Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Christmas 1918

'Neath the shining of the Star,
Peace hath broken her treasure jar,
Spread her gracious gifts afar.

From the darkness comes the morn,
Out of suffering life is born,
Born anew this Christmas morn.

Newer sweeter wonders rest,
In the Child on Mary's breast,
And again the world is blest.

"Peace on earth" the age-old word,
Fathered by the broken sword,
And the promise of the Lord.

Grace I. Gibson

Poem: The Witness, 13 December 1918.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

The Spirit of the Province (1917)

Reprinted by kind permission of the Editor of the “Morning Post.”


The Empire’s Honour is the Honour of its Mighty Dead. This Honour They have left a legacy to the generations yet unborn. Those who have made the Supreme Sacrifice are watching. Unseen they still march in our ranks.

To this Host Invisible, Immortal, and very Glorious Ulster gives salute—

“No Surrender!”
God Save the King!



“I am the Land of their Fathers,
    In me the virtue stays,
 I will recall my children,
    After certain days.”

A political truce was proclaimed in August, 1914, but a month later it was deliberately violated to the prejudice of Ulster. It has been violated repeatedly since, and always with injurious results to the Imperial Province. The loyalty of any other people would have been killed by the treatment Ulster has received. No accusation has been too foul, no lie too gross, no infamy too monstrous for her defamers. Ulster had made answer in deeds not words. She- has done her duty and is satisfied. She has sent her sons to fight in every theatre of the war, in numbers which far exceed the combined total of the three other Provinces. More than 80 per cent, of all the money contributed by Ireland to the War Loan was raised in the area around Belfast. To the various War Charities she has given vastly more than the rest of Ireland, more, indeed, in proportion, than England herself has done. Two great general hospitals, four equally large special hospitals, oon-valesoent homes, a splendid Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Service Club, a fleet of motor ambulances, and a fund at present amounting to £100,000, to provide for the future of Ulstermen broken in the war, are among the many things furnished by Ulster. She has besides supplied an enormous and ceaseless stream of munitions, ships, and linen for the manufacture of aeroplanes without those dislocations of labour that have stained1 the industrial record of other centres of activity. These facts silently answer her traducers. Ulster refused to accept expulsion from the heritage of full citizenship in the Empire in which she is happy to live, and which she has helped to create*.

What Has Been Accomplished.

Between April, ’1912, and August, 1914, Ulster had her back to the wall. Ehiring that time the stem determination of the Province to resist expulsion from the Empire was made the subject of a solemn compact— the Covenant of Ulster. For two years her people had poured out their money and energies like water, had given up their leisure, and had converted themselves from helpless civilians into well-trained and disciplined soldiers, for the purpose of resisting the change that was to transfer their allegiance from the Parliament of the United Kingdom, at Westminster, to an Irish and Anti-British Parliament in Dublin. For two years the people appealed by delegate and by pamphlet to their brethren of England and Scotland, to be met only with scorn and abuse. The Ulster Imperialists were to be sold like sheep in the market-place by a Government desirous of purchasing, at any price, the favour of Irish traitors. These Imperialists had been driven to the last argument of persecuted peoples, the argument of force, when, on August 4, 1914, the persecutors themselves were suddenly compelled to realise what it meant and what it costs to be confronted by a better armed enemy. On the day when war was declared between Great Britain and Germany, how did Ulster act? Did she return evil for evil Did she seek her own? Did she make bargains, or say: “ Give me this and that, and I will consider rny actionsV1 On August 3 Sir Edward Carson wrote to the Lord Mayor of Belfast, calling on the men of the Ulster Volunteer Force—at that hour a complete, disciplined, and efficiently - equipped Army — to enlis*t. On the same day, by Sir Edward Carson^ orders, the General Commanding the Ulster Forces instructed all Divisional and Regimental Commanders throughout the Province to take a census of their men, in order to discover how many would be willing to volunteer for Imperial Foreign Service. It was the supreme test of their loyalty. They had armed themselves, not for aggression, but for Imperial defence. Their Empire was threatened, and not for a moment did they waver. “Rally to the Flag, put aside all quarrels, our arms are for our King,” was their answer.

Before the week was out it was evident that the Ulster Volunteer Force could place a Division in the field, and keep at the same time within its ranks all those men who from age, or because of employment on war work, were ineligible for foreign service, these last named to be employed for Home Defence. Without delay the whole powerful and perfectly organised machinery of the Ulster Unionist Council — the future, if fate so decides, Ulster Provisional Government — was put into operation. Politics were abandoned, and, in the Ulster Hall, on September 3, Sir Edward Carson addressed his followers. The Ulster leader, who had never betrayed his trust, said:
Sacrifices must be made. If an English Government has acted dishonourably and unjustly by us, are we entitled to desert the Empire while it is battling for its life? However badly we are treated, and however badly others act, let us act rightly. I say, do right; if you are betrayed the result will fall in due course upon the shoulders of your betrayers. Do right. Go and help to save the Empire, go and win honour for Ulster! God bless you and may He bring you home filled with honour and with victory.

The Home Rule Act had been placed on the Statute Book, in the hope of obtaining Irish Nationalist support for the war, and this in utter defiance of the political truce that had been agreed upon. The Ulster folk felt within themselves that patriotism such as theirs could only be given freely, without price. After all, they reasoned, had not Imperialism been the cause for which they had ever stood? If the cause was the same did it matter whether the struggle to uphold it was carried through at home or abroad; did it matter whether the enemy was German or Irish? No, the Ulster people could not cast out the heroic from their souls. As one man they leapt to their feet, and gave their answer in cheers.

The Ulster Division.

The War Office accepted the Division offered by Ulster. Led by Sir Edward Carson and Colonel James Craig in person, the North Belfast Regiment of the Ulster Volunteer Force that same day, September 3, marched to the Ulster Unionist Council Headquarters — converted temporarily into the Central Belfast recruiting station — to enrol. They passed through streets densely crowded with women who, according to Ulster custom, had gathered to encourage the stout of heart and trample — not altogether figuratively — upon those who held back. Like wild-fire enthusiasm spread. The East Belfast Regiment was filled with envy, while the Southern and Western Battalions of the city caught the patriotic spirit of the time. They also marched in to attest Surely never was an army so democratic as this one. The Division was comprised of Ulstermen born and bred, and the rules which governed it were Ulster made. The rank and file had stipulated upon one thing; they must be permitted to select their own officers, and the men they choose to lead them in France were the men who had trained and led them in Ulster. With this calm, strong, and practical people it is efficiency, and efficiency only, that counts. They do not believe in human equality. They are content that some should rule and others serve, but they see to it that the best govern, and that the best take the lead. In the Imperial Province — never was title better deserved — there was no ill-feeling, no jealousy, hatred, or malice between class and class. A common danger, common interests, and real affection united all. "Go and help the Empire!" That order was obeyed irrespective of class. Football and cricket teams under their captains came in and took the oath. Employers facilitated their employees to join up, joined up themselves, and arranged for the aiding of their workers’ families, keeping positions open, and settling sums, varying from 25 per cent, up to the total wages of salaries earned, to be paid in proportion to the number of dependants. Ten days saw the Division organised and fully equipped. Nor must it be left unstated that the greater portion of the accessories, such as cycles, motors, medical and commissariat stores, belonging to the Ulster Volunteer Force — “Carson’s Rebel Army” as it was termed — were unhesitatingly placed at the disposal of the Elmpire.

But what has been said does not fully describe the work done for the Empire by the Ulster Volunteer Force under its leaders, particularly Sir Edward Carson.

It was clear that the task of clothing the million men asked for by Lord Kitchener would be extremely difficult. It could not be carried out before six months at least had elapsed. Realising this, two prominent Belfast citizens, gun-runners like all the rest, made the offer to the Government that, free of all remuneration, they would procure the materials and make the uniforms for the Division. The offer was accepted. In three days an immense warehouse* was commandeered, close to the Central Recruiting Station, Belfast, a large staff was installed with the utmost speed, and not only the uniforms, boots, &c., but likewise all the numerous articles that make up a soldier’s kit were forthcoming. But whence and how it was done remained a mystery, although the greater part of the material was certainly of local manufacture. The effect upon the recruits of at once receiving their uniforms was excellent, and in addition to this the War Office was saved many thousands of pounds. In an incredibly short time, on all the chosen camping-grounds, well-drained, ventilated, and comfortable huts were erected, and the Ulster folk had the pleasure of seeing their troops housed and sheltered long before their fellow-subjects in England and Scotland had the same satisfaction. Next came the question of feeding Ulster’s Army, and once more patriotism and ability removed all difficulties. It was the same everywhere and with everything throughout the Province. Should the Empire for what has been achieved desire to reward Ulster, which is unlikely, then let the Empire reward and honour Ulster’s Leader, Sir Edward Carson.

The Ulsters in Action.

The sword half-drawn in her own defence,
In Ulster’s strong right hand,
Has leapt from its scabbard,
And flashed like fire
For the common Motherland.

And where the fight was fiercest,
And the sternest task was set,
Ulster has struck for England,
And England will not forget.

Ulster placed in the field at the outbreak of hostilities 60,000 trained men, more, as has been said, than the three other combined provinces of Ireland have yet mustered, this not including the thousands upon thousands of Ulstermen who rallied to the Flag from the Colonies or the Reservists who had served in the Regular Army. On May 8, 1915, the Division left for England, where on October 23 it was reviewed by the King, at Seaford, and received the Royal thanks. Shortly afterwards it embarked for France. On the morning following this final review on English soil the Nationalist Press flung after the Ulster soldiers a parting insult:
It is a notorious fraud, this army of Ulster. Three-fourths of the men are semi-cripples who could be hunted out of an English barrack square by a dozen drummer boys. Carson’s Volunteers will never hear the whizz of a German bullet, nor will they fire a shot at anyone unless they are assured beforehand that he is unarmed and defenceless.

Yet even under this insult Ulster kept silent, being content to wait for the hour that should prove the gallantry of her sons. This proof was not long delayed. At dawn on July 1, 1916, the Ulstermen led the great attack upon the German position in Picardy. The task allotted them was stupendous, some said impossible, but with right good will, with glad hearts, shouting their ancient slogan and chanting their Ulster war songs, they set out to accomplish what they had to do. The assault was launched after a violent bombardment. The Ulster battalions emerged out of the Thiepval woods under a fire of the most terrible description. To quote from an eye-witness:
When I saw the men emerge out of the smoke and form up as if on parade I could hardly believe my eyes. Then I saw them attack, beginning at a slow walk over “No Man’s Land,” and then suddenly let loose as they charged over the enemy’s trenches shouting, “No surrender, boys.” The enemy gunfire raked them from the left, and machine guns enfiladed them on the right, but battalion after battalion came out of that awful wood as steadily as I have seen them do in their Ulster camps. The enemy’s first, second, and third lines were soon taken, and still the waves of men went on, getting thinner and thinner, but without hesitation. The enemy’s fourth line fell before these Ulster troops who would not be stopped. There remained the fifth German line, and those who looked on declared “no human beings could take it.” But mindful that it was the anniversary of the victory gained by their ancestors on the Boyne the Ulster troops pressed on and conquered the impossible.

As a British officer said: “This attack was one of the greatest revelations of human courage and endurance known in the world’s history.” Thus was given another of Ulster’s unspoken replies to her traduoers, and if any fair-minded inquirers question her patriotism and her Imperialism in the future let them count the dead she left at the beginning of July, 1916, beside the Ancre. In spite, however, of all, there are still found British people — so-called — who cast aspersions upon Ulster’s sacrifice.

The Fallen Heroes.

Eleven days later the Imperial Province saluted her fallen heroes. For the first and only time since the war had broken out the Ulster folk at home paused in their labours for the Empire. By common consent, for five short minutes at the stroke of noon on July 12, 1916, all work and movement was suspended. In the great flax mills, where day and night for three long years, the weavers and spinners have plied their looms to produce linen for use in the manufacture of aircraft, in the huge shipyards where the hammers have thundered defiance since August, 1914, in shops and offices, in the streets and markets, in trains, in the poorest cottages and in wealthy homes, in the hospitals, besides munition machines, on the lonely country roads and in the fields, men and women stood still for five minutes, bowed their heads, and thanked God for the honour He had bestowed upon their Province and upon themselves individually. At that noontide Ulster’s sorrow was turned into fierce joy.

Home Forces.

Sixty thousand Ulstermen, not reckoning, as has been said, the Regular Army Reservists or the Ulster Colonials, left the Province between 1914-16 on active service. Since then every day has brought in fresh recruits to this original Ulster force, now, alas so diminished. But Ulster has still her reserves — her home troops. The Volunteer Force is still in existence, its ranks filled by shipwrights, factory and munition workers, older men and young boys, and behind this last line of defence stand the women. Well, indeed, it is for Great Britain and her Allies that this Ulster reserve force had not been disbanded or weakened — at least morally. Had it not been for these Ulster reservists April, 15, 1916, might have proved a disastrous dav for Great Britain and her Allies. When on that date the Irish rebels, with the connivance and support of their German friends and paymasters, hoisted the Irish Republican standard in Dublin and openly declared war upon Great Britain, overpowered the Imperial troops, shooting down sick and wounded soldiers, and attacking the lives and property of loyalists in the capital, who called them to halt? Who gave them blow for blow, and held them at bay until the arrival of the reinforcements from England? The Reserve Army of Ulster. As usual, the Government was unready and unprepared, but, as usual, Ulster was both ready and prepared. Down came the gates of the Imperial Province, bolted and barred, as in the Siege of Derry, by old men, boys, and women. It was “No passage this way for the King's enemies.” To the distracted Government across the Channel the indomitable Northerners sent prompt assurance: they could hold the country till the arrival of fresh troops. Hundreds of gigantic motor transport lorries, and as many private motors, the private property of Belfast citizens, were within a single hour loaded with Volunteers, rifles and ammunition, and despatched to the seat of action. The greater portion of the police were withdrawn from the City and surrounding country, and the women and boys kept the peace unbroken. It was the same oft-repeated tale. England's difficulty had again been Nationalist Ireland’s opportunity to rebel, pillage, and murder, while England’s difficulty had once again been Ulster's opportunity to prove her loyalty, her love, her Imperialism.



“On the walls the citizens were drawn up in three ranks. The office of those who were behind was to load the muskets of those who were in front. The women were seen in the thickest fire serving out water and ammunition to their husbands and brothers.” — “The Siege of Londonderry,” Lord Macauley.

As one approaches Belfast from sea or land the first object that meets the eye is a colossal crane, one of the loftiest and mightiest in the world. Unlovely and gaunt, it starts up into space, a sign in iron of the iron-willed people who toil beneath its shadow, a sign of the Province that has never feared or shirked the heavy burden of Imperial responsibility. The soil upon which the crane stands was, only two generations ago, covered by the sea, but the Ulster folk drove back the sea and built upon the captured ground the two largest shipyards in the world. The Ulster people had determined to make the small fishing village of Belfast one of the greatest seaports in the Empire, and they did so despite almost insurmountable difficulties. The entrance to their harbour was shallow, and choked by sand shoals, so they cut a channel wide and deep enough to float the huge liners which, at first, existed only in the imagination, but which they have now made a reality. They were possessed of neither coal nor iron, so they brought both to their shores, shipload after shipload. They were not assisted by so much as a penny of Government money, but financed all themselves. They were a small people, compassed on all sides by enemies, and handicapped by Nature as well as by circumstances, yet they conquered. Requiring and desiring greatness they attained to it, and to-day this greatness is at the service of the Ehipire.

Character of the People.

Impassiveness to outward excitements and distractions is one of the prominent features of the Ulster character. When these Northerners undertake a task or duty nothing can hinder or divert them from accomplishing it. Every chapter of their hard and troublous history proves them to be a breed that has never known failure. In August, 1914, the industrialists of Ulster, silently and with deliberation, swore to play their part in defeating Germany, and from that day to this they have doggedly and ceaselessly striven to make good their oath. They felt honoured in finding that their support and help were so urgently needed by the Empire, and that they were considered competent to give it. There is at least one place in the Kingdom where, although there is much noise, there is no talking, and, in consequence, no strikes. That place is Ulster. Its people realise that in this war pounds, shillings, and pence must be sacrificed as well as lives and limbs. “Have you had any visits from the Red Flaggers here?” I inquired last week of a stolid-faced riveter in the Belfast shipyards. An emphatic nod was the answer. “What did you do to them?” I asked. The reply was a flash of steely, work-tired eyes, and a downward jerk of a thumb in the direction of an exceedingly uninviting pool of oily water. From this flash of the eyes and thumb-jerk I learnt the treatment meted out in Ulster to those traitors who, while living under the protection of Britain at the expense of British blood, in order to profit themselves and indirectly the enemy, go to and fro over the country creating civil strife, stirring up class hatred, and paving the way to a revolution which they fondly hope may paralyse the Allied Armies, and enable the German Emperor and his military advisers to obtain peace on their terms. The Ulster folk have learnt, by bitter experience, to discriminate between loyalty and treachery, and if they had the reins of government in their hands half the cranks and pacifists would long ago have been hanged as high as Haman. “He'd be a loony that wud try on a strike here,” remarked another of the Belfast shipwrights; “we've got too much to do these days to stan’ such ‘codology.‘”

Out to Beat Germany.

Here, again, in one brief sentence is Industrial Ulster's attitude towards the war. The people have too much to do to think of themselves, or politics, or creeds, or, in fact, the well-being in the abstract of the universe. They are out to beat Germany, and until this has been done they cannot rest; and that is the reason for the absence of strikes in the Province. These workers have a gigantic task on hand, and they have to get on with it, so, through winter and summer, on Sundays and holidays, their furnaces have belched and flamed, their thousands of hammers and hundreds of looms have clanged and whirled, and their great, strong hearts have beaten with exultation. Ships for the Fleet and Merchant Service, and millions of webs of linen fabrics for aeroplanes, have been supplied by the Ulster people, not only for their own but also for all the Allied forces. Shells are needed, and will be forthcoming so far as the Imperial Province is concerned. For slackers and strikers who would “squeal” among them the Ulster industrialists have nothing but contempt and loathing. As a community they have always been conscious of power, and this confidence in themselves has been called self-conceit and egoism. At the present hour they have come to believe this power to be inexhaustible. It is the belief in their own ability to remove mountains, it is this egoism, that has made them what they are, and surely their self-conceit and egoism are pardonable at the present crisis.

“Liberal" Assistance.

It has been shown how they built their shipyards and factories. Scarcely less remarkable is the tale of how they have contrived to solve, without class strife or bitterness, many of the social problems still unsolved by their fellow-subjects across the water, how they have abolished most of the social evils upon which, to serve their own ends, the anti-Imperialists and treacherous “Humanitarians” are now harping. No one can doubt it is patriotism and Imperialism that steel the nerves and sinews of the Ulster workers to endurance, but the splendid and patient warfare which they are waging could not possibly have been undertaken or have proved so productive of great results had friction, ill-feeling, or suspicion existed between employers and workers. It seems scarcely credible, but it is none the less true, that during the last ten years or so, while a self-styled "Liberal” Government at Westminster was securing votes by despoiling one class and bribing another, the Ulster people were quietly proving their democratic principles by investigating the grievances and difficulties of all classes, and, so far as it lay in their power, removing them. In this they were greatly assisted by the "Liberal” potentates at Westminster. Not that Mr. Asquith and his party wished to promote the well-being and prosperity of Ulster. On the contrary, they were only too anxious to bring the gallant little country to ruin. Nevertheless, they unconsciously rendered Ulster a great service. By threatening the rights and liberties of these Northerners, they succeeded in cementing into a solid whole all classes in the Province. A common religion, a common cause — Imperialism — common interests and aspirations, all of these when imperilled brought about a close psychological communion between the rich and poor, between employers and employees. Gradually and patiently, even under the dark shadow and dread of civil strife and coming ruin, these indomitable people worked out their own salvation. Without talk or fuss, without “taking from Peter to give to Paul,” they combined to organise labour, to establish local justice, to promote health and contentment; in short, to make life better worth living for everybody. Masters of industry began to study their workers and sought their friendship; employees responded, and goodwill grew into real affection. Decent houses, fitted with all that is necessary for human health and comfort, were built and let at low rents, and to-day many of the Belfast artisans have become the proprietors of their own dwellings. Thanks to the excellent municipal administration, Belfast taxation is low, and the Ulster capital has long boasted the lowest percentage of pauperism and unemployment of any city or town in the United Kingdom. In the country districts the same happy state of things has been brought about. Farmers till their own land, and the smallest worker has a good house over his head and plenty of food in his stomach. In the counties where Unionism predominates the agricultural labourer has a higher standard of wages than in any Nationalist county.

Masters and Men.

“How do you manage your men?” I inquired of one of Belfast's largest employers of labour, a man who has over 20,000 workers. “Manage them!” he exclaimed, somewhat annoyed.
Get all that sort of idea out of your head. My employees are free men, as free as you or I. Did they want to give trouble and hinder the war they could do so, but they don’t. If I told you that they do not strike or grumble because they are patriots, sportsmen, and gentlemen you would probably not believe me; so all I can say is they are well paid, they are treated with courtesy and consideration, and they do their very best in return. It's easy to see when they have a grievance, and when this occurs I go to them and ask them point-blank what the trouble is, and between us — mind, it’s always been us - we set  everything to rights. They did not like this dilution of labour, for example. Well, we considered the question and considered the war, and we came to the conclusion that it was a case in these days of putting up with lots of things we all don’t like — and then the matter dropped. They will endure everything and anything, I tell you, in order to win the war; they are the best in the world. We masters and men have always got on fairly well together in Ulster. Over here there’s never been much bad feeling between those who control and those who are controlled, but I date the real friendship that now exists between employers and employees from the first year of the Home Rule crisis. At that time, just as now, we forgot everything except that we were Imperialists. Will it surprise you to hear that, when the Ulster Volunteer Force was formed, I was a ranker in my regiment and was ordered about by one of my own workers? He was the better man of the two where military matters were concerned, and, in confidence be it spoken, it gave him a lot of trouble to lick me into shape. That man is now in France in charge of a company, but we hope to get him back when the war is over. There is one thing we’ve always tried to do, and that is to keep our men in work and pay. In the days previous to the war, when things were slack, we used to make work for our people, and so never lost touch with them, and they never had their tempers ruffled or their health impaired from lack of means. Now, here’s one example of how decent they are, how they tackle things. Not long ago the Government wanted a big job done in a hurry. Mind, we had more on hand already at the time than we could get through. The other yards over the water declared they could not complete it under seven weeks. We called in our men and consulted with them. They undertook to carry out the order within fourteen days, and they kept their word — but they worked the twenty-four hours through!

Trade Unionists Not Socialists.

Let there be no mistake: the Ulster industrialists are as strong trade unionists as are to be found anywhere, but they would fight Trade Unionism itself if it ventured to interfere either with their consciences or their personal ideas of right and wrong. There is a Trades Council in Belfast, as in other industrial centres, but it has not got the support of the vast masses of the trades unionists in the Province because the Council, instead of promoting the principles of Trade Unionism and Imperialism, had adopted Socialism, which, in the Ulster workers opinion, is entirely opposed to either their own or their Empire’s interests. It has been said that much of the present industrial unrest is due to the rise in the prices of foodstuffs, &c. This may be so, but the cost of living is just as high proportionally in Ulster as it is in Glasgow, Leeds, or Newcastle-on-Tyne. Yet these Ulster workers, week by week, unasked and of their own free will, give a portion of their wages to the benefit of the War Charities. In the shipyards they have formed a committee and elected a representative whose business it is to distribute the funds. In the Ulster Volunteer Force Hospital the various trades have endowed beds, and the wounded soldiers who occupy these beds are regarded by the donors as their special property and charges. There is scarcely a man in the yards who has not given generously to the Patriotic Fund for the Ulster wounded, which now amounts to close on £100,000. The workers of one yard alone, that of Messrs. Workman, Clark, invested £60,000 in the War Loan, while the City of Belfast subscribed over £28,000,000.

The Spirit of Ulster.

This, then, is the spirit in which the Ulster people are fighting. This is the spirit which has enabled them to get through in their two big shipyards twice the amount of work which has been done in some other yards in the United Kingdom during the past three years, and which gives them strength to toil unrestingly for from 74 to 107 hours per week. It is this spirit which alone can bring peace and victory to the Empire and the world. The peace, however, for which they look, and for which they work, must be of an enduring character, based upon the triumph of those things which make for the betterment of mankind. Humanity is passing through the furnace of affliction, but that ordeal will have been endured in vain if it does not give to our Empire a sweetness and a safety to which it has too long been a stranger.



But to keep this one stormy banner flying
     In this one faith that none shall e’er disprove,
Then drive the embattled world before thee, crying:
    “There is one Emperor, whose name is Love.”

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Private Quigg, of Bushmills, County Antrim, was one of the many recipients of the Victoria Cross gained by Ulstermen during the present war. The official account of his exploit is as follows:
He advanced to the assault with his platoon three times. Early next morning, hearing a rumour that his platoon officer (the son of the chief landowner in the district where he was born) was lying out wounded, he went out seven times to look for him under heavy shell and machine-gun fire; each time bringing back a wounded comrade. The last man he dragged in on a waterproof sheet from within a few yards of the enemy’s wire. He was seven hours engaged in this most gallant work, and finally was so overcome with exhaustion that he had to give up.

It is said that when summoned before the authorities to be questioned as to the why and wherefore of his action he remarked: “Would ye have had me leave Mister Harry with them devils? Him and the others, weren’t they all me own kin?” It must here be stated that the bond uniting these Northerners is so strong that they regard one another as kinsmen even when there is no blood relationship. On Quigg’s return home his friends came out to welcome him, but they did not make much boast about his bravery; they took it rather as a matter of course. "Ay, he’s a guid, kind lad,” declared the women; “but they make a queer fuss over wee things yonder. Didn’t he only do what he had to do, so why blether sich a ween about it?” He only did what, in the opinion of his fellow-country people, he had to do, namely, sacrifice his own life, if need be, for his kindred.

The Ulster folk, though a progressive people, are still in some ways curiously primitive. Beneath their cold, calm exterior burn fierce, strong passions. They love as they hate — furiously, and the deadly indifference and luke-warmness, the ennui and pessimism of modern civilisation has never touched them. Their simple, severe religion teaches them to defend and cherish their friends and pitilessly to smite their adversaries. They are, too, exceedingly jealous of their rights and their possessions. According to their way of thinking Quigg was merely doing what they all would have done under the circumstances, that is to say, getting back what was his own from the rascals who had filched it from him. Taking these traits of their character into consideration, it is not surprising that so little is known of the wonderful and perfectly organised work which they are doing for their sick and wounded. This is their business, and they are not given to discussing their private and sacred affairs.

It must be remembered that as a people they were confronted with the possibility of bloodshed for more than two years previous to the outbreak of present hostilities. Long before August, 1914, they had been preparing for evil days. Not only in their drill halls, but also in their hospitals and homes, they had been making ready to cope with whatever the future might bring. Consequently, they were more fitted than were their fellow-Britishers to grapple with the suffering and difficulties which war creates.

September, 1914, saw Ulster’s Civilian Army incorporated with the Imperial Forces. Shortly after this event the Ulster Unionist Council made an offer to the War Office of a fully-equipped hospital for the use of all sick and wounded soldiers and sailors. The gift was accepted, and in the shortest time possible this hospital was in complete working order. It was established solely by the contributions of Ulster people of all classes, both rich and poor. All who worked in it gave their services voluntarily, and its equipment was found by the Ulster Volunteer Force, who had put their organisation and resources at the disposal of the authorities.

Home of True Socialism.

From this one hospital has sprung seven others, all under the same control — a Committee of business men of all ranks and callings, who, having built up the various great industries and trades of their country, were prepared to devote the same energy and intellect towards the re-creating and re-establishing of the broken health and broken lives of the men who had served the Empire.

If the motto of early English Socialism means anything when it declares that “it is the one great and universal interest of the human race to be cordially united, and to aid each other to the full extent of their capabilities," then Ulster is to-day the home of Socialism. No sooner had the first Ulster casualty list appeared than up surged the fierce Northerners jealously for their own. “Give us back what is ours,” was the cry, and, after much deliberation, the War Office acceded to the demand so far as to hand over to the Province all its totally disabled, limbless, and nerve cases. Whereupon, without delay or hesitation, the following notice was made public in every district, town, and village throughout the country:
Ulstermen! your generosity and loyalty in the past has never failed, and the Ulster Volunteer Force Hospital Committee feel assured that they can rely upon the province in the future to support, with the same liberality and patriotism, the greater and more far-reaching efforts which they are obliged to undertake to benefit the men who have answered the Empire’s call.

The reply to this appeal may be seen in the perfectly-equipped and perfectly-organised hospitals already mentioned, which have been, like the first, entirely established by voluntary contribution, and are staffed by voluntary workers. So, as Private Quigg went out across “No Man’s Land” to get back his own kin, in the same way does Ulster go out to the ends of the earth to bring back its children.

There is nothing showy or outwardly splendid in the appearance of these Ulster hospitals. In a grassy open place on the outskirts of Belfast, round the huge Central Hospital, where the sick and wounded are nursed back to convalescence, stretches a veritable labyrinth of low, verandah-encircled, cheery-looking buildings. Here is the big hostel where the limbless and orthopaedic cases are lodged and fed; further on are the curative workshops, the open-air and indoor gymnasium, the limb-fitting rooms, baths, photographic studios, laboratories, recreation, billiard and reading rooms, a bowling green and tennis courts, and lastly, the factory where the artificial limbs are manufactured. In these curative workshops and gymnasiums, under skilled medical and surgical supervision and by special treatment, paralysed and distorted bodies are made straight and active, and the maimed are given and taught to use new limbs.

Trades for the Wounded.

As to the factory, one of the most modern of its kind, in it the limbless are instructed in the art of limb-making and repairing, and are carefully fitted with the limbs they require. Little by little, as the weeks and months go by, the sufferers are guided back along the road to health and happiness, and when their cure is complete they are handed over to the charge of the Employment Committee — a branch of the Central Committee — which, like the latter, is composed of a few business men and many Trade Unionists, under whose direction the discharged soldiers are re-established in the trades and industries in which they were employed before the war broke out. Local opinion is against teaching men fresh trades if there is the slightest possibility of their being able to follow their old ones. The idea is rather to invent special implements by which those who are deformed or who have artificial limbs are enabled to continue their former work. It also rests with this Committee to see that the discharged men, on quitting the hospital, do not lapse into idleness and sit down to live and do nothing on their pensions. In this matter the Trade Unionists render invaluable service. By methods best known to themselves they contrive to keep a close and friendly grip upon their war-weakened kinsmen, and in nine cases out of ten they succeed in getting them firmly upon their feet.

The most recently-founded hospital in this great healing colony is the one set apart for the treatment of neurasthenia. Here, in the midst of a wide, wooded park and flower gardens, in the cool, quiet rooms of the home so generously given up by Colonel James Craig, one of Ulster's finest sons, shattered nerves and tired bodies are soothed, comforted, and made whole. This hospital is one of the only two hospitals for neurasthenics at present in the Three Kingdoms.

So much for the central colony of hospitals, but beyond this inner ring are others — some situated on the sea coast, some amongst the hills where patients are sent who require change of air and scenery. Attached to the Central Hospital is a fleet of motor-cars and ambulances. These cars form what is known as the Ulster Volunteer Force Motor Corps, and the Empire has reason to remember the excellent work it did in carrying troops, munitions, and rifles to Dublin during the rebellion in April, 1916. It is no exaggeration to say that the entire resources of the Province, public and individual, have been placed at the service of the Hospital Committee and the patients. Doctors and surgeons, nurses and cooks, give their services free of remuneration. Farmers and landowners freely supply eggs, fruit, vegetables, and flowers. Theatre and cinematograph proprietors grant free passes to the inmates, the municipality carries them without cost on the trams. Practically the whole city is open to them, and parties are invited to hundreds of homes from time to time. In fact, nothing is left undone which might in any way help to alleviate suffering and distress.

All this naturally entails constant and heavy expenditure, but the burden is borne by all alike. Nor is it enough for these people that money should be forthcoming to-day. Being canny folk they look ahead, and are providing for the morrow, so that the future shall not embarrass those responsible for the work. To be sure, the Government has undertaken to pension soldiers and their families, but Ulster people do not place much confidence in Government promises, knowing by bitter experience that these are as easily made as they are easily broken. Provision had therefore to be made for the year to come, and another public appeal was issued calling on the inhabitants of the Province in the name of Empire to subscribe to the Ulster Volunteer Force Patriotic Fund — a fund for the permanent relief of Ulster soldiers and their dependents, and also of all Britishers enlisted in the Ulster regiments and the Ulster Division whose cases might not be provided for by the Government.

Ulster’s Munificence.

Within a few weeks the Fund just named had swelled to nearly £100,000, and as time goes by the sum is steadily increasing. It has, indeed, become as much a religious as a patriotic duty to give to it. In every village, in every town, in the markets, the factories, the shipyards, and in the schools sub-committees have been formed to raise the money necessary, and woe betide the man or woman who would withhold his or her substance. Moreover, in addition to this the Ulster people have taken upon themselves the care and, as far as possible, support of their own prisoners of war. Through the medium of the Ulster Women’s Prisoners of War and Gift Fund over £1,500 worth of foodstuffs and comforts are dispatched each month to the Western and Eastern fronts and to the German prison encampments, and in this case again the money is entirely found in the Province.

Nor must it be thought that in their anxiety to assist and heal their near kindred these Northerners have been selfish or indifferent to the sufferings and needs of their fellow-Britishers and the Allies. Over and above the huge sums which they have subscribed and are subscribing to the upkeep of their hospitals and for the benefit of their soldiers and sailors, they have up to the present given into the various British and Allied war charities well over £400,000, and in spite of hard times this is daily being augmented. When compared with the enormous funds raised in London and Glasgow the offering of the Province may seem trivial, but it is only fair to recollect that Ulster is a small place, and its wealth is confined to six counties. Belfast alone contributed £28,000,000 to the War Loan; Glasgow contributed millions more than this, but of each it can be said — it did what it could.

The Ulster people have hitherto, and most unjustly, been regarded as inhospitable. They are, however, only too well accustomed to injustice, and have long since learnt to pursue their own course undisturbed by the sneers and falsehoods of their detractors: yet in this “inhospitable” and "avaricious” city of Belfast there is an immense Service Club, with many branches, where, as honoured guests of the citizens, hundreds of soldiers and sailors find warm welcome, shelter, baths, food, and entertainment, where accommodation and furnishing are that of a good hotel rather than a barrack. The clannishness of Ulster men is proverbial. Wherever half a dozen of them are to be found should one be in difficulties the other five will make it their business to care for him. It is the manifestation of that spirit over a whole province, and indeed world-wide, that explains what Ulster has done, and is doing, for those smitten by the fortunes of war.

In their determined deliberations to do all in their power to bring about victory they have proved themselves true patriots. Ordinary interests and animosities have for the moment been laid aside. They have come to realise that what has endowed them in the first instance with their freedom is their power of doing right — in other words, contributing from their own particular centre to the social and Imperial well-being. “They are saving themselves by their own efforts, and they will save others by their example.”

"We Will Maintain."

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Knocklayd by Moonlight

The silver moon is shining
    On far Knocklayd;
And the night dew glistens
    On leaf and blade.

A white mist is passing
    Across the moon's face;
Gleaming like silver
    In the blue space.

As I gaze upon it,
    I seem to see
Dim and misty figures.
    People of the sidhe.

Who are the phantoms?
    Can they, in truth,
Be the dead heroes
    From the land of youth?

Are they the fairies
    From the green raths.
Who tread by moonlight
    The sky's dim paths?

The mist sweeps onward,
    The phantoms fade,
And the moon shines silver
    On far Knocklayd.

H. K. Leathem

Poem: The Witness, 6 December 1918.
Image: Knocklayd Mountain, County Antrim by Samuel McLarnon

Wednesday, 5 December 2018


He rattled the sword in its sheath;
    He threatened; he boasted of might;
Earth trembled, his thunder beneath;
    Day passed for the terrors of night.

He planned for the conquest of man;
    He vapoured and posed as a king
Of the world, in a century's van.
    Whose glory the future would sing.

He rattled his sword in its sheath,
    He claimed irresistible might;
His millions have fallen beneath
    The heroes of freedom and right.

He formed alliances strong
    With hell and hell's legions on earth;
His alliance is shattered along
    The whole line for the new age’s birth.

Fallen! fallen! he fell by his pride,
    By the wrong he for selfish aims joined:
'Twas his own soul he sold when he lied,
    And by perjury himself purloined.

Yes, fallen and fled from his land,
    Abhorred and hated by those,
The bondslaves at his command,
    Now changed to his bitterest foes.

For fallen is all his array
    Of powers united for war.
All his people drank to "The Day";
    It came – and broken they are.

All fallen, while millions are dead,
    And hunger and woe stalk abroad,
While the nations of free men are led
    To sing Hallelujahs to God.

Oh, the dear dead we mourn shall arise
    From the dust that affords them long sleep,
To reign with their Lord in the skies,
    And mourners shall no longer weep.

While he is in shame and disgrace,
    Like Pharaoh, only a name,
That one time had eminent place,
    But has passed to perpetual shame.


Poem: The Witness, 29 November 1918
Image: 'The Sands Run Out' from Punch, 13 November 1918.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Peace! Be still!

 “Master, the battle is raging!
  The shrapnel is falling nigh!
The air is polluted with gas fumes,
  And round me dead comrades lie.
Carest Thou not that we perish?
  How canst Thou silence keep
When each moment so madly is threatening
  A grave in a shell hole deep?”

 “Proud man and his hosts shall obey My will!
  Peace! be still! Whether the rush of torpedo at sea,
Or demons on land, or whatever they be, might against
  Right shall not long defy the Master of ocean and
Earth and sky. They all shall surely obey My will;
  Peace! be still! Peace! be still!
     They all shall sorely obey My will;
     Peace! peace! be still

Master, the struggle is over.
   The elements sweetly rest;
Man’s pride to the dust is humbled,
   And hope’s high within my breast,
leave us no more, blest Redeemer,
   To man’s own unhallowed caprice;
And in humbled contrition we’ll ever
   Seek brotherhood, love, and peace.

J. M.

Adapted from Sankey’s "Peace, be Still.”

Poem: The Witness, 29 November 1918. 
Image: Crop from Zonnebeke 1918 a painting by Sir William Orpen

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


The leaves of autumn rustle ’neath my feet,
    And trees, that in the spring, have looked so fair,
And shelter gave through storm or summer heat,
  Now stretch their arms to heaven, all bleak and bare.
The winds that whistle o'er the lea proclaim
  The approach of darker days that follow fast;
No more is heard the thrush’s glad refrain,
  The joys of spring and summer days are past.
The Honeysuckle’s delicate perfume
  In evening walks shall gladden us no more;
The flowers are dead that decked the fields with bloom,
  Their little life of bright and beauty’s o’er.
And in our hearts a warning note we hear—
  “The sweets of life, how quickly all are past;
Our pleasant dreams, how soon they disappear;
  No joy on earth is ever given to last.”
And yet, why need we sadly mourn lost joy.
  Or pleasures fair that held our lives enthralled;
The sweets of life, are mixed with life’s alloy.
  Its brightest day some shadows doth enfold.
But ’tis not death that autumn winds foretell,
  But tired nature, gently lulled to sleep
By unseen hands, that ruleth all things well,
  And in His keeping rest, secure and, deep.
To wake again, with fresher beauty given,
  Renewed in strength, and all that now seem lost.
Healed from the wounds, which storm-clouds oft have riven.
  Anew shall bloom those buds onoe nipped by frost.
So we shall wake some happy morn to find
  Our winter days, and all their clouds have passed;
The storms that rent our hearts lie far behind.
  Secure we’ll rest in that fair haven at last.
No autumn days will sadden that fair spring—
  The “eternal spring” for which our lives were planned;
What tho’ these fleeting years, their sorrows bring,
  New joys await us in that “Better Land."

IVY. Londonderry.

Poem: The Witness, 15 November 1918

Thursday, 8 November 2018

The Road to Victory

Thorny and broken, crimson paven,
  Chill with the winds that blow from night;
With many footsteps deeply graven,
  Hidden in shade and bathed in light.

Winding afar thro’ dale and valley.
  Twining on high, up hill and steep;
Trodden by hosts that may not dally,
  Followed by eyes that never sleep.

Beaten of old by travellers lonely,
  Bordered with hopes and joys and fears;
Followed by hosts, yet each one only.
  Beating his way thro' blood and tears.

This is the way that we must follow.
  Grief scarred and dark, incarnadined;
And at the end the bauble hollow.
  Or the Great Crown, which may we find.


Poem: The Witness, 22nd November 1918.
Image: Men of the 8th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment going up to the line near Frezenberg during the Third Battle of Ypres 1917. IWM Q 2978.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Unknown British Soldier – An Epitaph

He was killed just there, and they buried him
Where the wind fills up her cup to brim
Of the dews of evening pure and sweet
That she shall pour on the Traveller's Feet
Who comes, where the crosses cluster round
And makes of the grey earth holy ground.

The crimson sunset lent a pall,
Whispering, “This is best of all,"
And the Dawn laid downher robe of day,
Tender and soft where the sleeper lay.
“Not yet enough," the good God said,
And He spread poppies, flaming red.

That they may not miss him who come to find
The grave of the lad long left behind;
For the winds are rich with fragrance rare,
And the touch of the Saviour's hand is there,
Twining around the humble tomb
Borne of Calvary’s richest bloom.


Poem for The Witness, 11 October 1918

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Seaside Thoughts

I looked on the silver, shimmering sea,
And a message of peace it brought to me,
As it mirrored the infinite blue above
’Twas an emblem fair of eternal love;
A message of peace to a world of woe,
A healing balm to the souls that know
Of the wounds of sorrow, and pangs of grief,
Unto tired hearts a sweet relief.

A holy calm like a healing balm
Or hallowed hush at the close of day;
Were life’s sea like thee from tempests free
What a peaceful haven this earth would be;
Not a ripple of care on its bosom fair,
No sob of sorrow, or dark despair.

Then the glassy bosom rose and fell
As if a sob caused that surging swell;
But presently like a child at play
Over the rocks tossed the feathery spray;
And I thought of the varying scenes of life,
The playful prank's and the storms of strife,
The peaceful calm and the sunshine fair,
The nights of sorrow and days of care.

O ever changing, restless sea!
Such must life’s ocean ever be;
Not always for us the sunshine sweet,
The holy calm and restful retreat;
But storms and sorrows, tempests and tears,
Mingle with joys thro' the passing years.

I looked on the sea when the billows roared
And the frowning sky its torrents poured,
While not a gleam illumed the grey,
Save the seething foam of the silv’ry spray,
And all night long the storm raged high;
But morning came with a cloudless sky,
And I thought of the conflicts stern and grim
When my flickering faith waxed weak and dim.

When life’s skies were grey and on my way
No beacon gleamed or sunshine lay;
But dawning came at the darkest hour,
God’s sunshine dispelled the storm-cloud’s power;
So may the woes of warfare cease,
And Freedom’s dawn bring eternal peace.


Poem from The Witness, 20th September 1918

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Lough Neagh, and Home.

Son of Old Ireland, but his lot
Lies in a foreign, far-off spot;
He pauses oft, to think of — what?
   Lough Neagh; and home!

Twin pictures they have ever been,
A white familiar sheet — no scene
To thrill strange eyes — then fields of green,
    Lough Neagh, and home!

A house p’rhaps near the water’s edge,
Where grows the reed and clusters sedge,
And broods the crane like any sage;
    Lough Neagh, and home!

Maybe the Lough was miles away,
A treasured, view, as fair it lay —
How it sparkled in the morning ray!
    Lough Neagh, and home!

With water calm and weather fine
Someone, remembering Moore’s line.
Would try to see the “Round Towers” shine.
    Lough Neagh, and home!

Then bits of folklore, some old saying,
And some old tale is heard again,
Links here and there in memory’s chain:
    Lough Neagh, and home!

And will he not recall with both
The kindly province of his youth,
The very heart of which, in truth,
    Is Lough Neagh — and home?

And should he meet a pal or host,
Perchance, who makes the self-same boast,
Athrill they’d drink the common toast:
    “Lough Neagh, and Home!”


Poem from The Witness, 13 September 1918.
Image: Across Lough Neagh by John Halliday.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Verdun, 1917

The following poem is [was then] written by a schoolboy of fourteen,
at the C.I.M. school of Chefoe, China.

The German view:—

"It must be done!” the War Lord cries.
To Paris now your pathway lies.
Break thro’ the ranks, and all is done,
Our land is saved, the war is won.

"It must be done!" Despite the loss.
’Tis but a narrow line to cross.
But once you’ve crossed the battlefield
Your country’s fate, and yours, is sealed.

"It must be done!” Now to the work!
Your country’s crushed, if now, you shirk
Break thro’ the line — ’tis not for gain,
Break thro’ the line by might and main.

"It must be done!” Spare not the gun.
Begin e'en now, before the sun.
At once the foe, in dreadful fright
Will leave the field at your first sight.

“It must be done!” ’Tis done at last,
The foe has fled before our blast;
The line is won, and all is done,
The war and battle both are won.

“It has been done!” But we are pushed,
Our fondest dreams have now been crushed,
But we'll begin the strife anew,
And all, from us, for peace shall sue.

French View:–

“They shall not pass1!” A solemn hush
Greet at the dawn the foeman’s rush.
And when the Germans reach our wire,
Out bursts a living flame of fire.

“They shall not pass!" Fatigued, forlorn,
We fight throughout the sultry morn;
At e’en we tread with weary feet
The sombre pathway of retreat.

“They shall not pass!" The midnight pall,
With inky blackness covers all;
The star-shells flame — the shrapnels scream,
And loose their fatal leaden stream.

“They shall not pass!” The forest aisles
Ring to the tread of marching files,
The fertile fields are green no more.
But torn with shells, and, red with gore.

"They shall not pass!” With clarion blare
The stirring bugles rend the air.
And, following on its fearsome note,
A cheer bursts forth from every throat.

“They shall not pass!” The Marseillaise
Sounds forth anon our country’s praise;
And, re-encouraged by the strain,
We summon strength, and fight again.

“They shall not pass!” And once again
Are Douaumont and Vaux reta’en.
Once more we strive for liberty.
Once more our foes before us flee.

"They shall not pass!" The pæan sound
Awakes the echoes far around.
And now, in majesty unfurl'd,
Proud flies the flag that saved the world.

Chefoo, Feb., 1918.

Poem from The Witness, 23rd August 1918.
Painting Verdun, artist unknown.


Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Free Tram Rides

“The Belfast Corporation voted themselves free ‘passes’ on the new city tramways, on 1st January, 1905.” — City Press.

If you want gear, then never fear
   To grab and gather pelf;
But mind the penny, one or many,
   The pound will mind itself.

Our Councilmen of six times ten,
   The trustees of the people,
All sworn to ward our gold, and guard
   The town from sewer to steeple,

Have bought in fine the tramway line.
   And all its skinny horses;
And ere they die may 'lectrify
   The company’s old hearses.

But first they’ve tried and ’lectrified
   The people of the city
By issuing “pass” to every ass
   In office or committee.

Poor men may toil, and women moil.
   Their rags and hunger hiding,
While paying for each councillor
   On plush and velvet riding.

Our people work like Jap or Turk
   For barely food and clothing;
They’re so oppress’t they can’t protest,
   Nor show their silent loathing

For belted knights and baronites,
   And merchant princes many.
Who take their tram nor care a d------
   Who pays their wretched penny.

They’ll pay no more, nor go footsore,
   But show their “pass” and snigger,
And tax the poor, and crowd the car.
   And grin like any nigger!

The horses cheap can hardly creep
   Around from streets to stations.
Yet councillors now load the cars
   With their huge corporations.

No doubt they’re great and much elate,
   But then it’s hardly funny
That they should be so deuced free
   With other people’s money!

Great City Fathers! one soon gathers
   How stupid you must think us,
That we should vote and never note
   The way you all can blink us.

But are you not the meanest lot
   That ever ruled a city,
To tax the poor and load the car
   With neither shame nor pity?

From Antrim Idylls and other Poems 
by W Clarke Robinson (published 1907).

Image: Belfast City Tramways Horsecar No 23 taken in 1905 (after the corporation take-over). The car is still in the livery of the Belfast Street Tramways Company. From the National Tramway Museum.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018


Life to most is but a tangle
   Woven to a web;
Music made of endless jangle
   From which no love doth ebb.

Each day's monotony and pain
   Glides rapidly away,
To swell the ever-rolling main
   Of long eternity.

And so each day moves slowly past,
   And ne’er returns again;
But memory cannot be erased
   Of sufferings past and gain.

Then let us fill each passing day
   With little deeds of love;
Then, when we too shall pass away,
   'Twill be to realms above.

M. M., Maghera.

Poem: The Witness, 12th July 1917.
Image: Spider Web in Spring, a painting by Jessica Meredith.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

My Prayer

Help me to love instead of hate;
Help me to hope; help me to wait.
From out my store, help me give;
Thou, who knowest, help me forgive.

Help me to trust, for this is life;
Help me to work and shun all strife;
Help me to share my brother's ills;
Help me to spare, for censure kills.

Help me to lift along life’s road
My comrade, weighed with heavy load,
Help me to soar above the fret
And wrongs of life. Help me forget.

Poem from The Witness, 5th July 1918.  
Image: Meditation Mountain

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The First of July – A reflection in 1953

by H. Malcolm M‘Kee, M.C.

THE approach of Ulster's greatest day carries my mind back thirty-seven years. And I think of the men of West Belfast who formed the 9th Royal Irish Rifles. They were nearly all shipyard workers of Harland and Wolff who had left splendid wages to accept one shilling per day.

They felt it was their duty and, without a second thought, they did their duty.

Ireland was then all one. But there was danger, and the Ulster Volunteer Force had been formed, to resist force from the South. Yet when war broke out the 36th Division was formed almost completely from U.V.F. Except the Artillery.

Till the “Princess Victoria” disaster Maynard Sinclair and I were the only surviving Northern Ireland officers who went over the top in the advance on 1st July, 1916. (Or so I thought till I heard that Mr. McAuley was with us. But he was a reinforcement officer, and I had never met him.) It is wonderful how distance lends enchantment to the view. I am sometimes reminded of the film “I Spy a Dark Stranger.” In it a character says the G.P.O. in Dublin wouldn’t hold those who say they were in it on Easter Monday, 1916. And it is a large building.

The reason is that thirty per cent of officers were left behind on 1st July to replace casualties. It was anticipated that there would be heavy casualties, and there were, but if new men had come along, the old officers could have carried on. But Ulstermen, did not come, and the 36th Division, after being filled up with Englishmen, etc., finally dwindled to nothing.

But that does not detract from the glory of the 1st July. Every military critic was amazed at the steadiness and discipline of the Division, and not one other Division got so much praise.

But, as a Division from Ulster, it ended on 1st July. For example, only seventy survived out of seven hundred of the 9th Royal Irish Rifles.

As Brigadier-General F. P. Crozier, who commanded the Battalion, wrote . . . . “War is a contradiction. The fighters seldom come out best, save in this, they keep their souls intact. And that is a possession no man can take from them.

The net result of the barren, glorious bloody battle of Thiepval is that over seven hundred men of the West Belfast Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles proved their ability to subordinate matter to mind. Intellectual discipline had triumphed.

The acid test of killing and being killed had been passed by us with credit. What remained? The memories, the confidence and seventy men to carry on the torch.”

60,000 Casualties

The Battle of the Somme was barren in one sense, for no ground was gained there, and sixty thousand casualties taken on 1st July. Three hundred and sixty were taken in the whole Battle of the Somme. And no ground was taken. But the pressure on Verdun was relieved, and the Channel Ports saved. Everybody knows what happened in the recent war when the Channel Ports were lost. The French were conquered, and we had to wait for years for the Second Front.

It is rather strange the similarity in the figures. 360,000 casualties were suffered in the Battle of the Somme. 337,000 were evacuated from Dunkirk. It took 360,000 casualties to save the Ports, and France.

As Crozier writes in another book . . . “When I marched up through Thiepval Wood into action that July morn, at the head of the pick of Belfast, to the accompaniment of the deafening din of battle, I felt
   ‘Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife,
       To all the sensual world proclaim.
    One crowded hour of glorious life
       Is worth an age without a name!’

“Literally my blood boiled and saw red. The day — yea, even the hour — had arrived and I thanked my God for permitting me to share in its glories.”

That, of course, is all very well. But Crozier had been ordered not to go over at all. He did go over, for a few yards, and for a few minutes. Then he retired into a forty-foot deep dug-out where, no doubt, his blood continued to boil. Those of us who had to remain in no-man’s land felt that an age without a name was the very thing the doctor ordered. No-man’s land was far too crowded for comfort . . . with shells, machine-gun bullets, and, later, with Germans with bombs and bayonets.

Long Range War

But that sort of personal war is a thing of the past. Modern war is fought at long range. When combatants get near each other, one surrenders.

The casualties are nothing like so high. In the First War those killed in our Army alone were three times the total death in all three Services in the recent war. It was, in fact, quite a war.

In the whole of the Boer War there were 5,774 killed and 22,829 wounded. Total, 28,503. As I have said, the casualties on the first day of the Somme were over 60,000. Almost 20,000 killed.

Under 6,000 were filled in the Boer War. In the first war 1,069,825 were killed. Of these 912,451 were killed in the Army.

So war, in spite of tanks, aircraft and bombs, is getting safer. But when atom bombs are used, all the fun will depart from war. And civilians will join in whatever fun there is.

The only way to prevent war is to be strong. We are not strong. Our solitary battleship is Vanguard. Our aircraft are in plastic as there are no skilled ground-crews to look after them. Our Army hardly exists on an international scale.

I really cannot see much good in spending millions on academic education and Health Services and neglecting to prepare against annihilation.

I really cannot see much good in spending millions on academic education and Health Services and neglecting to prepare against annihilation. But any politician who uttered such a sentiment would be thrown out immediately. For people have not learned from two terrible wars that you cannot have guns and butter. Our weakness caused both wars. We got through both, but instead of having a navy twice as big as the next biggest, we are third, and America and Russia both have larger navies than ours. We are not exactly a third-rate power, but we are third.

We are nowhere as regards army and air force, and have few skilled men.

Free drugs may keep us fit, though I doubt it. But fit, may I ask, for what?

These are sad reflections on the eve of the 37th anniversary of the greatest battle the world has ever seen. When so many died in the war to end war.

The Americans did not win the First War, but they won the Second. Without America we could not even do anything except surrender in the Third.

It is our fault our fellows died in vain.

The above article was published in the County Down Spectator of Saturday, 27th June 1953.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Our Boys

Away in France and Flanders,
   'Neath, the rays of a scorching sun,
Our boys are bravely fighting.
   To quell the ruthless Hun.

There where the guns' loud thunder
   Rends the air with a booming sound;
Fighting, wounded, or dying.
   Faithful our lads are found.

Here is the cuckoo calling,
   While the swallow skims 'neath the blue,
And thrushes blithely carol.
   And bees sip honey dew.

For God has given us spring time,
   With its singing of birds so sweet;
And fragrant, sun-kissed flowers --
   A Paradise complete.

But still to France and Flanders,
   Or wherever the boys may be;
Our thoughts are ever turning,
   Yearning our loved to see.

Weary at times with waiting,
   We heed not the thrushes' song.
For life has so much anguish.
   And waiting days seem long.

O, here the cuckoo's calling;
   But there is the cry of pain;
And hearts fn love are yearning
   To soothe, but all in vain.

O, Father, be Thou with them!
   Guide them, guard them night and day;
Thy loving arms still round them,
   Their succour and their stay.

And speed the day, O Father,
   When this cruel war shall cease;
And nations dwell for ever
   Beneath the bow of peace.


Poem from The Witness, 14th June 1918
Image: On the Wire by Harvey Thomas Dunn (oil on canvas 1918)

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Evening Brings A’ Hame.

Just a simple Scottish saying,
   Yet it comes to the mind again;
So suggestive it is of rest —
   That evening brings a’ hame.

The thought to the weary toiler,
   Whether, with hand or with brain,
Comes like a whiff of caller air,
   That evening brings a’ hame.

To dwellers on heather-clad hills,
   Or in cities of world-wide fame,
The words have a pleasant echo —
   That evening brings a’ hame.

We stand in a busy street
   When the light begins to wane;
We see the crowd of folk who pass —
   For evening brings a’ hame.

The country children watch for dad,
   They hide in the shady lane
To give him a hearty welcome
   When evening brings a’ hame.

To the tired, but patient mother,
   Whose work seems sordid and plain,
Each duty is glorified
   Since evening brings a’ home.

Now many hearts throughout the world
   With quivering lips exclaim —
“Ah, not to us, O nevermore,
   Will evening bring a’ hame.

To the weary and tempest-tossed,
   Who trust in the Father’s Name,
The Home of Rest is safe and sure,
   Then — evening will bring a’ hame.

Cullycapple, Aghadowey.

Poem: The Witness, 31st May 1918
Image: Fields of Wild Heather on the Highlands by Paul Wolber

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Strange Facts in War

Only one in the family,
    One loved and only son;
He fell out there on the battle line
    Where noble deeds were done:
Now there is not one.

Six sons were in the home circle;
    Now all of them are gone;
They perished there on the battle line;
    The parents are alone.
Mourning every son.

Twelve sons were in the house at home;
    And there has died not one;
One has the scar of a little wound;
    Yet all have brave deeds done,
And have bright glory won.

How is it, Lord, that such can be?
    That the one loved son is gone,
That all six sons have perished there
    To help the triumph won,
And that twelve brave sons live on?

O, say the parents who have none,
    Amid the tears they shed,
Our sons are wearing crowns of bliss
    In the bright Home overhead;
They live; they are not dead.


From The Witness, 16th November 1917.
Image: The Cemetery, Étaples, 1919 by John Lavery

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Waitin' on the Sea

The Irish Mariner's Soliloquy

With the soul o' me in Erin, an' meself upon the sea
    Where the soundin' o' the battle I can hear,
Shure me thoughts are all in Erin, where I'm thinkin' long to be,
An the Autumn whispers tremble o'er the shinin' wave to me.
    For the time is in the fadin' o' the year.

Over there the lads are fightin' where the ceaseless bullets fall,
    But the waitin' on the waters falls to me,
An' they say the waitin's needed, but it tries you most of all,
An' you wouldn't be awonderin' why I hear me Erin call
    If you've listened to the callin' o' the sea.

Once you've seen the look o' Erin when the mists are on the corn
    You'll be mindin' it no matter where you roam,
Shure it's now I'm seein' visions o' the golden harvest morn,
An' across the rollin' waters there's a tender music borne
    That recalls to me the song o' “Harvest Home.”

Oh, they're singin' it in Erin, but they're sighin' as they sing
    For the sorrow o' the reapin' at the War,
They are wonderin' what the comin' o' the victory will bring,
For it's Erin's sons have mingled in the flghtin' for the King,
    Aye, they've answered her from other lands afar.

Shure before I did the waitin', it was me that used to go
    Where the sons o' Erin trod an alien strand,
An' I brought them back to Erin o'er the ocean's fretful flow,
There were some she'd near forgotten they had gone so long ago!
    But they hadn't lost the likin' for their land.

An' they couldn't help the yearnin' that the call o' Erin gave,
    For it whispered o' a memory pure an' blest,
An' 'twas me that took them onward to the lands that need the brave,
An' they've shared the pride o' Erin, some have shared a hero-grave
    For the glory o' the homeland in the West.

Have you ever gone athinkin' when the breakin' wave you see
    How on every shore it's just the same to view?
Other charms o' Nature differ when in distant lands you be,
But you'll always be familiar with the image o' the sea,
    An' you'll hear it singin' things you always knew.

It's the likes o' me that knows it, an' I'm thinkin' as I stay
    Where the rollin' ocean wave around me parts,
How the sea was also breakin' o'er the shore so far away,
Where I sailed the sons o' Erin to their honour's battle-day,
    Shure it seemed a link o' Erin to their hearts!

You'd have heard a welcome soundin' in its music's boundless strain,
    It had sung farewell by Erin's peaceful shore,
But the same unbroken spirit rang from out each proud refrain—
It was Glory out in Erin, it was Glory o'er the main
    Where another land it's trace o' battle bore.

I'd be likin' them to hear it when in battle now they stand,
    For they'd feel the guardian love o' Erin near.
Or if ever they were passin' to the silent Shadow-land
It would sing o' higher Glory, till they'd sleep, an' understand
    Why they died to do the winnin' o' it here.

Shure I'm wishin' I was needed where the battleships have gone,
    For you'd feel that you were doin' somethin' great,
An' you wouldn't be afearin' when the foe comes sailin' on,
But there's other kind o' danger that you mightn't think upon,
    An' it's this that makes them say you need to wait.

So I'm proud to do the waitin', though me thoughts are often twined
    With the land that sets me deepest longin' free,
But you're always like to thinkin' on the things you leave behind,
An' it's just the sorb o' Erin to be comin' to your mind
    When you have to do the waitin' on the sea.


The Witness, 15th September 1916.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt15


We interrupted our narrative of the movement towards peace and unity on the instrumental music question for the purpose of recalling the great event of the jubilee of the march towards unity in the Irish Presbyterian Church. As the union of the Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod constituting the General Assembly was a red letter day in the history of the church in the first half of the last century, the jubilee was a red letter day in the second half. As the outcome of the movement towards union was the occasion of conflict and prayer ending in harmony, so was the movement toward peace and unity on the instrumental music question. And in one case as in the other, the result made for peace and well-being of the Church and the success of its great work of harmony, peace, and progress.

As the truce on the question that had lasted for three years came to an end in 1891, the question came up for reconsideration. The committee, of which the Rev. Dr. Heron was convener, brought up a report of their final effort to effect the object of their appointment. Dr. H. B. Wilson and Dr. D. A. Taylor, who had visited several of the Southern congregations, reported that in Clonmel, Waterford, Parsonstown, and Carlow the ministers and congregations regarded the instrument as a necessity, and could not give it up; Wexford would give up the instrument if all other congregations did the same; Mountmellick had tried to do with a precentor, and had failed; but if the Assembly would get them a precenter they would consider the question of trying it again. The two deputies added this sentence to their report — “It is due to the ministers and congregations referred to in this report to acknowledge that while in every case we failed to obtain an absolute promise that the harmonium would be discontinued, we became assured that the action of the congregations we visited resulted from their deep conviction that to give up the use of their musical instrument would be practically to silence the voice of the congregational praise in them and to peril their existence.” No deputation was sent to Queenstown, as Mr. Simpson “would not co-operate.” The session and committee of Newtonbreda submitted to the Assembly’s committee “that with their convictions and experience, it would be inexpedient to disturb existing arrangements in regard to the praise service at a time when they are engaged in the serious work of building the church.” A decision similar in substance was come to by the congregations of Enniskillen and Longford. Since the appointment of the committee it was stated that instrumental aid had been dispensed with in Magheramorne, Kilkenny, and Tullamore.

In 1891 the Rev. Wm. Park was succeeded in the chair by the Rev. Dr. N. M.. Brown, Limavady, who was one of the leading supporters of the anti-instrumental party, and one who as minister and citizen had taken a great part in the political life of the province, especially in connection with the land question and the Home Rule question. On the latter, it may not be without interest to quote one or two sentences from his opening address as indicative of the feeling and the interest on it. “Our Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen are a genial, generous, and warm-hearted race, whose battles we have fought along with our own, and whose burdens and disabilities we helped to remove that we might have justice, equality, and fair play all round. But we have not the slightest notion of following the political vagaries of reckless, selfish, and designing men who have duped too many of the credulous and unwary by such cries as ‘Ireland for the Irish,’ ‘Ireland a Nation,’ and ‘Home Rule,’ all of which, translated into simple English, undoubtedly means a new tyranny in Ireland and the dismemberment of the British Empire. We are privileged and honoured citizens at present of an Empire on which the sun never sets; and we are not going to barter away such a birthright for a mess of pottage however cunningly cooked or deftly served.

The Rev. Dr. Johnston, who had been a great worker for harmony in the whole movement, brought up the report, and tabled the resolutions of the committee. These recorded thankfulness to God for the peace arrived at by the arrangement of ’86, expressed satisfaction that each party to the truce had kept faith, and no new instruments had been introduced; and having regard to the happy, arrangements, resolved to continue the arrangement for another five year, “in the hope that by the end of that time a way may be found out of the difficulty without injury to the peace or welfare of the Church;” meantime urging the brethren to consider the circumstances of the Church and the country, to avoid divisive courses, and to cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance. Of the committee appointed to watch over the matter, only the following are alive — Dr. Heron, Dr. Wylie, Dr. D. A. Taylor, Dr. John MacDermott, Dr. Wm. Park, Dr. Samuel Prenter, and Professor Dr. Hamill.

Dr. Johnston, in his brief conciliatory speech, made reference to the thundercloud represented by Dr. Petticrew’s notice of motion to rescind the resolutions of ’83 and ’84. Rev. Archibald Robinson, who at this time had become professor of the Assembly’s College and D.D., took, exception to the tone of some of Dr. Wilson’s remarks; but, taking tip the parable of the thunderbolt, be said — “There was now no thundercloud at all. He did not like a thundercloud. He was afraid when any great man or small told him that he had plucked the bolt out of it. He would rather that person stood under it than he (the speaker). He wanted no thundercloud, without bolt or with one. He wanted a sunny firmament such as they had had during the last five years. During these five years they had enjoyed a prosperity which had not been known for a generation. He wanted five years more at anyrate in which the Church would be able to put forth all her energies to the great work of the Lord instead of fighting with one another in that Assembly on a question which should never have been in it.”

At the close of Professor Robinson’s speech, the Moderator was about to put the resolution, when the Rev. Dr. A. C. Murphy ascended the platform amid cries of “Pass, pass,” and, taking off his coat, seemed resolved to be heard and to move an amendment. Professor Robinson thought Dr. Murphy should be heard; but the Rev. Wm. Simpson, Queenstown, who said that he was called a firebrand and a stormy petrel, to content himself, as he would by entering his dissent. Ultimately Dr. Murphy delivered a speech, in which he said he could not agree to the resolution, as he believed the Assembly should give the congregations liberty, and he tabled his dissent. Ultimately, the closure was carried unanimously, the Moderator put the motion, and only about a dozen hands were held up against it. The Moderator, in declaring the resolution carried, said nothing in the Assembly had cheered his heart more than that finding. He congratulated the Assembly and the entire Church upon the pacific finding they had arrived at — a resolution that would go forth as a note of rejoicing over the length and breadth of the Church. A couple of verses of the 91st Psalm were then sung, and the Rev. Dr. Johnston led in prayer, and the old committee on instrumental music was discharged.

From The Witness, 5th April 1918.