Sunday, 11 November 2018


Poppy display from Ulster Museum Exhibition 2017.

By Willie Drennan

This Remembrance Day has an added significance as this year is also the centenary commemoration of the ending of World War One. We can only try to imagine the overwhelming collective sense of sheer relief across Britain and Ireland when the end of that horrendous war was announced.

For many of today's younger generation it has to be even more difficult to understand the collective grief and trauma that afflicted so many families at that time. A century ago was a long time ago.

I am of an age where as a young person I heard of the horrors of that tragic war through my grandparents' generation. In my grandparents' living room an old black and white photograph took centre place on top of their cabinet. It was a photo of my grandfather's brother Daniel, my Great Uncle Daniel,dressed in army uniform. It is the only photograph I remember in my grandparents' house at that time: there probably were others but the story of Daniel had a special significance. He had been wounded at the Somme, and eventually was killed in action at Ypres in 1917. He never came home.

I also had a Great, Great, Uncle David who also never returned: Great Uncle George and Great Uncle Mark were very fortunate to return but the scars of battle were with them for the remainder of their days. David Drennan, Daniel Drennan and George Drennan served in the Royal Irish Rifles and Mark Christie was in the Royal Navy.
Around this time of the year I often remember the stories told to me by my Great Aunt Madge. Madge died in 2013 a few weeks shy of her one hundred and first birthday. She had a very sharp brain and excellent memory until close to her death. Madge told me the stories of her mother, my great grandmother, who was known to be a bit clairvoyant, and prone to the occasional premonition.

On one occasion she was feeling very disturbed as she was convinced that her son George had been wounded in battle and had been shipped to the British military hospital in Dublin. There had been no communication to suggest that George had been wounded and certainly no reason to think he would be in Dublin. Nevertheless she insisted on making the journey to Dublin, which was quite an ordeal for the average person at that time. One of her daughters went with her and sure enough they eventually found George lying seriously wounded in the military hospital. He survived but I'm pretty sure his leg was amputated at that time. George was later a well-known postman who lived in Jordanstown. He had a severe limp and everyone who knew him understood why.

On another occasion my great grandmother had another premonition that really disturbed her. They lived in the coastguard cottages at Whiteabbey on the shores of Belfast Lough. The coal man would come periodically and dump coal into the back of their coal shed and than go to the front door to receive payment. My great grandmother was convinced that the coal man was going to unexpectedly deliver coal the next day and they couldn't afford to pay for it. The rest of the family couldn't understand why she was so upset: as they hadn't ordered coal there was nothing to be so upset about.

The next day a young man did arrive at their front dressed all in black: just like the coal man. But it wasn't the coal man. It was the telegram boy. The message that he delivered was much worse than a shed full of expensive coal. It was the news that her son Daniel wouldn't be coming home from Belgium.

Stories like this are very common among families across the land at this time. Very few were the households that were not traumatized by World War One.

Like the vast majority of young men who went off to war in 1914-1918: David, Daniel, George, and Mark were not decorated war heroes. They were like simply courageous men who believed it was right to fight for the freedom to live in a free democratic society. I remember them.

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