Tale of the ‘Derry Journal’ man who went to war

Local historian Seamus Breslin on the right and Edward Friel pictured at the war Memorial in The Diamond.
Local historian Seamus Breslin on the right and Edward Friel pictured at the war Memorial in The Diamond.

The tale of a 40 year-old man who decided to leave his job as a compositor at the ‘Derry Journal’ and enlist in the British Army during World War One, will feature in a BBC Northern Ireland documentary tonight.

Edward Friel enlisted at St Columb’s Hall on December 5, 1914 after the Irish National Volunteers were called upon to join the war effort in order to secure Home Rule for Ireland.

The story goes that the men who enlisted were promised by a priest that they would receive absolution and if they fell during the conflict they would go straight to heaven.

Edward Friel wrote about his experiences at the Western Front and his grandson, also called Edward, who only recently discovered the story of his grandfather, reads moving testimony of the events that unfolded in the documentary.

‘Voices 16-Somme’ is the second part of a landmark BBC Northern Ireland series charting the momentous events of 1916 from those who witnessed them and their families and makes use of authentic documentation of the time.

This part of the series tells the story of soldiers from all religious and political backgrounds from Ulster and the rest of Ireland who fought at the Western Front.

Also featured in the programme is local historian Seamus Breslin who has undertaken an in depth study of the nationalists from Derry who joined in the British war effort. He helped Edward Friel uncover the full story about his grandfather and explains why he went off to the Great War.

The documentary also reveals how a change in the current political landscape is finally allowing the stories of these long forgotten soldiers to be told and recognised.

‘Voices 16-Somme’ will air on BBC 1 Northern Ireland, tonight, Wednesday, June 29 at 9pm.