Dublin Remembers: Stories from the Somme

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Somme Exhib launch“Dublin Remembers: Stories from the Somme” exhibition was formerly launched by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Brendan Carr on Friday 21 October 2016.

The Battle of the Somme was a key Allied offensive during World War I.  It began on 1 July 1916 and when it ended 141 days later over one million men had been killed or injured. This included the loss of over 3,500 Irish born soldiers serving in the 16th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions.

Image: Declan Kettle, grand nephew of Tom Kettle; Dublin City Librarian Margaret Hayes and Senior Archivist Ellen Murphy pictured at the exhibition launch.

The 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme has been marked by a wide range of official and unofficial events throughout Ireland, demonstrating the increased awareness of the significance of the Somme to the people of the whole island of Ireland.  Dublin City Council is committed to making a meaningful and appropriate contribution to the commemorations, complementing but not competing with the national commemorations.

The Stories from the Somme exhibition therefore focuses on a number of personal stories of individual Irish men who fought at the Battle of the Somme between July and November 1916, mainly serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Displayed are their documents, medals, photographs and other artefacts which personalises their story and their experiences. Some of the men were killed, others injured, and even those who survived, returned to an Ireland which was radically different following the Easter Rising in April 1916.  The history of the Battle of the Somme is intertwined with the story and people of our city, and this too is reflected in the exhibition.

Photos from the launch event on 21 October

There are a number of organisations and individuals who provided loan of material and images for the exhibition, but it draws mainly on the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association Archive which is located here at Dublin City Library and Archive. The chairman of the association Tom Burke, the committee and all of its members, have done inspiring work over the past 20 years to promote a wider awareness of the once forgotten Irish men and women who served, fought and died in the Great War 1914-1918.

100 years on from the Battle of the Somme, the dreadfulness of the battlefield and trench life is extremely difficult for us to imagine and understand. There was widespread disease, rats and dirt to contend with, and as winter months drew in, snow and freezing conditions. This terror is eloquently captured in the black and white art-work panels by the talented Mr Trevor Wayman which are included in the exhibition.   Also included are audio recordings from selected letters and diaries which provide first-hand accounts of both life in the trenches and life back home in Dublin in 1916.  Dublin City Library staff Seana Kerslake and James Barry, Éamonn Ó Dónaill of Gael Cultúr, and Declan Kettle, who is grand nephew of Tom Kettle all contributed to these audio recordings.  Interview footage from the 50th Anniversary of the Somme in 1966 provides further eye-witness testimony to the tragedy of this bloody conflict and we thank RTE archives for their courtesy in sharing this with us.

Harold Mansfield's letter | Harold Mansfield Letter pg 2

Harold Mansfield letter (Click to enlarge)

On 6 November 1916, Dubliner, Private Harold Barton Mansfield wrote to his pregnant wife from the trenches at the Somme, France:
“We are having a Hell of a time and I have not washed or shaved for over 2 days owing to lack of water, and as I write this my hands are caked with mud and my clothes are a sight … I would love to have you in my arms now, without you dear I am miserable”
Tragically, Mansfield never got to hold his wife again or meet his daughter Marjorie as he was killed on 13 November 1916 during the Battle of Ancre which was the final allied offensive at the Somme.

This exhibition plays a small role in ensuring the loss and hardship endured by families such as Mansfields, and all who had relatives at the Somme, is remembered and reflected upon in this centenary anniversary year.

The City Librarian Margaret Hayes, and RDFA secretary Brian Moroney spoke at the launch, whilst Declan Kettle read from ‘My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God’, the poem written by Tom Kettle on the Somme battlefield shortly before he died. The Newtownabbey Cultural Network Youth Drama Group performed an extract from their 1916 themed film The Rose and the Fusilier about the tragic Naylor family. Their mother was a civilian casualty in 1916 Easter Rising, whilst their father a member of the RDF killed at a gas attack in Hullach during the same week.

The exhibition will run at Dublin City Library and Archive until 23 December 2016, with a half-day seminar taking place on Saturday 26 November.

 

Comments

A fascinating exhibition. The archive has done a great service caring for RDFA archive . It is the personnel letters that really bring home awfulness of the tragedy and the horror of war.
The library really mount these exhibitions so well.

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