Relatives of fallen soldiers brought together after 100 years at the Somme

Michael D. Higgins to attend commemorative events in France

Relatives of fallen soldiers brought together after 100 years at the Somme

President Michael D. Higgins - Image:

100 years ago on July 1st, the Battle of the Somme began in the hope that a significant victory would end the carnage of the First World War.

By the following November, 3,500 Irish soldiers would be among the one million dead bodies as neither side made substantial ground on the other.

Two men whose grandfathers died together on the first day of the Battle of the Somme have now met for the first time.

Sergeant Patrick Butler of the 1st Irish, one of the so-called pals' battalions, was shot dead on the Western Front as he tried to rescue his fatally wounded commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Louis Howard.
The two men's stories had been passed down through the generations, but neither family knew of the other until 2014 when Sergeant Butler's grandson, also called Patrick, spotted an obituary of Colonel Howard's son, Bill.

Paddy wrote to Bill's 97-year-old widow and finally met her son Malcolm last month.
The two men will be together at an international commemoration in France on July 1st to mark the centenary of the start of one of the bloodiest battles in history.

Lt Col Howard led his men in the third wave of the early morning attack on the German trenches, which the men believed would be the final push leading to a swift end to the war.

But the dug-in German troops had survived days of constant shelling before the battle and within a few hours 650 of the 980 1st Tyneside Irish officers and men led into battle by Col Howard were dead.
Ahead of the commemoration, which will attract veterans' families from around the world, the two men visited their grandfathers' graves in France and went to the Lochnagar Crater where they died.

Paddy Butler, a retired police officer, said meeting the grandson of the man his grandfather died trying to save was a unique and special occasion.

Malcolm Howard, a former army captain, said he was struck by how many of the graves surrounding his grandfather's are for unidentified soldiers.

"We just have to make sure that history doesn't repeat itself and that we learn the lessons of history," he said.

Heather Humphreys, Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht will travel to France to attend a series of events marking the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

President Michael D. Higgins will finish his trip to Scotland today before departing for France at 1 pm to take part in the Somme commemoration as well.