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This incredible WWI story of Catholic and Protestant from same street is one of many true-life stories that inspired The NCFA to approach Cregagh Community Association and Belfast City Council to consider a Peace Pitch. Twinning a designated area of play with Flanders Peace Field, site of the 1914 First World War Christmas Truces.
The incredible story of two men from the same Belfast street who fought in the First World War is to be told as part of a series of events commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. ‘Medal in the Drawer’, a production by Belfast playwright Dr Brenda Winter-Palmer, charts the real-life war journey of two volunteers – one Protestant and one Catholic – from west Belfast, who joined up to fight with the 36th Ulster Division
For Brenda, this was a labour of love inspired by her personal connection to one of the brave men depicted in the play – her great uncle, Rifleman Willie Kerr. She explained: “As a child I was always fascinated by a plaque that hung in the hallway of our Andersonstown home. It was inscribed with the name of William Kerr. “When asked, my mother told me that it was a medal that her uncle had received for fighting in the First World War. “No one in her family had talked much about him. Indeed in the 1970s in west Belfast not very many people talked freely about family connections with the BritishArmy.”
Medal in the Drawer shines a light on the fact that, in the midst of the Home Rule crisis, a time of great unrest between nationalists and unionists in Ireland, William Kerr, a west Belfast Catholic, chose to join Carson’s predominantly Unionist 36th Ulster Division, rather of one of the Irish regiments. The young man enlisted almost immediately after the outbreak of war in 1914, along with Tom Martin, a Protestant who lived two doors away at Forthriver Gardens off the Springfield Road.
The pair joined the 14th (Young Citizen Volunteer) Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles and were shipped off to the Western Front, from where neither would ever return. Tom perished in a trench collapse in the lead up to the Somme, while William was killed in 1917 at Langemarck during the Third Battle of Ypres. The play also features two entirely fictional characters, who are based upon the experiences of real people. When she took on the daunting task of writing Medal in the Drawer, Brenda conceded that she knew comparatively little about the First World War. However, she did know about her ‘Uncle Willie’, and was keen to know more.
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