101 years ago this July the assassination of a royal Duke & his wife in the small Balkan city of Sarajevo unleashed events that would become known as The Great War and impact on the lives of millions. This single event in history took young 21 year old Lewis away from home & family never to return. In the loss of so many this is his story.
The Lawrence family were farmers and lived just outside the town of Mohill. 1901 & 1911 Census recorded them with the largest residence & working farm of their townsland. Lawrence was one of 12 surviving children and was kept in full time education until at least 16 yrs old. Siblings moved to Northern Ireland or emigrated to America, Lewis had many choices open to him when he joined the army in Nov 1915
The depot in Boyle, Co Roscommon was his nearest depot and there is no belief that he ever got to return home during the remaining 9 months of his life. Family were not anxious for Lewis to enlist especially his parents but he could not be denied. Lewis was attested into the Irish Guards owing to his impressive height of 6 ft 3 & 1/4 ins! He signed up for "short service" which committed him to 3 years in the colours (combat) and 9 years in the reserves (usually back on home soil). He was recorded as a farmer, an unusual occupation for voluntary soldiers, although he was labouring on renovations on the Northern Bank in Mohill town.
Lewis spent from Nov 1915 to Aug 1916 in Caterham Barracks. There is little known of this time as no letters home survived but his records show no infractions common to training soldiers such as gambling, intoxication or absence without leave. He left for France on Thursday 10th Aug 1916 embarking in Southampton and arriving in Harfleur to train at the infamous "Bull Ring" Etaples . Training focused heavily on trench warfare and the drills, marching and open warfare learned back in English training barracks became quickly sidelined. Intensive training continued when soldiers came back off the Front Line. Lewis joined the 7th Entrenchment Battalion on Tuesday 22nd Aug 1916. These were temporary units and used for improving trench defenses, running messages, gathering their wounded & dying comrades or as a reserves force if necessary. This gave the new soldier his first glimpse of the Front Line life & conditions. It would have been noisy, dirty, smelly and terrifying to the Leitrim lad so far from home.
Why Lewis Lawrence, a young man from rural Ireland, answered the call to arms despite family opposition and a nation slowly turning it's opinion to anti-war never became clear. He was educated and employed with options & prospects not often seen in voluntary enlistment. Some of his story must go untold. He died after only 11 days at the Front like many before & after him. The Battle of Somme alone saw 1.5 million lives lost or destroyed with no clear gain for either side. It was the war to end all wars .......
"Quis Separabit" - "Who shall seperate us"
Irish Guards motto
Ruarcc Ballantine - I'm a Leaving Cert student (or will be come September!) living in Co Leitrim but at school in Sligo Town. I moved to Leitrim from Waterford 11 years ago with my parents and 2 sisters.
I became aware of the "Adopt a soldier" through my history teacher Ms.Galbraith and she is the first person i must thank for this fantastic opportunity. I didn't always make it easy on her but we got there in the end!
Here with Ms. Galbraith on our first group meeting and getting to see what the other students soldiers & stories are like.
Emily & I go to schools in the same town but represent our different counties.
I also need to thank Oliver Fallon, Historian and member of Connaught Rangers Association, King House, Boyle for his time & interest in my project. A born story teller who co-wrote The New Ranger lent me Rudyard Kipling's book that proved invaluable and much more.
Nothing would have been possible without the permission & enthusiasm of Lewis nieces especially his niece by marriage, Mrs Margaret Lawrence. I received so much information, documentation, photos and no question was too small, no phonecall left unanswered.
This is the trip of a lifetime and an amazing way to live history. Getting to the battlefields & trenches, visiting Lewis grave ..... the best is yet to come