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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Grant to secure Somme site
WWI battle graves
World War I battle graves
The government is to help the Somme Association buy a small corner of France where thousands of soldiers from Ulster regiments died in World War I.

The 400,000 offer was announced by Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy, who said it would help secure the future of Thiepval Wood from where the 36th Ulster Division charged at the start of the 1916 Somme Offensive.

More than a million soldiers from the British Empire, France and Germany were killed in the battle which took place between July and November 1916.

Speaking at memorial services in France on Tuesday, Mr Murphy said it was fitting that the future of the area had been secured on the 87th anniversary of the battle.

"The people of Northern Ireland have a strong emotional attachment to the Somme and it was important when Thiepval Wood came on the open market that the new owners would respect its historical legacy," he said.

War graves

The Somme Association's Billy Irvine said he was delighted by the news and that the group hopes to buy the wood later this year.

A threat to war graves in the area was lifted in June when the French government decided not to build a third airport for Paris in the area.

A number of soldiers from Northern Ireland are buried in the wood, which has remained virtually untouched since World War I.

Among them is Private William McFadzean who was in 109 Brigade 14th Royal Irish Rifles.

While carrying a box of grenades he dropped them and some of the pins fell out. He threw himself on top of the grenades to contain the explosion and save his fellow soldiers.

He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Also on Tuesday the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Martin Morgan, lead the annual commemoration of the battle with a wreathlaying ceremony at the city's cenotaph.

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10 Jul 02  |  Northern Ireland
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03 Nov 98  |  World War I

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