During the Great War there were a number of poets like Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon, whose letters describing the trauma of the conflict are engraved in literature. But while the works of these learned poets can be easily found in the numerous volumes of poetry published in recent years, the verse, songs and ballads, written by the common soldier in the trenches have been largely forgotten.
There were quite a number of verses written by Lurgan men during the off duty breaks; to help while away the strain and fatigue of battle, and ease the misery of having to stand for hour after hour, day after day knee deep in the mud of the trenches.
These musings have no great literary merit, but are worth recording for the expression of the feelings of the soldiers and the pride they felt in belonging to a town like Lurgan. The following musing "The Lurgan Volunteer" was composed by J. McAlinden with the help of fusiliers Creaney, Brady, Toland and ONeill:
We are the local heroes
Who come from Lurgan Town;
We don't forget our comrades
Who come from Portadown.
And God bless our gallant heroes,
That they may never fail,
And when the letters they arrive
They shout, 'Here's the Lurgan Mail'.
Now here's to Sir Edward Carson,
And likewise John Redmond too,
Sure they have joined hand in hand
To make the Germans rue;
Sure we are the 1st Battalion
Of the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Joined hand in hand to crush the foe
With the Ulster Volunteers.
And when we get to the German trenches
You should hear the Gentians shout;
"My goodness there's the Irishmen,
Now you sentries keep a sharp look out;"
And when we mount the parapet
The German shows fair heels.
"My goodness straf the Irishmen,
And their fondness for cold steel."
Here's to our hero soldiers,
I tell you one and all
The Lurgan boys turned out in hundreds
When they heard the bugle call;
The bugle sounds the rally,
Our bayonets we fix.
And Hugh Creaney from Arthur Street,
He was ever at his tricks
Also James McAlinden who made the Boches run,
And Jemmy Smyth, the devil,
Sure he's always up to fun;
And when Mac dashes forward
I may tell you, it is true
Sure he is out run by Neil, Brady and Toland,
Who comes from Lurgan too.
And here's to all the Lurgan boys sure
It's them we like to see,
And when we meet in Lurgan town
May we have a jolly spree;
And when we walk down North Street
Right down to the Distillery Hill
Sure we'll shout God strafe the Kaiser
And his nosy son called Bill.
Now here's to the "Lurgan Mail"
That leads the paper band,
So we think when in the trenches
When we get it from friends in Ireland
And when it comes to us we shout
With might and main
Good Luck to all the Lurgan men from Blough
To the Long Plain.
About the time this poem was written one of their comrades, Lance Corporal William McAtamney of the Red Row, Silverwood, died in France from wounds he had received while rescuing injured men in 'No Man's Land'. On the confirmation of Wm. McAtamney's death, the Church of England chaplain attached to No.7 Field Ambulance, 3rd British Expeditionary Force who under the date of 26th February wrote the following words of sympathy to his wife:
"I am very sorry to have to write and tell you that Lance Corporal Wm. McAtamney of the Royal Irish Rifles, was brought here about five days ago suffering from bullet wounds it his chest. Everything was done for him, but he became weaker and eventually passed away, perfectly peacefully on February 23 at 10 a.m. The Roman Catholic chaplain had seen him and he died fortified by the rites of his Church. He was buried by the Roman Catholic chaplain in the churchyard of Lochre, which is eight or nine miles from Ypres, on 23rd February, and a wooden cross with his name burned into it marks the grave. "
Prior to his death William McAtamney had written many letters to his wife describing conditions at the front. In a letter dated December 23rd, he wrote:
"I have been in the fighting line a few times and had it hot, but I hope not to be back again for some time. Peter McCrory and I expect to get a medal for rescuing a wounded man, so I think I have done enough for the present. Life is rather precarious here. They are shelling us every minute and you never can tell when you are going to get knocked out, but lam getting used to it now. I went out the other day in front of the German lines and brought in a wounded soldier belonging to the Gordon Highlanders who had been lying for four nights in the field. The Captain has sent my name for a medal for risking my life in front of the enemy trenches, It was a risk, but I could not bear to see the poor chap lying there suffering and tortured with hunger and thirst. The Germans had two shots at me and missed. It's a regular hell here. The shells are continuously tearing up the ground all around us and we are waiting every minute to get buried like rats, but we always hope like that well known rodent to crawl to the surface again."
William McAtamney was like many other men of his generation a member of the Militia and had served as a Sergeant with the Royal Irish Fusiliers throughout the South African war and at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 enlisted and was drafted into the Royal Irish Rifles. Prior to his joining up in 1914 he worked in the building trade and was employed as a scaffolder during the building of the 'New Cinema Theatre' in Church Place.
On the day that Wm. McAtamney died, three other men from the town were admitted to the hospital. Thomas Greedy, of Gilberts Court, and a member of the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles was suffering from wounds he received at Ypres on February 23rd. He was a reservist and had two brothers serving in the colours Private Henry Magennis of the Royal Leinster Regiment, who resided in Rampart Street, was wounded and in hospital. A similar report showed that Private Richard Reid of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who hailed from Waring Street, was also in hospital.
However, it would seem that some of the men did not suffer so much in that month of February. Private Henry Lunn, of the 1st R.I.F. who belonged to Ann Street and a well known local footballer associated with Glenavon in the course of a letter to his wife said:
"We are having a good time out here, considering everything. Our regiment has got a band and every time we come out of the trenches we enjoy its music very much. While we have a gay old time playing football behind the firing line, and travelling on motors to other districts to play other regiments. There is no mistake we fairly enjoy ourselves, and sometimes we do not realise there is a war on at all. "