James Somers VC (1884 - 1918):
James Somers was one of an impressive number of Ulster military personnel to win the highest award for bravery (or “valour”) in the United Kingdom Armed Forces, the Victoria Cross or VC, with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
He was the son of Robert and Charlotte Somers, born in Church Street, Belturbet, County Cavan. His father was Sexton of the Belturbet Church of Ireland and after several location moves, the family finally settled in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary about 1912.
James Somers’s first army regiment was the Royal Munster Fusiliers which he joined in 1913 but the following year he joined the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. When World War One broke out, he served in France and Belgium and was wounded at the battle of Le Gheer on 21 October 1914. After recovering from his wounds at home, he joined the expeditionary force bound for Gallipoli.
Thus, in early 1915 James Somers sailed for Cairo, Egypt and by April he had arrived in Gallipoli, Turkey. In the following excerpt from a letter to his father in Ireland, Somers wrote of his notable action:
I beat the Turks out of our trench singlehanded and had four awful hours at night. The Turks swarmed in from all roads, and I gave them a rough time of it, still holding the trench.
The letter home referred to the night of July 1-2 1915.
In fact, Sergeant James Somers held out alone in a forward sap throughout the night after the men who were supposed to hold it withdrew. As dawn approached, reinforcements brought up a supply of grenades. Using these, Somers led an attack against the Turkish positions and captured a section of their trench. This position was held throughout the day, with Somers making trips back to the rear to obtain fresh supplies of ammunition and water.
His Victoria Cross citation was published in the London Gazette on 1 September 1915, stating the following:
For the most conspicuous bravery on the night of 1-2 July 1915, in the southern zone of the Gallipoli Peninsula, Sergeant James Somers by his great gallantry and coolness, was largely instrumental in effecting the recapture of a portion of our trench which had been lost.
Due to his wounds, he was evacuated to Cairo and when fit enough returned to England; on 29 September 1915, he arrived home to Cloughjordan, County Tipperary to a hero’s welcome, led by the Lord Lieutenant for the county, Lord Dunalley as Somers was the first recipient of the VC from Tipperary. Later he was given another hero’s welcome, this time in Londonderry, where he and the Mayor drove through the city in an open coach. His Victoria Cross was presented to him at Buckingham Palace on 14 October 1915.
He returned to the front and joined the 7th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, taking part in the attack at Beaumont Hamel on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916. His lungs were damaged in a chlorine gas attack from which he never recovered. After a short time with the Royal Army Service Corps, he was discharged from the Army on medical grounds. He died at his home at Cloughjordan and is buried in St. Kieran’s Church of Ireland graveyard. He is commemorated in Modreeny Church of Ireland parish church, County Tipperary, and notably by one of the Ulster History Circle’s prestigious Blue Plaques in his original home town of Belturbet.
|Born:||12 June 1884|
|Died:||7 May 1918|
Additional research: Richard Froggatt
De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour 1914-1918; “For Valour”: Ulster VCs of the Great War, Ulster-Scots Community Network, ulster-scots.com; Richard Doherty & David Truesdale: Irish Winners of the Victoria Cross (Dublin, 2000).
© 2018 Ulster History Circle