Speaker for 3rd February 2015

Photo: President John Graham greets Garry O’Neill, with Club Members Cecil Spotten (L) and Secretary Graham MacDonald (R)
Talk by Mr Garry O’Neill on ‘The Battlefields of WW1
Our new Club President, John Graham, welcomed members and guests to this, his first speaker’s meeting. He looked forward to having the support of the Club members during his year in office. The President then introduced our speaker for the morning, Mr. Gary O’Neill, the subject for his talk being The Battlefields of the First World War.

Before his retirement Gary was a scientist working with the Fisheries Division of the Department of Agriculture and he is an expert on the care and development of fish stocks in the Province. Gary is also a member of the Portstewart Probus Club.

Gary then went on to give the members a fascinating and poignant tour of the battlefields, monuments and cemeteries in Northern France and Belgium. Gary had made the trip earlier last year after tracing the war records of his grandfather and granduncle, which were both killed in action. During his tour, Gary took many fine photographs and these made the basis of the fine presentation to the club.

The presentation allowed the members to follow in the footsteps of Gary's tour, starting at Vimy Ridge and the Canadian memorial, through Ypres and into the 'Essex Farm Advanced Dressing Station', where Major John McCrae wrote the poem 'In Flanders Fields' (Web readers, 'click' the image below).

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The tour/talk went to the site of the '1914 Christmas Truce', through the 'Hyde Park Corner cemetery', a look at some preserved trenches and into the Tyne Cot Cemetery, said to be the largest in the world with over 12,000 troops buried there. Gary was also visited the Menin Gate, with it's 1000s of names inscribed through the archway. This happened to be at dusk on the day we visited. Every day a trumpeter plays 'The Last Post' at this time, but then he went on to play 'The Londonderry Aire' - it was a VERY emotional moment to Gary and the other members of the tour. Especially, as Gary said, 'everywhere you looked, there were Irish family names carved into the stone'. Ypres town also held a surprise, with it's huge 'Cloth workers Hall' and 'St. Georges Chapel' built in honour of the fallen of the UK and Ireland.

The end of the tour took Gary to the Somme, with it's huge cemeteries and monuments to the fallen - the 16th Irish Regiment, the Thiepval memorial, the American Cemetery and the Ulster Tower - to name but a few.

There was a very short question and answer session before the President asked Cecil Spotten to propose a vote of thanks. Cecil spoke for all the members when he congratulated Gary on his especially interesting talk with such excellent photos, the captured the sadness of what we had seen and the huge scale of the slaughter that was the First World War. The thanks were passed on by the President and members showed their appreciation.

*NOTE: We have tried to capture the essence of the talk Gary gave in a slide show of picture taken from the Internet. If you wish to see this, 'click here'
**Historical Note: The official statistics for the numbers of UK and Ireland service men and auxiliaries ‘killed or missing in action’ for the 1914-18 war are between 826,746 and 1,012,075. In addition there are 1,663,435 (Army) and 5,135 (Navy) officers and men recorded as ‘wounded or injured’ in the conflict.

Mike Turner, Club Admin.

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