16th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (2nd Co. Down Pioneers)
Wounded in France, July 1916
From Belfast, Aged 20
Douglas from Ulsterville Avenue in Belfast, attested for the 16th Royal Irish Rifles in late 1914. They proceeded to France 0n the 13th February 1916. As part of the 36th (Ulster) Division, they were concentrated near Flesselles, north of Arras. With training and familiarisation, including periods in the trenches with 4th Division in the front line north of the River Ancre near Albert. 36th (Ulster) Division took over the front line in early Spring.
During unseasonably polar conditions,through March & April, the Pioneers were often engaged in the construction and repair of military railways, in preparation for the upcoming ‘big push’ on the Somme.
Prior to the eventual attack on the 1st July, the 16th were responsible for constructing new assembly trenches, fixing damaged wiring, deepening certain trenches and building bomb-proof dugouts along the whole front line of the 36th Ulster Division.
The Battalion was billeted in defensive positions in Aveluy Wood, which was only about 1500 yards from the front line and well within enemy artillery range. Indeed the battalion settled down for the first night on arrival, only to suffer an enemy bombardment around 0230 so slit trenches had to be dug hurriedly for their own protection.
All work was to be completed by the 19th June but the commencement of the bombardment was delayed for various reasons with the attack eventually set for the 1st July 1916 – a day to become a source of great sorrow and pride for the people of Ulster when the outcome was eventually disclosed.
The major decisions regarding the Somme offensive were made in March 1916 and all units now had new planned objectives. For the Pioneers it was a return to defensive work reinforcing existing wiring and trenches together with the construction of several lines of additional assembly trenches.
During the actual attack on the 1st July, the Battalion was in active support positions to move supplies forward, cut new connecting forward trenches to the German front line trenches and generally help the advancing troops. In some areas this was successful, but lack of committed fresh troops limited success whilst in other areas enemy troops were still in possession of targets and the men had to hold defensive positions against enemy counter attacks. The Ulster Division, having suffered about 5,500 casualties including killed and wounded, were withdrawn at 1800 that evening, but the 16th Pioneers had to work on supporting the replacement division until their eventual withdrawal on the 8th July 1916.
Prior to this month the war diaries had not reported monthly casualties but were now going to have to do so for many months to come. Casualties at the point of relief from the Somme sector were: 2 officers killed, 3 wounded and 5 broke down (later termed shell shocked). Douglas being one of these officers wounded at this time. Among the men 22 were killed and 159 wounded of which over 100 were invalided.
At the close of the first 9 months since arrival in France, the Battalion had fully earned their distinctive emblem of the crossed rifle and pick-axe.
We don’t know the extent of Douglas’s wounding. What we do know is that he recovered and went on to serve throughout the rest of the war. Finally being demobbed in April 1919.