Nations at War: Centenary Commemorations 2016
Known as the Great War, and later First World War (1914-18), it was fought in many different lands by armies from many nations. It was one in which the Central Powers (Germany, and Austria-Hungary, joined later by Turkey and Bulgaria) were defeated by an alliance of Britain and its dominions, France, Russia, and others, joined later by Italy and the United States.
Political tensions over the rise of the German Empire were the war’s principal cause, although it was set off by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by a Bosnian Serb nationalist in Sarajevo, an event used as a pretext by Austria for declaring war on Serbia. Most of the fighting took place on land in Europe and was generally characterised by long periods of bloody stalemate. The balance eventually shifted in the Allies’ favour in 1917 when the United States joined the war. Total casualties of the war are estimated at ten million killed. One of the consequences of the war was the collapse of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman empires.
In trenches and mud fighting took place in the snowy forests of Eastern Europe, in Turkey and the deserts of Arabia, on the plains of East Africa. There were great naval battles and beneath the waves, submarines stalked Atlantic shipping. The bloodiest fighting was on the Western Front, a long line of defensive trenches that stretched from Belgium, through France, down to the Swiss border. Medals were awarded while soldiers on both sides lived and died in wretched conditions. Any who fled were tried for desertion and then shot. It was described as the worst conflict the world had ever known … Historians and others continue to expound on war fronts and the quagmire of horrific battles that took millions of young men like cattle to the slaughter.
As well as British and Irish soldiers, empire troops included Indians, East Africans, South Africans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. Their allies in the ‘Entente’ included France and its empire, Japan, Italy (from 1915), Russia (until 1918) and the United States (from 1917). Ranged against them were the ‘Central Powers’ of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.
In 1914 the soldiers had marched off to war in a patriotic mood, singing the popular songs of the day. When guns fell silent in 1918, some ten million young men had been killed in all the armies. Countless more were left blinded, disabled, or in a state of severe stress called ‘shell-shock’. The allies had won the war, but at a terrible cost.
Centenary Commemorations 2016
The Battle of the Somme was a major battle of the First World War between the British and the Germans on the Western front in northern France July to November 1916. More than a million men on both sides were killed or wounded. In a spirit of reconciliation a number of formal and moving commemoration ceremonies were held in France and elsewhere to remember the dead whose remains are marked by lasting resting places in the several military cemeteries that are maintained in their honour.
The Battle of the Somme had been raging since early July. A Supplement to The London Gazette 10th November 1916 printed a long list of Non-Commissioned Officers and Men awarded the Military Medal* for bravery in the field. One of their number is L./C. J. Fullerton, MM 9504, 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The history of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers is well documented as is the courage shown by the fearless ‘Dubs’ of the 2nd battalion on 9 October 1916 when they were not far from Ginchy in a place just east of Trones Wood. From there the battalion diarist wrote: Every place is now very desolate owing to the previous bombardment. The camp is of tents and owing to the recent heavy rains in a very muddy condition.
John Fullerton was born in Dublin in 1884, married with two children and living with his mother-in- law at Richmond Cottages situated opposite Richmond Barracks where the 1916 Rising leaders were taken after the surrender. He had worked as a machinist in the Great Southern and Western Railway, now Hueston Station, where he is remembered, amongst others, on a WW1 Memorial plaque as Private John Fullerton 9504, 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
In the centenary year of his death the story of John Fullerton is probably typical of many Irishmen who joined at the outbreak of war. He died of wounds received in action on 24 October 1916 and is laid to rest at Grove Town Cemetery, Meaulte, France, commemorated in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. His headstone reads 9504 Private J. Fullerton, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 28th October 1916. His Military Medal for bravery in the field decorates the headstone where the War Graves Commission has recently agreed to insert the initials M.M.
Ita Marguet, September 2016
Note: Acknowledgement is given to the Fullerton family and other sources used in this text. The *Military Medal (MM) was established in 1916. It was the ‘other ranks’ equivalent’ to the Military Cross (MC) awarded to Commissioned Officers. The Military Medal was discontinued in 1993 and the Military Cross has been awarded to personnel of all ranks.