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Derry man's Somme memories speak from beyond the grave

Somme veteran, Jack Rutherford in his uniform as a Lough Swilly bus inspector in later life.
Seamus McKinney

A DERRY councillor has uncovered a personal family account from beyond the grave of the first hours of the Battle of the Somme.

SDLP councillor John Boyle found his grandfather, Jack Rutherford’s memories of the battle in an audio tape made almost 40 years ago.

Mr Rutherford lied about his age to join up in October 1915 at the age of 16 and lived through World War One to return home to Derry.

“He fought in the Somme and saw action at the Battle of Messines Ridge, Passchendaele and the third Battle of Ypres. He was injured in the Battle of Cambrai on 20th November 1917,” Mr Boyle said.

His grandfather’s memories of the war were recorded in the late 1970s for a BBC Christmas programme and unknown to Mr Boyle, his father had recorded the broadcast. Mr Boyle found the recording recently hidden away in a drawer.

The Derry councillor recalled hearing about his grandfather’s injury.

“The surgeon discussed taking his leg off but he pleaded with him not to because he wanted to be able to play football. The surgeon agreed to look at it again the next day and when he did there was an improvement.”

In the recording, Mr Rutherford remembers “going over the top” on the first day of the Somme. He said he was “more or less” resigned to the fact that he would not survive.

He recalled: “On the battlefield the sights I saw, men with their legs off and holding their legs.”

He also had to bury many of his friends.

“We had to do it at night because it couldn’t be done during the day because of the Germans.”

Mr Boyle will travel to the Somme today as part of a Derry City and Strabane council delegation to commemorate the battle. The centenary will be marked by a wreath laying ceremony at Derry’s Diamond and two loyal order parades in Derry on Friday.

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