July 1, 1916, and the Derry Catholic Dead

Next Tuesday marks the ninety-second anniversary of the beginning of the First Battle of the Somme.

The artillery bombardment that heralded the attack on the Somme began on June 24, 1916, and would continue for a whole week until July 1.

When the battle opened on that day, amongst the units that advanced was the largely Protestant and Unionist 36th (Ulster) Division, who held a section of the line from the north-east of Thiepval Wood astride the River Ancre. Initially, the Ulster Division achieved its aims, but elsewhere the British were repelled by the unrelenting fire of German machine guns, and suffered the heaviest losses it had known in a single day: 20,000 men dead and an additional 40,000 wounded.

The 36th Division, despite conspicuous bravery that was rewarded by four Victoria Crosses and numerous other decorations and certificates, lost 5,500 officers and men, killed and wounded, in the first two days of the attack.

Among the dead on the opening day of the battle were approximately 115 men associated with this city and its immediate environs. The overwhelming majority of those men belonged to the Protestant Unionist tradition, and the immediate mixture of sacrificial pride and profound sadness experienced by the Protestant community in Ulster following reports about July 1 continues to be felt to this day, and can be witnessed, among other things, on painted walls, Orange banners, and in commemorative church services.

The slaughter was so immense that the first day of the Somme has become seared into the consciousness of Ulster Protestants. As German machine-gunners emerged from their dug-outs to shoot down line after line of advancing Ulstermen, they were killing men who had grown up together, who had been close neighbours.

Unfortunately, the mammoth scale of loss and suffering experienced by the Protestant community on July 1, 1916, has virtually eclipsed reference to – and rendered almost insignificant and forgotten – the death and suffering of Irish Catholics on that same day.

At least 11 of the 115 men referred to above were Derry Catholics, and ten of those were members of the 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The 1st Inniskillings (part of the 29th Division) were in the first wave of the July attack, north of the 36th Division. They discovered the wire in front of the German lines almost uncut and only a small number made it to the German lines, where they made a courageous but ineffective attempt to push on without backing.

Heaped together at the tiny amount of gaps cut in the German wire, the men made easy targets for the machineguns and the casualties swiftly escalated. Driven back to their own lines, the roll call showed they had suffered 568 casualties, including 20 officers.

The ten Derry Catholics, and members of the 1st Inniskillings who died, are listed below in alphabetical order…

Private Daniel Carson, 10564

Aged 20, Private Carson's name is recorded on the Diamond War Memorial, and his remains are interred in Y Ravine Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel. Y Ravine Cemetery holds 366 burials of men who fell at the Somme between July and November 1916. The deep natural ravine to which the cemetery's name refers actually lies to the left of the cemetery, once leading from the German front line to Beaumont-Hamel village. Private Carson was the same Daniel Carson, D Company, 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and son of Mrs Catherine Carson, 138, Bluebell Hill Terrace, Lecky Road, Derry, who was wounded circa May 1915 during an engagement in France. Before enlisting he was employed in Messrs. Brewster's biscuit factory.

Private Bernard (Barney) Donaghey, 2289

Barney was born on December 23, 1882. He was the husband of Sarah, who resided at both 106, St Columb's Wells, and 1, Fulton Place, Derry. His name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Somme, France, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.

Barney was a well-known and popular footballer, having played for Derry Celtic, Belfast Celtic, Glentoran, Hibernian, Manchester United, Burnley, and other teams.

Records indicate that the appearance against Scotland on August 9, 1902 at the Balmoral Showgrounds, was the only time he played for Ireland. This game was only recently declared an official international game by FIFA. At the time no caps were awarded for it. Bernard Donaghey at the time was playing with Belfast Celtic.

He also made two appearances for the Irish League representative side. He played against the Scottish League in a 3-0 defeat on 15th February 1902 in Dundee, while registered with Derry Celtic, and against the English League in a 4-0 defeat on 14th October 1905 in Manchester, again as a Derry Celtic player.

Barney was previously wounded in the head by shrapnel, and spent time recovering in a hospital at Tanta, Egypt. On that occasion he wrote a letter home saying that he was on his way to recovery, and added 'The other four solders that were beside me were killed. It was an awful sight. I am sure it was the prayers that saved me.'

Private James Donohue, 10315

Aged 32, James Donohue was the son of Mr and Mrs I. M. Donohue, 76, Servia St, Belfast. His name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Somme, France.

Private Donohue, who was serving with his regiment in India at the outbreak of the Great War, was well known in Derry, where he lived with his grandmother, Mrs Jane McLaughlin, Fountain Hill, Waterside, for a considerable period.

Writing to James's mother, Reverend F. Devas, chaplain, said: 'Everybody – officers and men – valued him, as he was so kind hearted, witty, and always in the best of spirits. I heard your son's Confession and gave him Absolution the night before the advance, and he had been at Holy Communion a few days before.'

Private Daniel Duffy, 24783

Private Duffy enlisted at Clydebank, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was the brother of Mr Hugh Duffy, 164, Lecky Road, Derry, and his name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

Private Patrick Kearney, 23443

Private Kearney was born in Donegal, and enlisted at Greenock. Aged 17/18, he was the son of Patrick and Jane Kearney, 38, Deanery Street, Derry. His name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Somme, France, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.

Private William McColgan, 11433

Private McColgan was born at Drumragh, County Tyrone, and enlisted at Omagh. His name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.

On the third anniversary of the death of Private McColgan, his sister and brother-in-law, Jennie and Bernard Carabine, Gortfoyle Place, Waterside, Derry, placed the following in memoriam lines in a Derry newspaper:

'Three years, and still we miss him,

Words would fail our loss to tell;

But in Heaven we hope to meet him,

Never more to part again.'

Private Charles McGlinchey, 27670

Aged 23, Private McGlinchey was the son of Charles and Catherine McGlinchey, 41, Nelson Street, Derry. He was in addition the brother-in-law of Patrick Friel, 39, Nelson Street, Derry, and possibly the nephew of James McGlinchey, 65, Nelson Street (formerly of 1, Nelson Street). Private McGlinchey's name is commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial, and his remains are interred in Ancre British Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel, Somme, France. Ancre British Cemetery is about 2 kilometres south of the village of Beaumont-Hamel, on the D50 between Albert and Achiet le Grand.

Private McGlinchey, who was an active member of the Derry National Volunteers, enlisted about twelve months before his death, and went to the Front in February 1916. Around August 1916, his father, in reply to enquiries about his son who was reported wounded and missing, received the following letter from the Reverend Father Devas: 'I am afraid I must give you very bad news about your boy, Charles (27670). He was known to be wounded on the 1st of July, and it was thought that he had been brought in and passed on to some hospital. But when the hospital reports came in, his name did not appear, so that we are now forced to presume he is among the missing, and missing after such a battle only means dead. Those whose bodies are not found are not reported dead, but so very few bodies of men of the Inniskillings were able to be brought in that all those reported missing, must now, I am afraid, be taken for dead. Nearly all the Catholics in this battalion went to Confession and Holy Communion before coming into the trenches, and many went again to Confession the night before the attack. I have said many Masses and prayers for our dead since the 1st of July, and I can only tell you now to turn to God in your sorrow, for no one else can console you.'

On the fourth and seventh anniversaries of the death of Charles McGlinchey, his father, mother, and sisters placed the following lines in a Derry newspaper:

'We little thought when he left home

That he would ne'er return;

That he soon in death would sleep,

And leave us here to mourn.'

Private John McMenamin, 12420

Private McMenamin's name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial. He was the husband of Mrs Catherine McMenamin, 21, St Columb's Wells, Derry. She also lost a brother, Private Charles McMonagle, Royal Irish Regiment, and received notification, around October 1918, that her nephew, Private Denis McMonagle, Irish Rifles, had been wounded for the second time.

Private Henry (Harry) Murray, 24541

Harry Murray was born at Greenock, Renfrewshire, lived in Derry since childhood, and was working in the shipyard at the outbreak of the Great War.

He was the only son of H. Murray, 39, Shaw Street, Greenock. He was also the nephew of Mrs William Campbell, and cousin of Patrick Campbell, 7, Phillip Street, Derry.

His remains are Interred in Y Ravine Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel, Somme, France, and his name is commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.

Private Francis (Frank) O'Kane, 11129

Private O'Kane was born in Derry and left for Glasgow in 1911, where he enlisted.

He was the son of Mr Andrew O'Kane, Wellington Street, Derry. He was also the brother of Andrew O'Kane, 31, St Columb's Wells, Derry, and Michael O'Kane, 5, High Park Street, Glasgow. His name recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Somme, France, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial. Private Francis O'Kane took part in the Dardanelles campaign, and was wounded on August 15, 1915. Around the end of August 1916, his sister, Mrs O'Donnell, York Street, Waterside, Derry, wife of Quartermaster Sergeant P. O'Donnell, received a letter from Gunner J. McCandless expressing his deep sympathy with her in the loss she had sustained by the death of her brother. Gunner McCandless, in his letter, stated: 'Your brother was wounded in the advance on the 1st July. He got caught with a machine gun, and was brought in shortly afterwards. Making further inquiries, I now learn, with deep sorrow, that he died. I was speaking to him and Barney Donaghey on the morning of the advance, and I can assure you he was well prepared in regard to his duty to God.'