Young men still 'being put through meat grinder' of war: Derry & Strabane reps urged to be 'voice for peace' at Somme commemorations

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Derry City and Strabane District Council members say they must act as a “voice for peace” at two upcoming Battle of the Somme commemoration services.

At a Governance and Strategic Planning Committee meeting on Tuesday, June 4, the council’s Lead Democratic Services and Improvement Officer, Ellen Cavanagh, sought approval for two members to attend the services in France to commemorate the 108th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme on July 1 this year.

Ms Cavanagh told those gathered at the committee meeting: “Council has received an invitation to send representatives to the services, scheduled on July 1, at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval and at the 16th Irish Division Memorial in Guillemont.”

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UUP Alderman Derek Hussey said it was important for members to attend and “remember the sacrifice of those from all sections of our community”.

A picture taken on July 22, 2013 in Thiepval (Somme) shows the World War I Irish memory of Ulster Tower. Officially opened on November 19, 1921, the memorial is a very close copy of Helen's Tower which stands in the grounds of the Clandeboye Estate, near Bangor, County Down in Northern Ireland.     AFP PHOTO DENIS CHARLET (Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP)        (Photo credit should read DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images)A picture taken on July 22, 2013 in Thiepval (Somme) shows the World War I Irish memory of Ulster Tower. Officially opened on November 19, 1921, the memorial is a very close copy of Helen's Tower which stands in the grounds of the Clandeboye Estate, near Bangor, County Down in Northern Ireland.     AFP PHOTO DENIS CHARLET (Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP)        (Photo credit should read DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images)
A picture taken on July 22, 2013 in Thiepval (Somme) shows the World War I Irish memory of Ulster Tower. Officially opened on November 19, 1921, the memorial is a very close copy of Helen's Tower which stands in the grounds of the Clandeboye Estate, near Bangor, County Down in Northern Ireland. AFP PHOTO DENIS CHARLET (Photo by DENIS CHARLET / AFP) (Photo credit should read DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images)

“I think it’s appropriate for this city and district in particular, given its contribution to the Somme campaign from July right through to November, when the 16th Irish joined that battle.

“I previously have attended the memorial, at Guillemont, and I found it extremely moving.

“I think it’s something that we should not forget and that this city and district should have representation at.”

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People Before Profit councillor Shaun Harkin said he didn’t object to having council representation, but appealed to any members attending to consider the “context we’re in right now”.

Speakers during the discussion included clockwise from top left: Gary Donnelly (Independent), Shaun Harkin (People Before Profit), Derek Hussey (UUP) and Christopher Jackson (Sinn Féin).Speakers during the discussion included clockwise from top left: Gary Donnelly (Independent), Shaun Harkin (People Before Profit), Derek Hussey (UUP) and Christopher Jackson (Sinn Féin).
Speakers during the discussion included clockwise from top left: Gary Donnelly (Independent), Shaun Harkin (People Before Profit), Derek Hussey (UUP) and Christopher Jackson (Sinn Féin).

“As Alderman Hussey said people from all sides of our community died in that battle,” councillor Harkin said. “But over a million people died, many of them very young.

“This event is often used to celebrate British militarism, and we have a Tory Prime Minister who has just announced that he wants to have mandatory conscription of young people.

“So I appeal, to anyone who goes, that the lessons of the Battle of the Somme are that it should never have happened and we shouldn’t support British imperial militarism.”

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Independent councillor Gary Donnelly abstained from voting in the motion and agreed that the world hadn’t “learned from the slaughter” at the Somme.

He added: “At the minute, we have a NATO -Russian conflict where hundreds of thousands of young men are being put through what some people described as a meat grinder, and it’s absolutely horrific.

“I don’t think any lessons have been learned, but it’s like all wars; the people who suffer the most are working class people.

“Anybody who’s been involved in war will tell you there’s nothing glorious at all about it.”

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SDLP councillor Brian Tierney said councillors who have “strong voices” should nominated themselves for attendance.

Sinn Féin councillor Christopher Jackson, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting, said it was “clear lesson hadn’t been learned” from the battle and “all those that wish to be a voice for peace have an obligation and opportunity to be one” at the events.

He concluded: “Hopefully, whoever the representative will be will be that voice for peace against war and oppression wherever it has taken place.”

Andrew Balfour,

Local Democracy Reporter