Local Somme association members pay homage to fallen soldiers

Jim English, Monkstown Somme Assocation, David McClurg, Rathcoole Somme Society, Phil Hamilton, 2016 Centenary Committee and David Gourley, Ulster Covenant Society. INNT 42-512CON
Jim English, Monkstown Somme Assocation, David McClurg, Rathcoole Somme Society, Phil Hamilton, 2016 Centenary Committee and David Gourley, Ulster Covenant Society. INNT 42-512CON

Representatives of Rathcoole Somme Society and Monkstown Somme Association travelled to northern France this week to pay tribute to three British soldiers killed in action during the First World War.

Wreaths were laid by members of the two local organisations at a ceremony on Thursday (October 8) to mark the burials of Sergeant David Harkness Blakey, of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and two unknown soldiers - one from the Royal Irish Rifles and another from the Cambridgeshire Regiment.

Six pallbearers from the Royal Irish Regiment carried Sgt Blakey's Union flag-covered coffin. INNT 42-513CON

Six pallbearers from the Royal Irish Regiment carried Sgt Blakey's Union flag-covered coffin. INNT 42-513CON

Wreaths were also laid by David Gourley from the Ulster Covenant Historical Society on behalf of the Mayor of Antrim & Newtownabbey and the citizens of the borough, and Phil Hamilton on behalf of the 2016 Centenary Committee.

Mr Hamilton, a member of Rathcoole Somme Society, described the event as “an historic occasion”.

“Both associations took the decision to travel to France for the ceremony as we wanted to pay homage to the three soldiers who were being buried,” he said. “Two of them were 36th Ulster Division soldiers, so we wanted to be there to lay wreaths.”

Sergeant Blakey was killed aged 26 on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.

David Gourley from the Ulster Covenant Historical Society lays a wreath on behalf of the Mayor of Antrim & Newtownabbey. INNT 42-511CON

David Gourley from the Ulster Covenant Historical Society lays a wreath on behalf of the Mayor of Antrim & Newtownabbey. INNT 42-511CON

In November 2013 - 97 years after he died - his remains were found during work on a road widening project near Connaught Cemetery in Thiepval, northern France.

Identifying fallen First World War soldiers is rare as tags were commonly made from paper or compressed fibres, which rapidly decomposed.

But a home-made metal identity tag believed to have been created by his wife with “18634 Sgt David Harkness Blakey MM of the R Innis Fus” etched on it helped to confirm his identity, along with the discovery of an “R Innis Fus” cap badge.

Army chiefs said Gateshead-born, married father-of-three Sgt Blakey is only the fifth soldier in 10 years to be identified using personal items.

Phil Hamilton laying a wreath on behalf of Rathcoole Somme Society and the 2016 Centenary Committee. INNT 42-509CON

Phil Hamilton laying a wreath on behalf of Rathcoole Somme Society and the 2016 Centenary Committee. INNT 42-509CON

Sgt Blakey, who was awarded the Military Medal for “bravery in the field”, was laid to rest with full military honours at Connaught Cemetery in Thiepval.

Three generations of his family attended the burial, which was arranged by the Ministry of Defence’s joint casualty and compassionate centre.

Six pallbearers from the Royal Irish Regiment carried his Union flag-covered coffin into the cemetery where hundreds of fallen soldiers are buried.

The folded flag was then presented to his granddaughter in front of other relatives, some of whom were moved to tears by the occasion.

Jim English laying a wreath on behalf of Monkstown Somme Association. INNT 42-510CON

Jim English laying a wreath on behalf of Monkstown Somme Association. INNT 42-510CON

The Rev Robert Birnie, padre of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment, led the service during which he read The Bidding Prayer, praising “the courage, conviction and sacrifice”.

A poem written by Sgt Blakey’s father in memory of his son was read by his great-great- grandchildren.

The Last Post was sounded, followed by a gun salute and wreath-laying by military figures, dignitaries and members of Sgt Blakey’s family.