My name is Marcus Ward. I am 16 years old and have been selected to represent Co.Derry in the "Adopt a Soldier" programme. I had heard about this amazing opportunity in early November when my History teacher, Mrs Helen McGee had introduced one of the team leaders, David Dunlop, to my class. He explained that one of us could be in a chance of winning a once in a lifetime trip to Belgium/France where we will visit the many war cemeteries that had been made for the soldiers that had died in the Battle of the Somme.
Straight away, I was interested in it as, being a Catholic, we don't really learn about the First World War. I seen it as an opportunity to learn about how the soldiers had to suffer and to get a better understanding of the war.
To be in a chance of winning, we had to write a piece on why we felt we should be chosen. I knew my Great-Great Grandfather, James Callan, was in WW1, so I wrote about how he had entered when he was about 19 but had to come home as he had sustained shrapnel in his leg. I also wrote about how I was passionate about history and how i wanted to become a History Teacher when I left school.
About a week later we had sent our pieces away and then the next week as we had morning assembly, my Principal announced that I had been offered the place on this exciting experience! I was so happy but i didn't expect to win as i was up against 7 other students and knew that it was a stiff competition because their pieces were fantastic too!
In January we had been given our adopted soldier's name but unfortunately the soldier that was selected for me was very difficult to find research on so I emailed David Dunlop who was very helpful in finding me another soldier, Henry Stewart Allen . He had told me that this soldier was the grandfather of an ex colleague of his and that he would be very interested in helping me with my research. His name is Ernie Norris.
I managed to get in contact with Ernie who told me to come along to his house and he would give me all the information he knew. Fortunately, he knew A LOT about his grandfather's experience in the war and has actually visited Thiepval Tower other times before. He told me about Henry's family and gave me pictures to help me with my research. He also gave me a copy of a letter Henry had sent to his brother-in-law during the First World War. Ernie even managed to go into so much detail that he had even gave me the story of how his grandfather saved another's life! I was so glad I had the chance to meet a relative of my soldier and that he knew so much of his grandfather!
On the 7th March I traveled down to Dubin (yes it was a very long journey but worth it) and got the chance to meet the other participants who are going on the trip at Collins Barracks. We had to separate into groups according to our provinces and talk about our soldier to the rest of the group and then Gerry Moore who had organised the whole thing, told us the things we would be doing, including meeting the Irish President and that RTE would be making a documentary on our experience!
I am so glad I have been given the chance to take part in this amazing project and i am so thankful to the organisers of this trip. This project will give me the chance to understand the significance of the First World War and to pay tribute to all of the forgotten soldiers in the war.
I would like to thank Henry Stewart Allen's grandson Ernie for helping me through my research. I really am so grateful for all his help and i'm so glad I am giving his grandfather the recognition that he well and truly deserves!