Marching towards the Somme

Jun 28th, 2006 | By | Category: Ireland

As the Somme anniversary approaches on Saturday, an Evening Herald photographer came to the church today to take photographs to go with a story they are doing about our service on Saturday.

The pictures he wanted were of the name “P. Horner” scratched into the back pew of the gallery and the name “Percy Horner” engraved as the first name on our war memorial. The name in wood and the name in brass were probably not many years apart – Percy was just twenty when he disappeared without trace on the very first day on which he would have seen action. Blown to pieces by a shell or submerged into the mud, I don’t suppose it makes much difference, he has no known grave; his name is one of the 73,000 who disappeared and whose names are recorded on the arch at Thiepval.

One of the things I had hoped through the process of remembrance was to get closer to the men who left what was just a little village to go off to war. Perhaps the problem has been that it simply is not possible to recapture how it felt to be living in Ballybrack as the first stages of the Great War were fought out. What pressures were on them? What stories did they hear? What was it that took them away to Ulster to enlist instead of joining one of the Dublin regiments?

The questions have increased rather than being solved; the Herald reporter thought of angles I had not even considered.

Perhaps confusion is appropriate, perhaps only by having far more questions than answers can we move towards having any sense of the thoughts that went through the minds of the men on 1st July 1916.

In the end, I can never know what went through Percy Horner’s mind; a different age, a different culture, a different world, he and I are so far apart that there is an unbridgeable gulf. Only the one to whom all hearts are open has any understanding of Percy; all I can do is to entrust him to the one from whom no secrets are hidden, and remember his name on Saturday and, in remembering, commit myself to learning the lessons from his life and death.

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