 2016, this complex historical narrative is being fully explored.”

A delegation from Jersey including John McColl, Lieutenant Govener of Jersey, and William Bailhache, Bailiff of Jersey, was also present to unveil a memorial in Jersey granite, dedicated to the 100 men of the island, members of the 16th Division, who lost their lives in France during the war. Part of the memorial, representing its heart, was taken from the memorial and carried back to Jersey.

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