Eglinton native Marcus Ward is among 32 history students from across the island who have contributed to a unique archive of Irish Soldiers who died during World War One.
Marcus, a pupil at St Mary’s, Limavady, has been selected as the County Londonderry representative in the ‘My Adopted Soldier’ project, which is the brainchild of Donegal history teacher Gerry Moore.
It’s an online archive created by history students to commemorate soldiers from throughout the island of Ireland who died in World War One, as Marcus explains.
“The ‘My Adopted Soldier’ project is an extremely unique experience as nothing like it has been done before.
“I was told about the project last November in my GCSE history class at my school, St Mary’s, Limavady.
“We had to write a short essay on why we should be chosen and I knew my great-great-grandfather, James Callan, had fought in the First World War so I wrote about how he had been sent home as he had sustained shrapnel in his leg.
“I was then informed that I was going to represent County Derry/Londonderry and would be going to the Somme Memorials with the 32 other students who had been chosen.”
Marcus was then tasked with researching and compiling the biographical detail of his “adopted soldier,” who he was told was Henry Stewart Allen, a Spencer Road native and Inniskilling, who died at the Somme.
“In January, we had received our soldiers’ names, Henry Stewart Allen.
“I was given contact details of his grandson and so I met up with him and he gave me all the information that he knew about his grandfather,” Marcus explains.
It was then off to Dublin to present and submit the results of their findings for this unique new archive.
“We then met up on March 7 in Collins Barracks, Dublin where we had to present all the information we got on our soldiers.”
Following this landmark in the process Marcus and his colleagues were advised they would have an opportunity to discuss the project with the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, and that the Irish state broadcaster RTÉ would also be documenting their progress in Ireland and in France and Belgium where they travelled at the weekend.
“March 7 is when we were really told what was happening.
“We were told by the project manager, Gerry Moore, a history teacher from Donegal, that before we leave we will have be meeting President Micheal Higgins and also that our whole project will be documented by RTÉ and would be shown on RTÉ later in the year. He explained that we would be visiting many cemeteries including Thiepval Tower ( this is where my soldiers’ name can be found) and would be travelling between France and Belgium to the cemeteries.”
Poignantly, the reader enters the archive via Francis Ledwige’s ‘A Soldier’s Grave.’ ‘Then in the lull of midnight, gentle arms
Lifted him slowly down the slopes of death
Lest he should hear again the mad alarms
Of battle, dying moans, and painful breath.’