Michael Bergin enlisted for the army in August 1903. When the Great War broke out he was on of the first to go, departing for France on the 25th August 1914.
Michael was a Gunner with the 60th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery(RGA). It was armed with heavy, large calibre guns and howitzers that were positioned some way behind the front line and had immense destructive power.
A Siege Battery of the RGA were equipped with heavy howitzers, sending large calibre high explosive shells in high trajectory, plunging fire.The usual armaments were 6 inch, 8 inch and 9.2 inch howitzers, although some had huge railway- or road-mounted 12 inch howitzers. As British artillery tactics developed, the Siege Batteries were most often employed in destroying or neutralising the enemy artillery, as well as putting destructive fire down on strongpoints, dumps, store, roads and railways behind enemy lines.
Each gun was operated by a team of men, who had a specific role. Michael’s crew could be described as such; There was a sergeant in charge, he was regarded as No 1 – he was generally called No 1, you see. There was the limber gunner who opened and closed the breech when you were in action, and in normal times he serviced the gun, you know, he was in charge of cleaning it and all that sort of thing. Then there was the gun layer who of course he aimed the gun every time, and then the rest were ammunition numbers. There’s supposed to be a total of eight in the crew, but of course that was in theory because very often we didn’t have sufficient people on hand.
Guns were located in gun pits, where they had a good field of fire but could be hidden out of the direct sight of the enemy. They were difficult to manoeuvre into position, particularly in waterlogged ground as Michael Would have found in Paschendaele in 1917.
They used to have to lay a platform – this was the great trouble – because the guns were very heavy and the ground was absolutely a bloody bog, we used to call it. Consequently they used to have to get tree trunks and things and make a platform. So we built for each of the four howitzers, we built a platform. You wanted – and of course you always had in normal battle – the gun in a pit, but at Ypres you very often couldn’t do that because the water level was too high. So we used to make a sandbag, or double sandbag, wall around them, round the edges of the gun pit and hope that we didn’t get too near or close a round.
It was at Passchendaele on the 2nd September that Michael Bergin was awarded the Military Medal for Gallantry at Philosophe.
The War Diary of the 60th Siege Battery states that “Between 7.30 & 8.30am the enemy ranged on our position and settled down to knock us out with an 8 inch. A direct hit on the emplacement brought in the splinter proof roof and started a fire. Sgt McDowell, Gnr Bridgewater and Gnr Bergin assisted in extinguishing it in face of danger from shell and from cartridges in the recess or the emplacement”
All three received the MM.
Michael survived the war returning to Kilkenny in 1919.
William Bonnar was born in Belfast Co. Antrim. He joined the army in Belfast and was posted to the 1/5th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.
In July 1918 the 1/5th were fighting alongside the French near Chalons in the final battles of the war. At 0800hrs on the 21st July, the 5th Seaforth Highlanders and the 6th Gordon’s advanced into the Bois de Coutron which was strongly held by the enemy. An advance of 400yards was achieved and the line consolidated.
At 0630hrs on the 23rd, in the open ground near Bullin Farm, with its right flank on the River, the 1/5th attacked again with the 6th Seaforth’s on their left. As they moved across the river they were met with enfilade machine gun fire, but this was overcome using the bayonet. Six machine guns were captured and their crews destroyed.
On the 23rd July, during this battle, William Bonnar, aged nineteen was killed and later buried in Marfaux Cemetery. This Cemetery had been captured by the Germans in May 1918, but was retaken after severe fighting on the day William Bonnar was killed.
On the 28th July the battalion was relieved and moved back to Bullin Farm. During the eight days of the heaviest fighting ever experienced by the 1/5th Seaforth Highlanders, the casualties had been;
OFFICERS: 7 Killed, 8 Wounded
OTHER RANKS: 67 Killed, 275 Wounded
William was one of the 67 dead soldiers listed
During this attack, two soldiers earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and on the 28th September 1918, William Bonnar was posthumously awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in the action at which he fell.
His next of kin were listed as his parents, George & Helen Bonnar, who lived at 2 Oldpark Village, Belfast.
“YE SHALL DIE LIKE MEN
AND FALL LIKE
ONE OF THE PRINCES”
Private John Greene (pictured left) was awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry during the Battle of Cambrai-St. Quentin, 27 September-9 October 1918.
John was a stretcher bearer during this action, working tirelessly with the dead and wounded. Stretcher Bearers were always called to the most dangerous places, where casualties had already taken place. They were as brave as the ordinary soldiers – if not braver, in that they were unarmed and operating in no-mans-land
The Military Medal (MM) was (until 1993) a military decoration awarded to personnel of the British Army, below commissioned rank.It was an award for gallantry and devotion to duty when under fire . The medal was established on 25 March 1916. Recipients of the Military Medal are entitled to use the post-nominal letters “MM”. On the reverse of the medal is inscribed “For Bravery in the Field”. Over 115,000 awards were made for actions during the First World War.
” It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”
H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. (1934 – ), Retired United States Army General