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The 100th anniversary of the battle of Messines is today

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Councillor William McCandless commented on it to Causeway Coast Community in relation to the local involvement, the bravery and the political message to come from it.

The Battle of Messines took place on the Western Front in W.W.1 on 7th June 1917.

The British Army attacked the village of Messines in Belgium to gain hold of a strategic ridge which had been held by the Germans since 1914.

The success of this attack was due to the explosion of 19 mines detonated by the British Army before the attack occurred.
The explosions used at Messines were the largest man made explosions outside of the atomic bomb, approximately 400 tons of explosive and had been the result of an extensive mining programme for nearly a year.

There were an estimated 10,000 German fatalities and the series of explosions caused major confusion in the German ranks. Battles on the Western Front were generally characterised by a series of bloody stalemates. The battle of Messines was a rare example of a successful offensive which was needed to boost British morale, however it was quickly overshadowed by the battle of Passchendale.

What made this battle so significant for the Irish regiments was the fact that the 16th Irish and the 36th Ulster Division marched together on their way into battle. Throughout W.W.1 there was reluctance to place these two groups together due to their political differences. With the events of the Home Rule crisis and the Easter rebellion still fresh in the minds of these men they put aside their difference to fight for freedom.

The heroic actions of two soldiers on that day should serve as a pattern to Unionists and Nationalists of how to work together in a spirit of cooperation.
Private John Meeke of the 36th Ulster Division from Benvarden was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery. William Redmond M.P. of the 16th Irish a fervent Irish nationalist fought and died with his men.

In 1916 William Redmond had written to his friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
” There are a great many Irishmen today who feel that out of this war we should try to build up a new Ireland. The trouble is, men are so timid about meeting each other half way. It would be a fine memorial to the men who have died so splendidly if we could over their graves build a bridge between North and South. I have been an extreme Nationalist all my life and if others as extreme, perhaps on the other side will only come half way, then I believe, impossible as it may seem we should be able to satisfy the Irish sentiment and the Imperial sentiment at one and the same time.”

John Meeke had been searching the battlefield for wounded soldiers in his role as a stretcher bearer. He saw Major Redmond fall and with no regard for his own safety went to give aid. As he bandaged Major Redmond  Meeke was wounded twice himself. Major Redmond twice ordered Meeke to retire to safety but Meeke disobeyed those orders and stayed with Redmond until they were escorted back to their lines by other soldiers from the 36th.

Major Redmond died of his wounds and was buried at the grounds of a convent in Locre, Belgium. Private Meeke was awarded the Military Medal for bravery. He was later severely wounded in 1918 and returned to his native Benvarden where he became a gardener but due to the severity of his wounds died in 1923.

He is interred at Derrykeighan cemetery.

Two men from very different backgrounds, different political ideals yet united together in a common cause to overthrow tyranny and bring peace out of horror.

Here we stand 100 years later and we look at the political stalemate and mess we have in our province with apparently no hope of any resolution.

I am unashamedly an Ulster Unionist and will not wish to change my allegiance and support to the United Kingdom which we constitutionally are a part of. I can respect a person who has legitimate aspirations for a united Ireland and can work with them on common interest for the betterment of the citizens of our Borough and of Northern Ireland. The story of Meeke and Redmond is one of respect and courage.

I hope we can all emulate it.

” Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love. ” Martin Luther King Jnr.

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