The Battle of the Somme
The 36th (Ulster) Division was deployed to France in September 1915 where it spent the winter on the Somme front. By mid-March 1916, the Division was sent to hold front line positions astride the River Ancre, between Beaumont Hamel and Thiepval. Following a week long artillery bombardment, the 36th (Ulster) Division went into battle at 7.30am on the 1st July 1916. Leaving their trenches early, and before the bombardment had moved on, the battalions caught the Germans in their bunkers and advanced well into enemy lines. The attacks on Thiepval and Beaumont-Hamel failed, however, and the Germans were able to turn their full force onto the Ulster men. The Division, having suffered well over 5000 casualties, was withdrawn from battle the next day.
The Ulster Tower
A memorial now stands upon the ground where men from Ulster fought and died. The Ulster Tower is a replica of Helen’s Tower from the Dufferin and Ava Estate at Clandeboye, where the Ulster Division trained before arriving in France. Financed by public subscriptions and built in 1921, this mock Gothic style tower is a memorial to the soldiers of the Ulster Battalions (Royal Irish Fusiliers, Inniskilling Fusiliers, Royal Irish Rifles) who fought here on the 1st July 1916. In the memorial grounds, a plaque remembers the Division’s nine Victoria Cross winners. One of the men is Private Robert Quigg, from Bushmills, who searched No Man’s Land looking for his officer Sir Harry Macnaghten. Another memorial, unveiled in 1994, commemorates men of the Orange Order.
Every year on 1st July, a service of remembrance is held at the Ulster Tower to mark the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. For information about the ceremony being held in 2018, please click here.
The original trenches inside Thiepval Wood, which marks the front line battle ground of the 36th (Ulster) Division, have been carefully excavated and continually undergo preservation work. Visitors can book tours of the wood and trenches from 1st March to 30th November, every day except Monday, by contacting the Ulster Tower Visitor Centre.
Thiepval Wood is Private Property; anyone entering without the permission of the Somme Association will be trespassing.
Mill Road Cemetery
Mill Road Cemetery was created by the British once the Germans had withdrawn to the Hindenburg Line in the spring of 1917. When the Armistice was signed, the cemetery contained 260 burials. To these were added bodies found upon the battlefield and from small temporary cemeteries. Completed in the 1920s, the cemetery now contains the graves of 1304 soldiers of the First World War, of which 67,5% are unidentified.
Bid for UNESCO World Heritage Status
Mill Road Cemetery is among 11 sites in the Somme that have applied for UNESCO World Heritage status.
The site features a series of headstones laid down horizontally, giving it a unique architectural design. This layout highlights the need to adapt architecture to the topography, in this case the ground has been made unstable due to the fighting. The large number of unidentified graves stresses the violence of the fighting.
- Ulster Tower Visitor Centre and Memorial Room open from Tuesday to Sunday from 1/03 to 30/11 (from 10am to 5pm)
- Free admission
- Facilities: small café and museum
- Route de Saint-Pierre-Divion 80300 Thiepval
- Tel + 33 (0) 3 22 74 87 14
Longitude 2.676674 | Latitude 50.067159