The 36th (Ulster) Division
In 1918, King George V paid tribute to the valour of those from Ulster who had paid the supreme sacrifice during the War: “Throughout the Long Years of Struggle…the men of the Ulster have proved how nobly they fight and die…” (16 November 1918).
At the outbreak of War, the small but professional British Expeditionary Force was dispatched to France. Although there was much bravado about a ‘short war’ many quietly expected the conflict would not be over by Christmas. Preparations were made to establish a New Volunteer Army. The Secretary of State for War, Field Marshal Kitchener, firmly believed that men who had grown up in the same areas and worked side-by-side at home, would make better soldiers in the field.
As volunteers flocked to join, there was caution in Ulster. Home Rule was still a burning issue and many in the UVF feared elements of the Irish Volunteers would launch a rising in Ulster. These concerns were quickly addressed. Lord Kitchener was keen to have the UVF in the new army. On the 3rd of September, Carson announced to the Ulster Unionist Council that a new Division was being formed. This ‘Ulster’ Division established its HQ at 29 Wellington Place, Belfast, and by 7 September the first recruits were on their way to a training camp at Ballykinler. Other training centres were established at Clandeboye, Newtownards and Finner in Donegal.
Many hundreds of Orangemen were within the ranks. It was not just in Ulster that Orangemen flocked to the Division. The newly appointed Major F P Crozier, an Orangeman, recruited NCOs from England and Orangemen from Scotland to help the cause. While returning to Belfast he crudely decried the boisterous and crude enthusiasm of the new recruits as they headed for training in Belfast as “blasphemy, booze and banners.”
Camp commandant in Newcastle was also an Orangeman, Colonel Robert H Wallace.
Many could hardly have imagined the suffering that lay ahead of them during the next four years of carnage.
The Orange Standard in September 1916 recorded the words of Wilfred Spender as he witnessed the advance of the Ulster Division and the start of the Battle of the Somme “I wish I had been born an Ulsterman, but I am proud to have been associated with these wonderful men – the most gallant in the world. I do not believe men ever passed to another world in so glorious a light.”
During the course of the war, the Division would participate in several major battles and advances, including the Somme, Cambrai, Messines, Passchendaele, Lys, and Courtrai.