Sunday, 3 July 2016

More like Rugby than Football

By Des Farry

This is a different perspective on the Somme which looks at brief moments of normality occurring in a terrible conflict which is set against a sports background and draws some comparisons between both.


They were sent on the attack on the first day, their objective was the German Schwaben Redoubt.

The Ulsters reached their target but couldn’t hold it. In the horror and confusion of the battle the reinforcements sent to support them never made it through no man’s land and they were forced to retreat. The soil of Thiepval Wood and the trenches previously dug there by the French and Scottish Regiments, named after local landmarks or place names of Scotland, hold the bodies and names of those who never made it and were never found, a cemetery of trees not headstones.

It wasn’t just them that day, it was the same all over.  It was the way that it was all through the following weeks and months, a never ending repetitive story that never reached a conclusion.
They weren’t alone. There were so many other different races of people that he had never met before.
The Ulsters were fighting alongside Irish troops from the Connaught Rangers. The English, Welsh, Scottish, Australian, South Africans were their colleagues with whom they could communicate. It was more difficult to do so with the French and French-African troops.

It was during the rare breaks in this horror that they sometimes were able to talk about the life that they had lived before they all had come together in this hell hole.

Football was a favoured topic. Competitive football had stopped in England. No one knew when it would restart. He’d been talking about it with the Manchesters. There was a bribery scandal involving one of their clubs which remained unresolved.

The break along the line on Christmas Day to play football on No Man’s Land was a far too brief escape to normality  from  a pointless shifting war, where you moved forward, then backward to where you were a few months ago. A time to exchange gifts and souvenirs, try each other’s helmets and swap cigarettes.

It stuck in his mind. It was only much later when he read about the Connaught Rangers involvement that he thought that the whole war was more like rugby than football. It was the pack moving forward and backwards, it was about maintaining possession and territory.

Text © Des Farry

Des Farry comes originally from near Omagh in Northern Ireland and has lived in Greater Manchester for over 40 years. He has been writing since about age 15 (local notes for Ulster Herald). He has written or contributed to various published and internal non-fiction organisational professional guides and books on corporate finance plus a number of short stories for various competitions and the former Dublin Writers Site (Electric Acorn).

To find out more about MIW's Somme 100 Commemoration, please click here.

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