2015-09-06 14.37.38

Dulce et Decorum est

One year ago, on 6th September 2015, my parents and I visited the Thiepval Memorial in the Somme. The memorial bears the names of 72,244 men from the UK and South African forces who died in the Somme and have no known grave.

Thiepval Memorial 2015

Thiepval Memorial 2015

Thiepval Memorial 4D

Thiepval Memorial 4D

One of the name recorded was that of Sergeant Joseph Porter, 7th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 16th Irish Division who died on his 21st birthday on 6th September 1916.

Sgt. Joseph Porter's name recorded on panel 4D.

Sgt. Joseph Porter’s name recorded on panel 4D.

Joseph Porter was born on 6th September 1895 in Aghintain, County Tyrone and according to church records was baptised 49 days later on 25th October in Aughentain Presbyterian Church. His parents Samuel Porter and Isabella Porter (nee Keys) were married on 9th August 1894 at St. Margaret’s Church of Ireland, Clabby. Joseph was the youngest of five siblings that we know about and his father Samuel died on 7th February 1899 7 months before Joseph’s fourth birthday. His mother and siblings moved to the Cromac area of Belfast sometime between the 1901 and 1911 census as the 1901 records their residence in Tyrone whilst the 1911 census records their address as 9 Wansbeck Street, Belfast.

It is not known when Joseph enlisted, what company he was in or indeed any significant details his service in the army. We do know from the regiment’s war diary that they were close to a village called Guillemont and Leuze Wood on the day he died, 6th September 1916.

7th Battalion Inniskilling Fusiliers War Diary for 1st-6th September 2016

7th Battalion Inniskilling Fusiliers War Diary for 1st-6th September 2016

7th Battalion Inniskilling Fusiliers War Diary for 6th-9th September 2016

7th Battalion Inniskilling Fusiliers War Diary for 6th-9th September 2016

We took some time on our trip to visit the area and took some photographs:

Leuze Wood, Guillemont (2015)

Leuze Wood, Guillemont (2015)

16th Irish Division Memorial, Guillemont

16th Irish Division Memorial, Guillemont

The 16th Irish Division are also remembered at other locations in France and Belgium.

Island of Ireland Peace Park, Belgium

Island of Ireland Peace Park, Belgium

Ulster Tower, Thiepval

Ulster Tower, Thiepval

Joseph’s left all of his property to his sister Mary ‘May’ Porter.

Joseph Porter's Will (1 of 3)

Joseph Porter’s Will (1 of 3)

Joseph Porter's Will (2 of 3)

Joseph Porter’s Will (2 of 3)

It is interesting to note a discrepancy in the family’s Belfast address listed here in the will as 5 Wansbeck Street whereas the 1911 census recorded it as number 9.

Joseph Porter's Will (3 of 3)

Joseph Porter’s Will (3 of 3)

May Porter went on to marry Christopher Gardiner just 4 months later at St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast on 8th January 1917. They had 4 sons (James, Christoper, Robert and Alex) and 2 daughters (Elizabeth and Mary). Elizabeth was my paternal grandmother making Joseph my great-great Uncle.

I never knew Joseph Porter yet the sacrifice that was made 100 years by all those who fought in the ‘Great’ War is hard to comprehend. I can only say that I am thankful that they did what they did – I’m not sure I would have had their courage to do the same. I am reminded of the final lines of Wilfred Owen’s well known war poem:

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

A liar and a gentleman

Extract taken from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

“Far deeper objections may be felt—and have been expressed— against my use of the word Christian to mean one who accepts the common doctrines of Christianity. People ask: “Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?” or “May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?” Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every amiable quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it. I will try to make this clear by the history of another, and very much less important, word.

The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone “a gentleman” you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said—so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully—”Ah, but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?”

They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man “a gentleman” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “a gentleman” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object. (A “nice” meal only means a meal the speaker likes.)

A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.

Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say “deepening,” the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge.

It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to be a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.

We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to “the disciples,” to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles. There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have. There is no question of its being extended to those who in some refined, spiritual, inward fashion were “far closer to the spirit of Christ” than the less satisfactory of the disciples. The point is not a theological, or moral one. It is only a question of using words so that we can all understand what is being said. When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian.”