Battle of the Somme and its SMA links
The Battle of the Somme marks the darkest episode of many dark episodes during WWI. Over one million young men lost their lives in a battle that lasted four months. On the first day of the Battle, 1 July 1914, the 36th Ulster Division, comprising mainly Northern Irish Protestants, demonstrated unparalleled bravery and heroism and were one of the few British divisions to reach their objective. In the process they sustained 5,500 casualties, of whom 2,000 perished. The British forces sustained over 60,000 casualties on the first day of the battle, most during the first hours.
Throughout the following months the Battle of the Somme also consumed the lives of hundreds of young soldiers of the 16th Irish Divisions, mainly comprising young men from Leinster, Connacht and Munster. The 16th Division sustained 4,330 casualties in September 1916, of whom 1,200 perished. Ireland was united in the unfathomable pain of loss, equally felt in the hearts of both Protestant and Catholic families throughout the island. A loss also felt throughout Europe and, increasingly, throughout the world.
Many SMA missionaries acted as chaplains during both World Wars [1914-1918 and 1939-1945]. Some were drafted into their national armed forces. A total of eleven of our missionaries died on the Western Front between 27 August 1914 and 20 July 1918. A number of others died on the Eastern Front.
Fr Isidore Christ SMA was killed on 7 July 1916 serving on the Eastern Front. Born in Haguenau, eastern France in 1877, he became a temporary SMA member on 15 August 1898. He served sixteen years [1898-1914] in modern-day Benin Republic and western Nigeria. He was part of the SMA team who developed a huge coconut plantation on Topo Island, near the present-day Benin-Nigeria border. He became a permanent member of the SMA in 1908 in Lagos and was ordained a priest. At the outbreak of the ‘Great War’ he was mobilised and sent to the Polish Front where he was killed in Galicia on 7 July 1916 at the age of 38 years.
To mark the centenary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, Ireland’s four main Church leaders gathered together in France to participate in a commemoration service at which they jointly called for Christians of all traditions in Ireland to pray for peace in these challenging times. The Church leaders said:
“Let us put our faith into action – love our neighbours, reach out to the stranger, care for the vulnerable, build community and be agents for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.”
In the name of: Archbishop Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Rev Bill Mullally, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, and Rt Rev Dr Frank Sellar, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland