“The dead are dead and it makes no difference to them whether I pay homage to their deeds. But for us, the living, it does mean something. Memory is of no use to the remembered, only to those who remember. We build ourselves with memory and console ourselves with memory” (Quote from novel by Laurent Binet)
For three days in June 2015 as we journeyed through the Somme battlefields of northern France we did indeed pay homage to the deeds of many brave men from Ireland who died in a horrendous battle nearly a century ago in 1916. For us all it certainly did mean something and I have no doubt that it will have a lasting impact on us for many years.
I read somewhere that we don’t remember days – we remember moments. Many moments stand out for me from our trip to the battlefields of the Somme. There were all the moments of dignified silence and respect from the individual students at the final resting place of their adopted soldiers. It was the culmination of many months of research in which many of the students felt they got to know their soldier in a very special way.
How will I ever forget the great semi-circle of students in red polo shirts laying single roses at the foot of the Cross of Sacrifice beside the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme?
There was the moment in the brilliant summer sunshine when David Dunlop and my son David Moore began singing the special song written in memory of my grand-uncle Anthony Gallagher because that was where it all started for me. I couldn’t help but remember that Anthony died on a hot sunny summer morning on July 1st 1916 and he now is one of the “missing of the Somme”. Our trip was not just to remember the soldiers with a grave but also the thousands of Irish soldiers like my grand-uncle with no known grave.
The trip to the Somme took two years of careful planning by a team of dedicated teachers. At times it was difficult and I must confess that there were a few moments when I nearly lost hope of ever bringing the project to completion. However the fact that I wanted to commemorate the brave Irish soldiers who died in the Somme was the greatest motivator of all. There was also the great encouragement and support of my fellow committee members who helped to make it all happen and in particular I would like to acknowledge the role of Michael Collins and without him it may have fallen apart.
On Sunday June 28th as we visited our last cemetery I looked around at the group of students from every part of Ireland and realised what an honour and privilege it was to work with such a wonderful group of young people – my “dream-class of 2015”! From the very first cemetery up until the very last one they all showed the utmost respect and supported each other in what was often quite an emotional journey for us all. In over 25 years of teaching and many trips to various places in Ireland and Europe this was the one that has had the greatest impact on me as a history teacher and one I will never forget. I thank everyone who helped to make it all such a tremendous success.