At this month’s General Assembly a resolution was passed encouraging congregations to acknowledge the ‘sacrifice of those who fought and died at the Battle of the Somme’, on the Sunday following the 1st July, ‘or another suitable occasion’.
Rev. Mark Donald, one of the Presbyterian Church’s 15 Chaplains to the UK’s three services, explained that the Church’s Roll of Honour for the First World War records the names of 24,000 men and boys who left the cities, towns and villages of Ireland, their families and their congregations to fight.
“To put this in context, this figure equated to around the same number of Northern Ireland fans who travelled to France earlier this month for the start of the European Football Championships, or the combined populations of Enniskillen and Strabane, ” he said.
“Those who survived the war, were wounded or died in action can be found in the Roll of Honour alongside their congregations. It also includes those who died at the Battle of the Somme.
“To support congregations the Church’s Forces Chaplaincy Panel has produced a number of worship resources for congregations who want to acknowledge the sacrifice of those from their congregations who died 100 years ago.
“The resources include a prayer, liturgy, suggested hymns and Scripture readings. The hymns, along with the 23rd, 91st, 93rd, 103rd and 121st Psalm, are recorded as being used by Chaplains or soldiers before going into battle, especially Psalm 91 as it is sometimes known as the ‘Soldiers Psalm’,” Mark Donald said.
By the close of the opening day of the Battle, on 1st July 1916, the 36th (Ulster) Division experienced over 5,000 casualties, more than 2,000 of whom had been killed. The names of 75 per cent of the Division’s fatalities have no known graves and are recorded on the Thiepval Memorial and Ulster Memorial Tower in Northern France.
Presbyterian Moderator, Rt. Rev. Dr. Frank Sellar, will attend the principal centenary commemorations in France. Other senior Presbyterians will represent the Church at commemorative events in Dublin and Belfast.
Dr. Sellar, who travels to France to take part in the commemorations next week, said that he expected it to be a very humbling experience. “For us today, 100 years on, it is difficult to imagine or even contemplate the scale of the loss of life and the impact which that would have had on local communities back home; especially close-knit local congregations across Ulster and other parts of Ireland too.
“While we take the time to remember the sacrifice of those a century ago, it is also an opportunity to acknowledge the mission and ministry of our Chaplains to today’s armed services. Equally, in the same pews where 100 years ago families remembered their loved ones, many families today have family members who are either serving overseas, or have served, with many having lost their lives to more recent conflict and wars.
“While times change, the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ remain unchanged - for those who mourn, ‘they will be comforted’ and for those who seek peace, ‘they will be called sons of God.’”
The resources are available to download here.