Battle of the Somme: 100th Anniversary

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Somme photograph1 July 2016 marks the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme which lasted until November 1916.  Over a million soldiers from both sides were killed during the carnage, which included over 3,500 Irish soldiers fighting for the Allies in World War 1.

Image:  Detail from DCLA/RDFA1.09.047A, photo of soldiers marching across war-torn area of the trenches & battlefield. Caption: "War 1914-15-16... in the Somme French Offensive Relieving the trenches at Dompierre" (see larger image).

The Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association Archive held at Dublin City Library and Archive, includes the personal papers of various Irish soldiers who experienced the Battle of the Somme and all of its horrors. An exhibition based on these resources will be launched in our Dublin Room exhibition space in October 2016.  Here's a sample of some of the remarkable stories that can be researched at Dublin City Library and Archive:

Frank Gunning survived the Gallipoli Campaign 1915, despite being hospitalised for dysentery. He then transferred to the 6th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers where he was second lieutenant. In June 1916, Frank was sent to France, and wrote home to say:
“Well, here I am in the thick of it – and talk about Suvla Bay – why this is a thousand times worse.  The noise would put you astray in the head.  Pray for us all dear, really it is an awful spot”
He was killed during the Battle of the Somme and his body was never recovered.

J. P. Flanagan fought on the 1st day of the Battle of the Somme. He was badly wounded and his left arm subsequently had to be amputated. Unable to return to active service, Flanagan was discharged and awarded a Silver badge to be worn on his civilian clothes to highlight that he had been wounded in service.

Edward BrierleyEdward Brierley served with the 8th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and survived the entire Somme campaign. He received three awards than three certificates for bravery in the field, as well as the Military Medal, bestowed by the British Army for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire.

Photo: RDFA/09/27 Edward Brierley seated, in uniform

The RDFA/ Monica Roberts Collection includes letters to Monica Roberts from Irish soldiers, depicting their first hand experiences of life in the trenches on the Western Front. Because of censorship, the soldiers do not always refer directly to the Somme.  However our collection stored on Digital Repository Ireland, which contains digital images and transcription of letters, has both “keyword” and “browse by date” search functionality. By comparing the database with a soldier's World War I service records available from the Database in our Reading Room, it is possible to identify soldiers which are serving along the Somme battle lines.

George Soper is one such individual. His letter from 28 October 1916 vividly describes the battle landscape from ‘the hottest spot in France’

‘we captured the German position But my God we had some fighting to do we used nothing else only bombs and bayonets. It was proper hand to hand fighting but thank God we came out alright. I never saw this country in such a state. The ground is absolutely ploughed up you could not walk for more than 3 yards without falling into a shell hole and it is next door to impossible to get up there in the night time. We are up at present in one of the hottest spots in France. The guns are about 1 foot apart from each other. I never saw such a number of guns in all my life’ [RDFA.01.04.11]


Images from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association Archive relating to the Battle of the Somme

View images on flickr.


Look forward to exhibition

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