Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ireland At The Somme

1916 WAS PROBABLY the most important year in Irish Twentieth Century history. The events of that year still reverberate ninety years later. Easter saw insurrection break out on the streets of Dublin as when a hardcore of Irish republican revolutionaries declared an independent Irish Republic. This Easter Rising was soon suppressed and its leaders , Padraig Pearse, Thomas Clarke and James Connolly were shot by the British authorities.

Part of the reason for the harsh treatment of the Dublin insurrectionists was that their rebellion took place while Great Britain was at war with Germany. Tens of thousands of Irishmen were serving overseas in British uniform. It was feared that the Irish rebellion could cause mutiny in the ranks if it wasn’t crushed immediately.

When the Great War broke out in August 1914 it had the effect of forestalling a civil war in Ireland. Since the Home Rule Crisis in 1912, Ireland became an armed camp. Sir Edward Carson had formed a Provisional Government of Ulster to resist the authority of any Dublin-based Home Rule parliament and had raised and armed a militia - the Ulster Volunteer Force - to give teeth to that resistance.

In a parallel move, John Redmond of the Irish Parliamentary Party had raised and armed his own Irish Volunteers. Civil war seemed inevitabl e until events in Europe intervened.

When war broke out, the leaders of both of these militias pledged their support to the British Empire’s war effort and encouraged their respective volunteers to enlist en masse in the British forces. The UVF were incorporated into the 36th (Ulster) Division and the Irish National Volunteers became the nucleus of the 10th and the 16th (Irish) Divisions.

In 1916 the British tried to end the war with a ‘Big Push’ at the Somme in northern France. The idea was that a massive artillery barrage would wipe out the enemy so that the Allied troops could walk across no-man’s land and on to Berlin. It didn’t work out that way as the men of the 36th (Ulster) Divison found to their cost. Four Victoria Crosses were awarded to men from the Ulster Division for their courage on July 1st.

Fighting next to the 36th (Ulster), was the 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers, behind the 2nd Royal Fusiliers and the Lancashire Fusiliers.They went over the top at 9am but were trapped in the British barbed wire. The 2nd Battalion also attacked in the second wave and were stopped by German fire. Their combined casualties came to 479 with many others missing.

Guillemont was assigned to the 47th Brigade of the 16th (Irish), comprised of the 6th Royal Irish Regiment, 6th Connaught Rangers, 7th Leinsters and 8th Munster Fusiliers. September 1st, 1916, saw Guillemont shelled before an infantry attack. Many shells fell short, killing 200 allied troops. Athy man, Lieutenant John Holland won the 16th's first VC for leading his 7th Leinsters ahead of the barrage, surprising the enemy. 6th Connaught Ranger, Private Thomas Hughes took a machine gun post and three German prisoners, earning a VC. 1,147 of the Brigade's 2,400 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing.

On September 9th, poet Tom Kettle died leading Dublin Fusiliers at the Battle of Ginchy. A month later, close to Ginchy, the 2nd RDF captured their target by hand-to-hand fighting in the trenches. The 10th Dublins, attached to the 2nd Royal Marines, engaged the enemy near Hamel. Fog gave them cover, then a hail storm followed by rain, saw the 10th RDF capture 400 prisoners, with 242 casualties. Four months of fighting at the Somme cost 146,404 Allied dead: the British army, 95,675. The Germans lost 164,055.

Later that winter, the Ulstermen and the 16th Irishmen fought together on the Messines Ridge to take the Belgian village of Wytschaete.

A prominent casualty of the Battle of Messines was Major Willie Redmond, the brother of the Irish Parliamentary Party leader, John Redmond. Despite his age he joined the 6th Royal Irish Regiment at its formation. Although in his fifties he had insisted on being allowed to lead his men forward in the battle at Messines on 7 June 1917 where he wass wounded. By chance the stretcher bearers were from the 36th (Ulster) Division. Private John Meeke from the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, had noticed Redmond falling wounded. Meeke was a former UVF member. At home they would have been on opposing sides but thing were differnt on the battlefield.Whilst looking after Redmond, Meeke was himself hit by shrapnel but managed to get Redmond back to the 36th Division's dressing station but his wounds were so serious that he died from the shock. John Meeke survived the war, although he died quite young in December 1923, aged just 28.

A memorial round tower now stands in Messines to commemorate all the men from this island who died in Flanders and France. A Celtic Cross in memory of the 16th (Irish) Division stands beside the church in Ginchy and a replica of Helen’s Tower stands in Thiepval to commemorate the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division.

It’s only recently that the role of the Irish in the GreatWar has been acknowledged as their sacrifice was regarded as a shameful thing in a republic set up by the heirs of the 1916 insurrectionists. This is a welcome change.

On Saturday September 3rd there will be a Somme day in Dublin to remember Lieut. Tom Kettle MP of the 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers who was killed on 9 September 1916 during the attack on Ginchy.

The Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association will hold a ceremony at the bust of Tom Kettle in St. Stephen's Green at 11:00 a.m. At 2:00 p.m. there will be a brief lecture on The Battle of the Somme followed by a more detailed lecture and discussion titled, The Somme in Irish Memory. This will be presented by Jane Leonard, who is an expert on Ireland in the Great War. Venue: Dublin City Library and Archive, Gilbert Library, 138-144 Pearse Street, Dublin 2.

Interested readers can contact the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association,c/o Mr Brian Moroney,11 Ayrfield Court, AyrfieldDublin 13, Ireland.e-mail:

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Somme Sacrifice Recalled

THIS YEAR represents the 90th Anniversary of the sacrifice at the Somme. On the 1st July 1916 the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division ‘went over the top’. The Ulster Division, which gained a few hundred yards of ground from Thiepval Wood up the hill towards the dauntingly fortified Schwaben Redoubt, suffered some five and a half thousand casualties - out of a total divisional complement of ten or eleven thousand men.

To mark this iconic date, a stunning 22mm enamel badge has been produced. It features imagery of the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division going 'over the top' at the Somme. The background consists of the beautiful and historic Nine County flag of Ulster, which accurately reflects the recruitment area of the 36th (Ulster) Division.

The badge also features a black outer band which reads '1690-2006 - 316th Anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne' and an inner red band which reads 'Sacrifice at the Somme 1916'.
This fantastic badge costs only £2.50 (including p&p). To get your badge, simply send a cheque/Postal Order (made payable to Glenwood Publications) to: Glenwood Publications, First Floor, 316 Shankill Road, Belfast, BT13 3AB.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Hillcroft School Revisited...

SATURDAY, June 17th was a bright cloudy day. Just ideal weather for Hillcroft School’s first ever garden fete. As mentioned in a previous Kerr’s Corner, this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the school’s formation. The fete was an ideal opportunity for the pupils, their parents and the staff to show the new school premises off to the public and to raise much needed funds for the PTA.

I had the opportunity for a brief tour around the school and its impressive new facilities. It will be a wonderful asset to bring out the best in youngsters whose parents are often at their wits end when they first discover that their child has some kind of learning disability.

All the usual features of a garden fete were present. Two bouncy castles – one for under tens and the other for children over ten – proved very popular as did the hotdog stand, the icecream stall, the face-painters and the tea bar. As for the homemade Rhubarb and Clove jam on one stall, Delicious! Look out for it next year.

I need hardly remind readers that world cup fever is in the air. This must have encouraged quite a few youngsters to pit their penalty kicking skills against the PTA’s star goalie. Although knackered at the end of the proceedings, he didn’t let too many get past him.

It was good to see the involvement of the NI Fire and Rescue Service, the NI Ambulance Service’s community education Paramedi-Kidz and the local police, Youngsters were queuing up to sit in a police car and have a go at working the flashing blue lights. They were shown the ropes by the local community beat officer, Constable Mark McAllister and his colleague, Constable Glenn Pollard. They gave me a rundown on their work in child safety schemes and the Bee Safe initiative and the local police’s interest in educating children of the important role of the emergency services.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Book Review - The English Dragon

T P Bragg. Athelney, 1 Providence Street, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, PE30 5ET. 2001. ISBN 1 903313 02 3. £9.99.

A TODDLER goes missing at a London railway station on a Friday evening. This causes massive disruption to his parents’ lives over that fateful weekend. During this period of frantic searching and waiting, the inner thoughts of Ben’s parents – Oliver and Rowan Holmes – are laid bare in this astute novel.

Oliver, a reasonably well-off songwriter, believes that English society has gone to hell in a handcart. In moments alone and in contemplation of discussions in his university days, he muses on these things and occasionally jots down his thoughts; thoughts for his lost son.

The paradox of modern English society is that all cultures are valued equally, except for the English one. People have to struggle to be English in a quiet way. “Our freedom is being eroded. Those bastards in government are taking it from us stealthily and insidiously. Our culture is being eroded. You can’t be English anymore. They’ll make it illegal.” And the strangest part of this paradox is that the movement against freedom is being brought about by woolly minded ‘nice decent people’. If, please God, he and Rowan get Ben back, what kind of country is he going to grow up in?

A country where the institutionally busy police is paralysed by institutional incompetence. A country where freedom of thought and expression are stifled by a language of impoverished ‘authorised words.’ A country where indigenous English “values [are] overridden and laws amended to suit the needs of newcomers” whereas, in a healthy society, it would be “up to settlers to show respect and awareness of the indigenous people’s homeland.”

Oliver has a place in hell for all those responsible for the parlous state of England. In the lowest circle, he’s place writers, artists and film makers who censor themselves; in the second circle, editors and publishers; in the third circle, self-serving academics; in the fourth circle, cowardly politicians; tin the fifth circle, TV presenters; and in the sixth circle, busybody social workers who tear families apart for dogmatic reasons.

Rowan waits by the telephone at home in a little English village cottage while Oliver goes to London to see if he can find Ben. He tries to gee-up the indifferent police. He hands out leaflets at the railway station in order to jog the memory of commuters who may have seen the child.

Both are frantic with worry – fearing the worst, contemplating the disintegration of society but still daring to hope that they will be re-united with Ben.

This novel looks at the characters in an interesting way as the chapters switch from one to another. We see the innermost thoughts of Oliver and Rowan tumble out as if we are reading their ‘streams of consciousness’. Ben, bizarrely, reports his experiences at the hands of his abductors in the first person! Well, it seems a little offbeat at first, but Ben’s innocent descriptions of modern urban England with all its absurdities, double standards and little hypocrisies really works for the reader.

This compelling page-turner proves the old saw about never judging a book by its cover. Behind the uninspiring plain green cover is an attention-grabbing, thought-provoking quest. The story line is riveting. The reader will really care how this book ends. Will Oliver succeed in getting his son back? What motivates Ben’s abductors? Is Oliver’s opinion of today’s England accurate?

Can anything be done about it? Read it and see!

Reviewed by David Kerr

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Film Review - Poseidon

Certificate: 12A.Running Time: 99 minutes.Directed by: Wolfgang Peterson.

POSEIDON has had a lot of criticism on the Internet. The Poseidon Adventure (1972), starring Gene Hackman has a minor 'cult' following and it was perhaps inevitable that it would be compared to and contrasted with this. Personally I was more influenced by Paul Gallico's novel, published in 1969. I liked the 'camp' earlier film but Poseidon is a movie in its own right and that's how we should judge it.

Poseidon takes 'disaster movies' to a new technical level. It sets a new standard. Stanford University's computer graphics department worked with a 100-member team of software developers to create a new technology - computational fluid dynamics. This simulates how water interacts with objects which creates a realism which is unmatched. Special effects supervisor, Kim Libreri, also looked at reflected light. He said: "The computer needs to understand that when a light source strikes an object, some of that light bounces off and hits another object and so on."

The subtlety of detail is impressive. The underwater shots of the ship were extraordinary. The rendering of debris and parts of the ship breaking away seemed authentic. Visually the movie is great.

Special mention for Stacy Ferguson (Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas). She appears as Gloria, the ship's headline entertainer and performs the traditional Auld Lang Syne as well as two original compositions: the ballad Won't Let You Fall and the Latin-tempo dance number Bailanos (Spanish for 'Let's Dance').

Poseidon also avoids many of the cliches of 'disaster movies'. I used to try to guess who was going to be the next character to die and it was usually obvious. Not with this film. I asked Director Wolfgang Petersen if he had weighed-up whether killing off some of the central characters might shock and alienate sections of the audience. He answered that it "had to be done". I was also struck not just by the selection of victims but the sheer number. Very few survive.

Where I agree with some of the critics of this film concerns the script. I don't have a problem as some do with how sudden the disaster strikes (Poseidon Adventure had quite a long build up). I liked the way the atmosphere on board suddenly switches from folk enjoying an extravagant New Year's Eve Ball to fear and panic as a 'rogue wave' hits. A matter of personal taste I guess! But the critics are right that the script could have been a lot tighter and more psychologically intense. Don't get me wrong, there are intense moments and certainly a sense of suspense. Poseidon plays with our fears of confinement, of fire, of drowning and of relinquishing control and having to rely on the decisions of others. Yet more could have been done.
Wolfgang Petersen said: "disasters are great equalizers. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, if you're the richest person in the world or if you're working in the kitchen; you're all in it together."

Yet the film doesn't follow this logic. The Staff of the Cruiser are passive and deferential. Their survival instict seems to be switched off. I wondered how realistic this was. I would have liked to see at least one of them switch from a deferential job role to a more selfish, assertive character.
The potential for tensions arising within the group were not really explored. Leadership roles switched with very little conflict. Recriminations and accusations were not to the fore. Even when one character causes the death of another little is said.

Go see this movie because despite some of the reservations I've expressed it's well worth the admission price. Forget the original and go with an open mind. It is spectacular, the acting (particularly from Josh Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss and Jimmy Bennett is strong). Poseidon maintains your interest and involvement and does not follow the usual 'disaster movie' formula.
Director Wolfgang Petersen is a man of great depth who makes bold decisions. It is a very good, entertaining film with spectacular effects which with a tighter script might have been a great one.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington