Somme: Remembering my great grandfather and thousands more
100 years ago today over 200 Birmingham families lost a loved one on what proved to be the bloodiest day in the entire history of the British Army.
Indeed, throughout the country no neighbourhood was left unaffected as 19,240 British men were killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme.
Just think of that for a moment – almost 20,000 lives snuffed out in a single day. Thousands of mothers, wives, fathers, sons and daughters left bereaved on just the opening day of a battle that would eventually see 419, 654 British dead, missing or wounded.
I’ll be at a Civic Service later today to mark the 100th anniversary of that bloody battle and it will be particularly poignant for me because one of the 57,000 casualties on the first day of the Somme was my Great Grandfather on my Mother’s side John Henry O’Brien, who died at the age of just 38.
John was in C company, 15th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers ‘The Salford Pals’ and his buried alongside many of his comrades at Connaught Cemetery, Thiepval, Belgium.
It’s worth remembering that troops from across the world died in the battle of the Somme. Young men from Birmingham were joined by their counterparts from India, South Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Bermuda.
So, just as I will be reflecting on a Great Grandfather from Lancashire I never had the honour to meet, others in Birmingham may be commemorating family members from Bangalore, the Bahamas or Berlin.
As I grew up in 1960s Stockport the First World War was still very much a living memory and many veterans of the 1914-18 conflict were still alive to tell the tale. Now they are all gone but they must never be forgotten.
Our children and their children must be told about the bravery and sacrifice of John Henry O’Brien’s generation.
As the Exhortation, taken from Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen” so beautifully and poignantly puts it:
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”