Remembering Thomas 1882-1916: The Somme on a personal level.
On the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WW1 1914-1918
I ‘d like to remember and honour all those who lost their lives, including countless civilians, caught up in the horror of war.
In particular I’d like to remember family members.
However, even though I’ve been researching our family for over 30 years, many still remain illusive.
Therefore I decided I would have one family member represent all those too numerous to mention individually.
Guardsman Thomas Nyhan – Ist. Battalion Irish Guards
died of wounds in France in September 1916
and is remembered with honour in the Military cemetery where he is buried at the Somme Battlefields alongside his comrades.
He came from a small rural village in what is now Southern Ireland, the second son in a family of ten children:
seven boys and two girls, one of whom was my maternal Grandmother.
Sadly there aren’t any photos of Thomas that I know of still in existence.
Only the headstone above marks his life and death.
I know he could not only read and write in both English and Irish, he was also fluent in both spoken languages.
Indeed, both his parents could read and write English and Irish as well as speak both languages fluently,
which I understand was rare in the early 19th century in rural Ireland.
The view Thomas Nyhan left behind – view from his village.
Thomas and his siblings had been educated by a governess, which was also evident when reading anything written by my Grandmother.
When she used to write to my mother’s teacher giving reasons for Mum’s absence from school,
her letters were often pinned to the board in class, by the teacher, as an example of a beautifully written letter and handwriting.
I must admit reading anything she’d written was always a joy.
If he had returned to his homeland Thomas would most likely have been laid to rest in this Parish Church eventually, where most of his family now rest.
It is built on the site of 4 previous cathedrals, even though the population of the village was barely 400 people until the 20th Century.
I visited with my mother and sister in 2008, soon after I discovered Mum still had family alive and living where Thomas and her mother had.
It was a very moving visit and sadly, since then, two of her remaining cousins have died and others are very old and frail.
As far as I can establish Thomas never married.
The Nyhan family was a close and loving family from what I am told by those relations who are still living.
Thomas’ father would play the fiddle and tin whistle for the family as they sat inside their home in the evenings.
The girls would dance with their brothers and mother and sing Irish songs which were passed down to me when I was growing up via my grandmother, Thomas’ sister.
I think of Thomas dying so far from home alongside his many comrades,
and how he must have missed his family and longed for home and to see them all again.
I think of his father, widowed by then, having not only lost his wife but two sons and a young daughter before the war began.
Like so many other families at that time their lives changed forever with the outbreak of World War 1.
I feel sad that none of them ever knew what happened to Thomas.
They could only imagine, like many thousands of other families.
I feel happy that I managed to find Thomas as a result of my research into our family history,
and to have been able to let his surviving nieces, nephews, and wider family know about him.
Although some of them have died since, those left behind – direct family and distant family – are remembering him today along with all those others who gave their lives so that we might live ours in the manner we chose.
RIP Great Uncle Thomas Nyhan, and all those family members too numerous to list here who also gave their lives.
RIP all your comrades too.
All Photos (c) Jane Risdon 2014 – All Rights Reserved