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Remembering Thomas 1882-1916: The Somme on a personal level.

November 11, 2014

Great Uncle Thomas Nyhan died 26the September 1916 (France)

On the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WW1 1914-1918

I ‘d like to remember and honour all those who lost their lives, including countless civilians, caught up in the horror of war.

In particular I’d like to remember family members.

However, even though I’ve been researching our family for over 30 years, many still remain illusive.

Therefore I decided I would have one family member represent all those too numerous to mention individually.

Guardsman Thomas Nyhan – Ist. Battalion Irish Guards

who

died of wounds in France in September 1916

and is remembered with honour in the Military cemetery where he is buried at the Somme Battlefields alongside his comrades.

Final resting place for Thomas Nyhan 1916

He came from a small rural village in what is now Southern Ireland, the second son in a family of  ten children:

seven boys and two girls, one of whom was my maternal Grandmother.

Sadly there aren’t any photos of Thomas that I know of still in existence.

Only the headstone above marks his life and death.

I know he could not only read and write in both English and Irish, he was also fluent in both spoken languages. 

Indeed, both his parents could read and write English and Irish as well as speak both languages fluently, 

which I understand was rare in the early 19th century in rural Ireland.

Thomas Nyhan grew up with this view.

The view Thomas Nyhan left behind – view from his village.

 Thomas and his siblings had been educated by a governess, which was also evident when reading anything written by my Grandmother.

When she used to write to my mother’s teacher giving reasons for Mum’s absence from school,

her letters were often pinned to the board in class, by the teacher, as an example of a beautifully written letter and handwriting.

I must admit reading anything she’d written was always a joy.

Parish Church where Thomas Nyhan would have worshipped.

If he had returned to his homeland Thomas would most likely have been laid to rest in this Parish Church eventually, where most of his family now rest. 

It is built on the site of 4 previous cathedrals, even though the population of the village was barely 400 people until the 20th Century. 

I visited with my mother and sister in 2008, soon after I discovered Mum still had family alive and living where Thomas and her mother had.

It was a very moving visit and sadly, since then, two of her remaining cousins have died and others are very old and frail.

As far as I can establish Thomas never married.

The Nyhan family was a close and loving family from what I am told by those relations who are still living.

Thomas’ father would play the fiddle and tin whistle for the family as they sat inside their home in the evenings. 

The girls would dance with their brothers and mother and sing Irish songs which were passed down to me when I was growing up via my grandmother, Thomas’ sister.

I think of Thomas dying so far from home alongside his many comrades,

and how he must have missed his family and longed for home and to see them all again.

I think of his father, widowed by then, having not only lost his wife but two sons and a young daughter before the war began. 

Like so many other families at that time their lives changed forever with the outbreak of World War 1. 

I feel sad that none of them ever knew what happened to Thomas. 

They could only imagine, like many thousands of other families.

I feel happy that I managed to find Thomas as a result of my research into our family history,

and to have been able to let his surviving nieces, nephews, and wider family know about him. 

Although some of them have died since,  those left behind – direct family and distant family –  are remembering him today along with all those others who gave their lives so that we might live ours in the manner we chose.

RIP Great Uncle Thomas Nyhan, and all those family members too numerous to list here who also gave their lives.

 RIP all your comrades too.

Thank You.

All Photos (c) Jane Risdon 2014 – All Rights Reserved

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30 Comments
  1. Thank you for the story and the amazing photos. We keep the memory of the great people before us by story and poetry. You honored the generation that allowed us to know and hold freedom.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John, thanks for your visit and kind words. I hope I did a little justice to their sacrifice. I am sure that there were many families who never knew what happened to their loved ones. It is so sad. We have so much to thanks them for. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have photos of the World war one and World war two graveyard in Europe. It make us realize the cost of freedom. Outside of Paris rest 20,000 soldiers who died in one battle. I was the first person to visit the site that year in June 1978. It is sad when the hero’s of the past are forgotten.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That is amazing. I have not visited yet but would like to but I think a cousin has managed to go (he is army too), but it is sad to think of so many who have never had a visit to their graves. I am glad you went too…we try to remember them every 11th November in the UK.

          Liked by 1 person

    • I am pleased that you felt I had done them justice. There aren’t any words really. 🙂

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  2. My grandfather, my dad’s dad, was a WWI vet. Although he died when I was four, my memories of him were fond ones. It is because of him that I have a deep interest in “The Great War” and all that took place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is such an interesting topic and our family members have always been reluctant to speak of their experiences, which I can understand. So when people such as yourself pick up the reins and look into their lives, it is always amazing to discover what they went through and managed to overcome back in ‘civvy street.’ I expect you found your Grandfather’s experiences were quite amazing. Good luck with finding out more. Thanks for your comments, great to connect with you here 🙂

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  3. A moving and wonderful post

    Like

  4. Thank you for the poignant tribute!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A Lovely tribute Jane. God Bless all the brave men who fought in the First World War and who gave their lives so their children, and their children’s children, can live in a free and democratic country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed Madalyn. Thanks so much, I am glad you liked it. I just kept seeing the poppies and thinking of him and all the others and how our lives are because of them. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. A moving and beautiful tribute…thank you for reminding us…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Lovely tribute, Jane. One of the many young men who marched away. And he wasn’t even conscripted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jane. It was a complex situation in the family at that time…there was one brother fighting for King and Country at the Somme, and another fighting the British in Dublin in the Easter Uprising. The former died of wounds in France and the latter went to prison in England at the same time his brother died, and then became an Irish Police Officer after the Easter Uprising. Dinner time conversations must have been fascinating!

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      • They were the men who suffered terribly after the war supposing their survived. The British never acknowledged their contribution to the war effort and the Irish despised them for fighting with the ‘enemy’. Double whammy, poor sods.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yep…I cannot imagine it but Mum and Dad had a German friend married to a British soldier when we lived in Germany in the years after WW2. Her brothers had been dragged off screaming and kicking by the Hitler Youth who came to take them (aged 13,14). Her parents were told their homes would be burned, businesses ruined, and all their family would be killed if they stopped them going. The boys were sent to Siberia and were never seen or heard of again. Lots of their friends didn’t want the war or to fight but they were stuck between rock and a hard place. You see it in Iraq and Afghanistan too…..terrible.

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  8. What a lovely tribute, Jane, and how proud you must be to have such a man in your family background. I think he’d be proud of you too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am proud of him and many other family members I cannot name – so many – and of course all those who gave their lives, military and civilian. Such a loss. Have you seen the photos of the Tower of London? My brother has been twice and mother went yesterday. So moving. Each poppy represents a British and Commonwealth death in WW1. Thanks also to those from all those other nations who took part and suffered horrendous losses. Respect. Thanks Margot, such a sad day. xx

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      • I have indeed seen those ‘photos – they are very moving. I don’t think it’s easy to comprehend the terrible losses until you get it down to the human level – to all those poppies… If only The Great War had really ended all wars…

        Liked by 1 person

        • That is the tragedy Margot….it seems to be the 20th century onwards has seen nothing but one war conflict) after another. I’ve had relations involved in wars going back to the Crimea and the Boer War and then way back to 1066, and it seems it will never end. We blow things up, kill people, send aid in and try to rebuild, then it all starts again. So sad.

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