Sunday, November 09, 2008

Private James Thompson, R.I.R of Kirkistown, killed at the Somme, aged 20


The photo above is of the poppy fields of the Somme in France. As it's Remembrance Day, I thought this would be a relevant poem to post here. As far as I know James was my grandfather's cousin - my granda was 15 when James was killed aged 20 on the blood-red battlefield of the Somme.

In Loving Memory of our Dear Son
Private James Thompson, R.I.R of Kirkistown

Who was killed in action at the Battle of the Somme at Thiepval
on 1st July 1916, aged 20 years
“What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” -
John 13 v 7

A loved one has been called away
He’s in our midst no more
In a land afar his body lies
Far from his native shore

He bade us all a last farewell
A happy brave “Good-bye”
And with the gallant few went forth
To suffer and to die

Upon the first day of July
Amidst the shot and shell
‘Twas in the battle of the Somme
He in the conflict fell

What anguish fills each fainting heart
And many cheeks grow pale
And in that sorrow-stricken home
How many mourn and wail

None in that home shall e’er forget
The one so bright and fair
Who young in years were called away
Now sits a vacant chair

No one was near when in that hour
He breathed his latest breath
But Jesus led him gently on
Thro’ the dark vale of death

He answered not the roll call here
But in that world so fair
When Jesus calls the roll above
He’ll not be missing there

We know ‘twas in that solemn hour
His spirit took its flight
To dwell with God above the skies
In realms of love and light

Oh, sorrow not, but cast your care
On Christ, the Unfailing One,
Who ever doeth all things well
And say “Thy will be done”

Let this a warning be to all
To cease their sinful strife
Thy soul may be required of thee
Escape thou for the life

Oh, be prepared to meet thy God
This warning he doth give
Consider now your latter end
Believe and thou shall live

And then, where parting is unknown,
All sorrow shall be o’er
For strife and conflict never come
On yonder happy shore.

Note: according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the memorial of rifleman James Thompson of the Royal Irish Rifles (A Company, 13th Service Battalion, County Down) is at Thiepval, Pier and Face 15A and 15B. His parents are recorded as William and Margaret Thompson, Kirkistown, Kirkcubbin.


There have been many songs written about war and sacrifice over the years. Here are two clips of an old song called "When the Roses Bloom Again", firstly by Johnny Cash and secondly a more mournful, thoughtful version by the American "alternative country" band Wilco:

In a similar vein, here is 10 year old footage of the (throughothersome) American band Whiskeytown, performing their song "Houses on the Hill" which has a verse about a young American soldier at the Normandy landings of 1944:

"...Eisenhower sent him to war
He kept her picture in the pocket that was closest to his heart
And when he hit shore, it must have been a target for the gunman.
There were stars in the sky
There were bunkers on the hill and there were caskets to fill
Where he would lie, shrouded in the red white and blue, with the stripes..."

Outside Belfast City Hall is a monument which was unveiled by General Eisenhower in 1945. At the end of his speech, he said "...My Lord Mayor, in inviting me to return here to become an honorary Burgess you have given one further proof of the ties of affection which bind the American Army to the people of Northern Ireland. I trust that you look upon it, as I do, as a token of our common purpose to work together for a better world..."