Section 7: World War I and County Down

The First World War involved thousands of men from County Down in fighting for the Empire on the battlefields of Europe and beyond. In September 1914 the 36th (Ulster) Division was formed. This new unit of the army included mostly members of the UVF. Ulster Unionist leaders, Edward Carson and James Craig encouraged members of the UVF to join the army to fight for the Empire hoping that after the war the government would abandon Home Rule. The introduction of Home Rule was postponed until the war was over but the Nationalist leader, John Redmond encouraged Irish Volunteers to join the army to fight for the Empire and the freedom of small nations. Thousands of Irish Volunteers or National Volunteers as they were now called joined the army, mostly serving in the 10th and 16th divisions. William Gribben whose letters are shown in this section joined the Connaught Rangers in 1915. He fought at the battle of the Somme and was in the 36th (Ulster) Division when he was killed in 1918.

Image A is a postcard showing people setting off to Clandeboye Camp in Bangor, Co Down where men were training before going off to fight in France.

What sort of impression of the camp do you have from the postcard ?

What sort of impression of a soldier’s life does this postcard create ?

Why would posters and postcards of the time not show the actual conditions on the Western Front ?
 
Image B is  a card sent by a mother to her son serving in the war.

The card mentions the son’s ‘duty’. What was this ?

How could the government persuade mothers not to stop their sons from going to war ?
 
Image C is a cigarette card with the words ‘Remember Belgium’.

What is happening in the background ?

What was the purpose of images like this ?

From your knowledge of the Home Rule crisis and the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Irish (now the National) Volunteers, what group of men do you think this card is more likely to appeal to, National Volunteers or Ulster Volunteers ?
 
Image D is a letter written by Loughinisland soldier, William Gribben to his parents. This was written from a hospital in England where William was being treated for wounds received in the fighting in France. Download PDF version.

How would you describe the tone of the letter? Cheerful, despairing, sad, sombre, matter of fact, hopeful, reassuring?

Are there any references to the hardships of war ?

Why do you think William’s letter does not describe the horrors of the war ?
 
Image E is another letter from William written from France in November 1916. Download PDF version.

What was ‘boche’ slang for ?

What was a ‘whizzy bang’ ?

How do you think the soldiers might have celebrated their Christmas day out of the trenches ?
 
Image F is the memorial letter sent by King George V to the families of those killed in the war. This was sent to William’s parents following his death in 1918.

Image G is a wooden cross, on display in the museum, which marked the grave of John Malone of Downpatrick, who was killed in France in 1916. John Malone joined the 121st Royal Engineers. Wooden crosses like this marked the known graves of men killed in the War. In the 1920s when the Imperial War Graves Commission established military cemeteries with permanent headstones they sent these crosses home to the families of the dead.
 
Image H shows a photograph of a peace day parade in Downpatrick held after the end of the war.

How would you describe the atmosphere at this parade ?

What differences are there between this parade and the Armistice day ceremonies held today ?
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