Thought for the Week - Service and Sacrifice
On 1st July each year, we commemorate the Battle of the Somme and rightly honour the bravery and sacrifice of the 36th Ulster Division.
The Division had been formed from the Ulster Volunteer Force, ‘Carson’s Army’, which had been formed during the Home Rule Crisis in Ireland.
The objective of the Ulster Division was to capture the German front line between the River Ancre on the left and Thiepval on the right. When the whistle blew at 7.30am on 1st July 1916, the men of the 36th Ulster Division, many of whom were Orangemen, emerged from their trenches and made their way across no man’s land to engage the enemy.
They succeeded in breaking through 5th line of the German trenches. This was in contrast to the other British divisions that day, who failed to penetrate the German defences. However, the success of the Ulstermen came at a heavy price, with approximately 2,000 killed either on the day itself or as a result of their injuries.
Sir Wilfrid Spender remarked: “I am not an Ulsterman but yesterday, the First of July, as I followed their amazing attack, I felt that I would rather be an Ulsterman than anything else in the world. My pen cannot describe adequately the hundreds of heroic acts I witnessed, the Ulster Volunteer Force, from which the Division was made, has won a name that equals any in history. Their devotion deserves the gratitude of the British empire.”
War correspondent Philip Gibbs said of the Division: "Their attack was one of the finest displays of human courage in the world.”
Of nine Victoria Crosses given to British forces in the battle, four were awarded to 36th Division soldiers
The service and sacrifice of the Ulstermen remind us of the words of Jesus in verse 13 of chapter 15 of St. John’s Gospel.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
At Calvary, God demonstrated his love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross means that we can have peace with God and a fresh start in life.
When we think upon the sacrifice of Jesus and put our faith in his finished work on the cross, then we can say like the Psalmist,
“I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.” (Psalm 84. 10-12)
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, We give you thanks and praise for the service and sacrifice of the 36th Ulster Division at the Battle of the Somme. May their heroic actions continue to inspire us in this day and generation, so that we and all thy children shall free and the whole earth live to praise thy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
By Wor. Bro. Rev. Dr. Stanley Gamble, Grand Chaplain