Great War heroes: Irishmen awarded VC to be remembered at special service

Rifleman William McFadzean (left) from Lurgan and Captain Eric Bell from Enniskillen will be among those commemorated at the service
Rifleman William McFadzean (left) from Lurgan and Captain Eric Bell from Enniskillen will be among those commemorated at the service

More than 40 Irishmen who were awarded the Victoria Cross for their heroic actions during the First World War will be commemorated at a special service in Belfast this weekend.

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Right Rev Dr Charles McMullen, will host the service in Assembly Buildings, Fisherwick Place on Sunday (6:30pm).

During the event, the names of the Victoria Cross recipients will be read out, along with a small section of each of each of their citations.

Two local schoolchildren will recite poems they wrote as part of Never Such Innocence – a project which engages young people in the First World War centenary.

Among those who will be remembered will be Lieutenant Maurice Dease of the Royal Fusiliers, Captain Eric Bell from the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and Rifleman William McFadzean of the Royal Irish Rifles, who all gave their lives in the service of King and country.

Announcing details of the service, the chairman of the Northern Ireland WW1 Centenary Committee, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, said: “In the First World War there were 627 recipients of the Victoria Cross. More than 40 of these men were either born in Ireland or had Irish parents. As we approach the centenary of the Armistice in November 2018, it is appropriate to remember once again these most gallant Irishmen, many of whom gave their lives in battle.

“Whilst many people are aware of the four Victoria Crosses that were awarded to the 36th Ulster Division on 1st July 1916, there are many more examples of gallantry and selfless sacrifice by Irishmen through the Great War. Not only soldiers but also sailors and airmen too, and many Irishmen who had gone to live in far flung corners of the world and were serving in units from Australia, Canada and New Zealand.”

Looking forward to the service, Rev Dr McMullen said: “Coming together is an opportunity to reflect on the heroic sacrifice made by so many in defence of freedom and peace.

“Many will join us because of their interest in the First World War in general, and some will come as direct descendants of those who won the VC. Whatever the reason, we will join together to worship in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and remember those who were awarded the Victoria Cross for their outstanding acts of selfless bravery.”

WW1 Centenary Committee secretary Kingsley Donaldson explained that commemorative stones have been laid across Ireland, including at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, to remember those awarded the VC – the highest honour for bravery and valour in the British Armed Forces.

“Over the past four and a half years we have sought to ensure that these remarkable warriors have not been forgotten,” he said.

Sunday’s service will be attended by families of Irish recipients of the Victoria Cross. They will be joined by political representatives from Northern Ireland, Great Britain and Republic of Ireland.