The Ulster Tower
The Battle of the Somme has a special place within the psyche of many families in Ulster
On the opening day of that battle over 10,000 members of the 36th (Ulster) Division advanced towards German lines. It is well documented that they were one of the few Divisions to achieve their objectives that fateful day. The events in the Somme region became representative of the huge sacrifice made by a generation of young men from during the Great War.
Like many parts of the Empire, the people of Ulster felt a mixture of emotions at the end of the War. Relief and joy were tempered by sorrow and loss. The question of how to honour the memory of such sacrifice arose. Tablets, Rolls of Honour, and local memorials were one aspect but there was a clear desire for a national Symbol of remembrance.
Northern Ireland’s National War Memorial was one of the first to be constructed in the Western Front sector. Designed by architects Albert Leigh Abbott and J A Bowden, the result was a representation of something from home – Helen’s Tower. Helen’s Tower, that stands at the heart of the Clandeboye Estate near Bangor, was a well-known symbol to all soldiers from what had become Northern Ireland, especially those drawn from the 36 (Ulster) Division. Many of them trained in the shadow of this famous landmark and it was now fitting that a replica would stand as a sentinel over land that echoed with their heroic deeds.
The tower is located south-west of the Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval and was built close to a spot that was known as the Schwaben Redoubt. This was a German strongpoint and the focal point for the Ulster Division’s attack. On the morning of 1 July 1916, the Ulstermen were given the task of capturing this fortified position which bristled with machine guns and was heavily defended by experienced German troops and barbed wire entanglements. It commanded the high ground and would have been an ominous sight as the men cleared the nearby Thiepval Wood that day.
It was unveiled by Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson at a ceremony on 19 November 1921. The Tower was dedicated by the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, the Primate of the Church of Ireland, and the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland. It stands 70 feet high with an avenue of trees marking the boundary of its grounds. These trees were planted by survivors of the 36th (Ulster) Division.
It commemorates the memory of those who served and lost their lives in the Somme campaign but also all those from Ulster who served in the Great War.
The inscription on the Ulster Tower reads:
“This Tower is Dedicated to the Glory of God in grateful memory of the Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men of the 36th (Ulster) Division and of the Sons of Ulster in other forces who laid down their lives in the Great War, and of all their Comrades-In-Arms who, by Divine Grace, were spared to testify to their Glorious deeds.”