thousands of Orange Order and Royal British Legion
members will use the Marching Season to commemorate
the 90th anniversary of the bloody Battle of the
Somme during World War One, they do so under the
cloud of conspiracy an entire Protestant division
was deliberately sent to their deaths.
July marked the opening day of the battle along
the River Somme in France; a day which became the
bloodiest in the history of the British Army.
the British suffered 57,470 casualties, including
19,240 dead, it was the fate of one Irish unit,
the 36th Ulster Division, which has become the central
point of the new conspiracy theory on the 90th anniversary
of that fateful day in 1916.
Famous 36th, as it is sometimes fondly remembered,
suffered 5,104 casualties, of which about 2,069
while the day was a total military failure for the
British along the 25-mile front in northern France,
the 36th was one of only three divisions that day
to capture their German objectives.
overall plan had been to attack the German forces
to take the pressure off the French who were bogged
down by the Germans at another Great War bloodbath,
Verdun, also in France.
the overwhelming majority of the 36th was comprised
of Unionist leader Lord Edward Carson's 80,000-strong
Ulster Volunteer Force which he had formed, armed
and trained in 1912 to forcibly combat the threat
of Home Rule in Ireland.
outbreak of World War One had temporarily put the
deepening Irish crisis on hold. Even the British
Army stationed in Ireland would not take on Carson's
nationalists had responded by forming the Irish
Volunteers, they would be no match in the looming
civil war with the UVF. The UVF was at its strongest
in the nine Northern counties comprising the Ulster
the British authorities and especially Liberal
Prime Minister Herbert Asquith feared Carson's
UVF could control up to 18 or 19 Irish counties
in a bloody showdown with the Irish Volunteers.
a move would cut Ireland equally in two with the
Ulster Volunteers controlling 18, the nationalist
Volunteers holding the remaining 14.
with the outbreak of war the massed ranks of the
UVF were able to contribute 13 battalions for the
three Irish regiments based in pre-partition Ulster
the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal
Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Rifles.
Carson wanted permission to form his own regiment
based on the UVF. However, many UVF members refused
to wait until the 36th became a reality and crossed
to England or Scotland to enlist, or joined the
10th or 16th Irish Divisions, which had already
been formed by the British War Office in Ireland.
the core of Carson's UVF remained intact and joined
the 36th en bloc. In July 1916, Asquith saw an opportunity
to rid him of the Unionist Irish problem.
PM gave the British Commander in Chief Douglas Haig
permission to attack the Germans. Haig preferred
the open ground at Flanders but Asquith supported
the Somme offensive to draw German troops away from
the beleaguered French at Verdun.
in allocating the objectives along the 25-mile offensive,
the 36th was given what appeared to be an almost
impossible task an uphill advance to take
the large strongpoint complex in the German lines
called the Schwaben Redoubt.
attack at 7.30 am on 1st July was preceded by several
days of a massive artillery bombardment of enemy
barbed wire and front lines. But the Germans merely
dug in and waited for the barrage to lift.
soon as it did, they scrambled out of their deep
trenches and set up their machine-guns. But the
bungling British commanders wrongly assumed the
Germans would have been blasted to pieces with the
shelling and merely ordered their troops to simply
walk across No Man's Land and into the supposed
deserted enemy trenches.
supposed Sunday afternoon stroll tactic was to be
the death of thousands. Many English units stumbled
only a matter of yards from their trenches before
being slaughtered by the never-ending fusiliages
from the German machine-gunners.
the 36th followed the English orders accurately,
the entire division would have been dead by the
time people had finished their breakfasts back home
in the North.
1st July was a special day for the Ulster contingent.
Under the old Roman calendar, the battle of the
Boyne had been fought on 1st July 1690 and
the date was now dubbed the Mini Twelfth in Northern
members of the 36th donned their Orange sashes,
shouted No Surrender, and rather than form up in
waves as their English overlords had commanded them
the 36th dashed towards the German redoubt.
the sensible tactic of the charge did not help the
36th avoid the slaughter. Many of Carson's finest
and most clever UVF officers, Non Commissioned Officers
(NCOs) and UVF regulars died, or were horribly wounded
as they attacked their position at Thiepval.
of other UVF members fighting with other English,
Scottish and Irish regiments were slaughtered, too,
on 1st July primarily because of the daft
'walk, don't run' order by the English generals.
spite of taking and holding the Schwaben Redoubt
near Thiepval, no progress had been made by the
divisions on either of the 36th's flanks. On 2nd
July, the 36th was ordered to retreat as no reinforcements
could be sent.
the damage to Carson's army was done. The vast majority
of the UVF's finest commanders were either dead
or maimed because of 1st July.
the time Armistice Day came in November 1918, and
the battered and bruised remnants of the former
UVF trickled back from the blood-soaked trenches
of Europe, there was no way Carson could re-group
his once 80,000 member private army.
months of the end of World War One, Michael Collins
and his revamped guerilla IRA began their War of
Independence in January 1919. Carson had no army
to push south. He was at the mercy of the British
the minutes of silence are held for the 36th at
Somme commemorations this weekend, many should ponder
- was the death of Carson's UVF army just merely
part of the senseless slaughter of that day, or
was it an orchestrated political decision to ethnically
cleanse a troublesome illegal Protestant militia?