by Jack Greenald
In the First World War a large number of Newtownards Orangemen volunteered to fight for King and Country. Over 240 Orangemen from the district joined up and over fifty paid the supreme sacrifice.
Among the early casualties was Rifleman John Irvine, killed in action whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles on 9th November 1914. He was a member of Newtownards True Blues LOL 1055. Another early casualty was Private W R Bell of the 3rd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, killed in action on 14th December 1914. He was described as a ‘staunch member of LOL 1948 Newtownards’ and ‘a loyal member of the institution’.
Bandsman Charles Newell was killed in action in February 1916 aged just 19. Before the war he had been a member of the original UVF and played the flute in Lord Londonderry’s Flute Band. The secretary of his lodge, LOL 1055, sent the following letter to his mother: “I am instructed by my lodge and the members of LOL No 1055 to express our heartfelt sympathy with you and your family on the death of your son Charles, who was killed in action, fighting for his King and Country. He was a devoted member of our lodge, a true and staunch Orangeman in every way, and we pray that God will be near you in this time of trial…”.
Another member of LOL 1055, Rifleman William Cardy, was killed in action on 27th April 1916. Many members served with the 13th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, part of the 36th (Ulster) Division. On 1st July 1916 the 36th (Ulster) Division took part in the Battle of the Somme. In the first two days of the battle 5500 men of the Ulster Division had been killed or wounded. Among the casualties was Rifleman John Shannon. The secretary of LOL 1055 wrote to his father who was also a member of the lodge: “The words I write to you cannot convey how we all feel the loss of such a member as our late Brother John Shannon. He was a faithful Orangeman, true to his obligations wherever he went. I am sure he died a hero’s death”.
Injured at the Somme was Lieutenant W M Wright, who was a son of the District Chaplain and the Minister of First Newtownards Presbyterian Church, Rev Dr Wright. Before the war he was a company commander in the UVF and while home on leave in May 1916 he had been installed as the Master of his lodge, Volunteers LOL 1501.
For their acts of bravery a number of Newtownards Orangemen were awarded military decorations. In 1916 Rifleman Thomas J Harrison was awarded the Military Medal, he was a member of LOL 1908 and was later killed in action. Pioneer W Gibson who was serving with the Royal Engineers, Ulster Signaling Division, was also awarded the Military Medal in 1916, he was a member of LOL 481 and RBP 290 and was later killed in action. Company Quartermaster Sergeant Hanse Smyth was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1918; he was a member of LOL 1054.
Some Newtownards Orangemen served with the Canadian forces, such as Alexander Marshall, a member of LOL 240, and Thomas Murphy, a member of LOL 1054, who was awarded the Military Medal in 1918.
In 1915 and 1916 there were no Orange parades because of the war. Parades resumed in 1917 where the District Master, T R Lavery JP, said: “The 1st of July, already an honoured anniversary with Orangemen, will for the future assume new glory; henceforth Ulster would celebrate with joy mingled with tears, the glorious deeds of valour of that heroic band of his sons…”
On every 1st of July the members of Newtownards District parade the town and lay a wreath at the War Memorial to remember the brethren who laid down their lives in defence of freedom.
The Orange memorial at The Somme
The memorial sited at the Somme in France recalls the service to King and Country by members of the Orange Institution from throughout the world in the Great War of 1914-1918 and in other conflicts before and since.
The inscription reads: “This memorial is dedicated to the men and women of the Orange Institution worldwide, who at the call of King and Country left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of man by the path of duty and self sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that their names be not forgotten.”