Modelled on Helen’s Tower, which stands in the Clandeboye Estate in County Down, the Ulster Memorial Tower was erected on the site of the Schwaben Redoubt, a strongly fortified position, on what was the German front line on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. The tower is dedicated to the officers and men of the 36th (Ulster) Division who fought in the battle, close to the village of Thiepval, and all those from Ulster who fought during the First World War.
Speaking ahead of the service, Dr Bruce said, “There are some events in history, that by their sheer scale and horror, alongside the collective courage of those who took part, are forever seared on the shared memory of a people. The Battle of the Somme is one such occasion that continues to evoke pride in many families up and down the land.”
More than 1,000,000 men were either killed or injured in the battle that ended on 18 November 1916. By the close of the first day, the 36th (Ulster) Division had experienced over 5,000 casualties, more than 2,000 of whom had been killed. All those who died, including the names of 75 per cent of the Division’s fatalities who have no known graves, are recorded on the Ulster Memorial Tower, where the commemorative service will take place.
The Moderator will join members of the Somme Association, political and civic representatives from Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and France, along with military personnel, and will read from John’s Gospel, chapter 15, verses 7-14. The President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Reverend Dr Sahr Yambasu and the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, the Most Reverend John McDowell, will also take part. Dr Yambasu will issue the call to worship, while Archbishop John will preach the sermon.
Dr Bruce continued, “One hundred years ago, as memorials began to be raised to those who had given their lives in the Great War in towns and villages across the newly created Northern Ireland, my predecessor as Moderator, Dr William Lowe, attended the dedication of the Ulster Tower. Then, as now, remembrance is at the heart of the Christian faith, remembering Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross, the greatest sacrifice of all.
“In the passage I will read this morning, Jesus tells His disciples, ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.’ We acknowledge a different kind of selflessness displayed on the battlefield, but remember the husbands and fathers, sons and brothers, who did not return and who are still remembered by their families a century on, and by those of us on this silent battlefield today,” he said.
During the service two hymns will be sung, ‘O God our help in ages past’ and ‘God! As with silently hearts we bring to mind’. The Bugles, Pipes and Drums of The Royal Irish Regiment, along with the regimental band, and the Band of 2 Brigade Defence Forces Ireland, will take part.
In 2016, for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, Dr Frank Sellar, who was Moderator at the time, took part in the service.
Photos: (1) (left to right) The Moderator, Rt Rev Dr David Bruce in the Memorial Chamber of the Ulster Memorial Tower with, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu, and the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, the Most Rev John McDowell (2) The Ulster Memorial Tower (Credit Somme Association)