Today Britain remembers the Battle of the Somme, one of the defining events of World War One. In this special feature, exactly one hundred years on from the first day of the battle, Clarets’ Historian Ray Simpson tells the story of former Burnley footballer Bernard Donaghey. He was a soldier, one among many, who fought in the battle, a soldier, one among many, who never came home.
At 7.30am on Saturday 1 July 1916 Private Bernard Donaghey of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers obeyed the whistle of his Commanding Officer to climb from his trench on the British front line and prepare for battle.
Along with his comrades he began to advance towards the German front line which stretched along a fifteen mile stretch of northern France, by the River Somme. It was part of the 500 mile long Western Front which extended from the Channel coast near Dunkirk, south to the Swiss border.
Preparations for the battle had begun a week earlier with a heavy bombardment of the German lines. Almost two million shells had been fired and it was anticipated that such a pounding would render the German defences weak and ripe for an attack, as well as destroying acres of barbed wire.
However there had been a catastrophic miscalculation, the enemy had sunk deep bunkers in which to take refuge when the attack came. When the bombardment subsided the Germans recognised that this would signal an infantry advance, climbed up from the safety of their bunkers and manned their machine guns to face the oncoming soldiers.
The British divisions had been ordered to walk slowly towards the lines, so maintaining discipline, and this allowed the German machine gunners ample time to reach their defensive positions. As the infantry continued their advance the enemy gunners started their deadly sweep and the slaughter began.
This was the very first action of the Battle of the Somme and by the end of that first day more than 19,000 British soldiers were dead and almost 36,000 were wounded, with over 2,000 men missing. It remains the greatest loss of life on a single day in British military history.
The body of Bernard Donaghey was never found.
Bernard Donaghey, known to his family and friends as Barney, was born in Londonderry in December 1882 and played his early football in Ireland as an inside forward with Derry Celtic and Belfast Celtic.
He was just nineteen years old when, in February 1902, he was selected to represent the Irish Football League against the Scottish League at Dens Park, Dundee, a 2-0 defeat for the Irish.
In August that year he was chosen for Ireland’s full international side against Scotland for a special match in aid of the Ibrox Disaster Fund. This fund was set up after the tragedy at Ibrox Park in April 1902, when 25 fans were killed and more than 500 injured following the collapse of a stand at an international fixture.
The match took place at the Balmoral Showground in Belfast and resulted in a 3-0 win for the Scots. It was Barney Donaghey’s only full international appearance for his country, and strangely, it was only in the year 2000 that FIFA actually recognised this encounter as a full international match.
Following a short spell with Glentoran, in 1904 Barney crossed the water to Scotland and joined Hibernian, spending the 1904-05 season at Easter Road.
He returned to Ireland to play again for Derry Celtic and won his third representative honour when he was selected for the Irish League against the Football League at Hyde Road, Manchester in October 1905. The Football League ran out 4-0 winners but Bernard Donaghey obviously impressed watching scouts, as two weeks later he was signed by Manchester United. United were then managed by Ernest Mangnall, who had been at the Turf Moor helm before moving to Manchester in 1903.
Donaghey appeared just three times for United before returning once again to Ireland the following summer, re-joining Derry Celtic for a third spell. In July 1907 he was signed by Burnley, at that time managed by Accrington-born Spen Whittaker, who had replaced Ernest Mangnall at Turf Moor.
Once again Barney found it difficult to make an impression at Football League level. When he did eventually pull on a Burnley first team shirt it was initially at inside left to replace the brilliant amateur Arthur Bell who was away playing for England in an amateur international match. Barney Donaghey kept his place, moving to inside right to accommodate the returning Bell, and made five Football League appearances altogether.
Burnley team group from 1907-08, Bernard Donaghey is third from right on the front row
He scored twice in a 4-1 win against Leicester Fosse at Turf Moor, but they were his only goals in senior English football. Sadly he was never given another chance at first team level and was released by Burnley at the end of the 1907-08 season.
He was back in Derry once again at the time of the outbreak of World War One and he enlisted in the Army, eager to do his duty for King and country.
Bernard Donaghey is remembered at the magnificent Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval, in Picardy, northern France, just a short distance from where he fell. More than 72,000 souls are commemorated here, the majority are men who perished during the carnage of the Battle of the Somme in the summer and autumn of 1916.
The memorial is dedicated to soldiers whose bodies were beyond recognition when they were found, or were never found at all.
The Thiepval Memorial was designed by the renowned British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and was inaugurated in 1932 by the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VIII, and Albert Lebrun, President of France.
Thiepval Memorial to the Missing in Northern France
At the centre of the memorial is a stone of remembrance, engraved with words first suggested by Rudyard Kipling, whose son John was killed in action in the Great War.
“Their name liveth for evermore”
Bernard Donaghey 1882 - 1916