DARDANELLES HERO AT RUGBY.
GREAT RECEPTION FOR SERGT J. SOMERS, V,C.
A remarkably ovation was accorded to Sergt J Somers, V.C, of the 1st Inniskilling Fusiliers, on the occasion of his visit to the town on Thursday evening. The fact that he had won the coveted decoration for conspicuous gallantry at the Dardanelles, and that Mr and Mrs W D Burns, of 16 Corbett Street, Rugby, with whom he was billeted in the early months of the year, were expecting him to re-visit their home this week, became generally known to the inhabitants of the town, and it was only natural, seeing that the young soldier had so greatly distinguished himself since he and his comrades sojourned amongst us, that a welcome worthy of the town and of the man should be extended to him. Definite information as to the exact time of his arrival was not received until Thursday morning, so that the arrangements were necessarily of a somewhat hurried character, and even these had to be modified, partly because of the immense crowds that thronged the thoroughfares, and partly because of the fact that Sergt Somers had to leave the same night by the Irish Mail for Belfast, where he had to report himself yesterday (Friday) afternoon. Still, if the demonstration was impromptu and spontaneous, it was none the less sincere and convincing, and the gallant soldier was evidently greatly pleased at his reception.
It was understood that Sergt Somers would arrive from London at 5.45 p.m, and Mr J J McKinnell, chairman of the Rugby Urban District Council ; Colonel Johnstone, recruiting officer at Rugby, and other prominent townsmen, agreed to meet him at the station, whilst arrangements had also been made for the Steam Shed Band to lead the way, via Railway Terrace, Craven Road, and Cross Street, to his host’s house in Corbett Street, a landau having been chartered for the conveyance of Sergt Somers and others specially interested in the reception.
Those present on the platform to welcome Sergt Somers included : Messrs J J McKinnell (chairman), W Flint (vice-chairman), S B Robbins, A W Stevenson, H Yates, W H Linnell, R W Barnsdale, C J Newman, T Ringrose (members of the U.D.C), Mr A Morson (clerk to the Council), Lieut-Colonel F Johnstone (recruiting officer), Messrs L Aviss, M E T Wratislaw, F M Burton, E H Roberts, and T W Walton (Parliamentary Recruiting Committee). These gentlemen having been introduced to the gallant soldier, they proceeded to the exit gates, where a dense crowd, numbering several thousands, had gathered, and the moment the youthful hero, wearing the small bronze cross, for which a man will risk so much, appeared beneath the arcade, the people raised cheer after cheer, which were repeated with gusto by those at the back when they caught sight of his boyish figure in the landau. Others present in the vehicle were : Lieut-Colonel Johnstone, Mr J J McKinnell, Mr Robert Wilson Somers (Tipperary, father of Sergt Somers), and Pte Wm Divine, of 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, a part of whose leg had been blown off by a shell. Ropes were attached to the landau which was drawn by a number of stalwart admirers of Sergt Somers, preceded by the Rugby Steam Shed Band under the conductorship of Mr E R Stebbing. Mr and Mrs Burns and several members of the U.D.C followed in Mr C J Newman’s motor-car. To the strains of “ See the conquering hero comes,” the procession started up Station Road, and took the selected route to Corbett Street, the home of Mr and Mrs Burns. The streets were thronged, and it is estimated that fully 10,000 people turned out to do Sergt Somers honour ; and everywhere he was greeted with enthusiastic cheers. In Craven Road the band played ” For he’s a jolly good fellow,” but as they approached Cross Street and Corbett Street, in each of which a number of flags were flying from bedroom windows, they struck up once more, “ See the conquering hero comes.” A small decorated arch had been erected outside Mrs Burns’ house, and streamers were strung across the street, and a motto over the gateway bore the inscription, “ Welcome V.C.”
A CONGRATULATORY SPEECH.
Mr McKINNELL, addressing the crowd from the landau, said : We are here to pay honour to a brave man-who has achieved the greatest distinction any Britisher could wish to achieve. To get the Victoria Cross is any man’s highest ambition. We are very glad to welcome him home safe and sound, and we hope he may wear that bronze cross for many years to come. Not only do we honour Sergt Somers, but we honour his comrades, who used to pass through our streets in the early months of this year ; and we honour particularly those brave and gallant men who have fallen on the field of battle, and who will never come back again (hear, hear).
Sergeant Somers then entered the house, where a number of friends who had known him during his stay in Rugby were assembled to welcome him, including Pte Nestor, of the same regiment, who is wounded.
Lieut-Colonel JOHNSTONE congratulated the father of Sergt Somers upon having such a brave son.
Mr S ROBBINS said Mrs Burns was anxious to give Sergt Somers a small memento of the occasion, so she persuaded a few friends to spare a little in order to make a present to him to remind him of his stay in Rugby.
Mrs BURNS then said, on behalf of the friends whom Sergt Somers made during his stay in Rugby, she had great pleasure in presenting him with a wrist watch. They all hoped that he would be spared for many years to serve his King and Country (applause).
Sergt SOMERS, in reply, thanked them very much for their kindness and the splendid “turnout” they had given him that evening. He was rather surprised to see such large crowds out. He wished especially to thank Mrs Burns for her kindness to him, and all who had made him that present, (hear, hear).
A telegram was handed to Sergt Somers by Mr N Mitchelson, a neighbour, who had received it from Sergt Mudd, of the same regiment. This expressed heartiest congratulations and best wishes on behalf of all the Good Templars of the regimental lodges.
HOW THE V.C. WAS WON.
Sergt Somers received the V.C at the hands of His Majesty at Buckingham Palace earlier the same day. There were 32 others who received decorations. They were officers chiefly, and his was the only V.C. amongst them. He arrived rather earlier than had been anticipated, and, in a brief interview, explained to a Rugby Advertiser representative the circumstances in which the decoration was won at the Dardanelles.
“ I shot thirty Turks single-handed,” he said, “and knocked over fifty more with bombs. I held the trench, which was full of Turks, for four hours, and hunted the enemy out of the sap trench. When I had no bombs left I threw stones and pieces of clay at them. Eventually Captain Sullivan came up and brought some more bombs, and for this he got the V.C, so you can tell what it was like.”
Sergt Somers was struck by a splinter, which knocked him into the trench and strained his back, and it was in consequence of this injury that he was invalided home. He has been in the army 3 1/2 years, and is only 21 years of age. He is a native of Clochgordon, in Tipperary, and had a wonderful reception on his return home, where he was also presented with a gift of £250. At Londonderry, too, the inhabitants turned out in thousands to greet him, but, in spite of his popularity he is modest and unassuming, and accepts the honours conferred with a quiet, good-natured smile.
SERGT SOMERS APPEALS FOR RECRUITS.
Later in the evening a large recruiting rally was held at the Clock Tower, and addressed by Sergt Somers, V.C, and other local speakers. Sergt Somers and his friends were driven from Corbett Street to the meeting-place in a landau, decorated with flags, preceded by the Steam Shed Band, and when this arrived at the Clock Tower, where a crowd of 3,000 or 4,000 was assembled, the young soldier was greeted with roll upon roll of cheering. Flags were flown from several houses around the Square. Mr J J McKinnell presided, and there were also present on the temporary platform. Lieut-Col Johnstone, Rev C M Blagden (rector), Lieut Loverock, Mr R W Somers, Mr and Mrs Burns, Messrs M E T Wratislaw, H Yates, S B Robbins, A Bell, F M Burton, G H Roberts, and several friends of Sergt Somers.
The CHAIRMAN briefly explained the purpose of the meeting, and introduced the hero of the evening to the crowd.
COL JOHNSTONE’S APPEAL.
Lieut-Col JOHNSTONE then made a strong appeal for recruits, and pointed out that we were at present fighting in France, Dardanelles, Egypt, Africa, and Persia. Their hands were full, and that was why they wanted more men—and wanted them badly. He urged them to come forward and keep the flag flying-that dear old flag which had never once been hauled down to any nation ; they must not let it now be hauled down to the Germans (applause). He asked them to come forward and do their duty like the brave young soldier, Sergt Somers, had done his (applause), by which he had set such a glorious example to the young men. Col Johnstone remarked that in his early days he was connected with the gallant regiment to which Sergt Somers belonged, and his father once commanded it. It was, therefore, a great interest and honour for him to be the one to more or less introduce Sergt Somers as a soldier to Rugby people after the brave act he had done. Col Johnstone then detailed the great act for which Sergt Somers received the V.C, and said there were 3,800[?] men of military age in Rugby, a number of whom were engaged on munition work. After deducting these, however, there were over 1,000 in the town who could, and should, come forward to defend their country. In conclusion, he appealed to the young men of the town to visit the recruiting office, and called for three hearty cheers for Sergt Somers, V.C.
These were given with enthusiast.
SPEECH BY THE RECTOR OF RUGBY.
The Rev C M BLAGDEN addressed the gathering, and said he believed all would answer the call of their country when they understood how great the need was. Their responsibilities became greater every day. Unless they had the men they could not possibly go on with the war as they ought to go on with it. They had better say their number was up already. But it was not going to be up ; they were going to respond to the need, and were going to give to the Army all the men it wanted, because, if they did not, there was an end of Britain for ever. They must not suppose that they would be able to get out of this war with any sort of comfort now that they were in it. If they did not win they were going to be beaten all through. However, they had got to win, and win handsomely, so that they would be able to dictate terms of peace. But in order to do that and win the right sort of victory to free their country and the other countries near and dear to them from this standing menace, of Prussia they must have all the men who were capable of shouldering a rifle. Sergt Somers had proved to them what British troops could do, and there was no man who took service in his Majesty’s Army who would not have the opportunity of proving his manhood before the world.
The Rector then alluded to the number of men who had gone from Rugby—some never to return—and said if they did not get the men they would not go forward on the path of triumph which assuredly laid open before them if they got the Armies for the purpose. He urged them to come how, and not wait. Delay was always dangerous ; it would be fatal to the honour of their country now (applause).
SERGT SOMERS’ MANLY APPEAL.
Sergt SOMERS, V.C, who met with an enthusiastic reception, said : “ I got rather a surprise when I arrived at Rugby and saw so many young men knocking about-thousands of them. ‘What are you doing ? ’ he demanded. ‘ Are you all asleep ? ’ I have been out to the front twice. I have been to France, Flanders, and the Dardanelles, and am nothing the worse for it. I have got honour, in fact (applause), and I will go out again (renewed applause). I am going to keep the Union Jack flying (applause). Is there anyone coming to help me ? If I am left all alone who is going to back me up ? I have been to London to-day to see his Majesty the King (applause), who presented me with this decoration (here Sergt Somers, amid loud cheers, pointed to the Cross pinned on his breast). I have come down from London to Rugby to see if I can get any young men to back me up. I am going to the front again, and I want someone to back me up (a voice : ‘Have the women,’ and laughter). Unfortunately I am going away to-night. I am going off to Belfast to see what I can do there. ? I am going to see if I can get any recruits there, to see if they will back me up. If no one backs me up here I must go there. There are a lot of you young men working at munition works, and the old men are sitting at home. Why don’t the old men work on munitions and the young men join the colours ? (applause). I know that when young men are asked to enlist they make the excuse that they are working on munitions. I have been told it myself (a voice : ‘Let the women do it,’ Sergt Somers : Hear, hear). We also want the men who are doing nothing, walking about the streets from corner to corner, and lounging about the public-houses. ‘ Is there anyone,’ he asked, ‘ who will back me up ? . Is there anyone in favour of me, anyone coming with me ? ’ I say, ‘ Young men of Rugby, for God’s sake get into khaki if you have a drop of blood in your body. For the honour of your King and country join the Army.’ The gallant speaker mentioned that he saw the Zeppelins dropping bombs in London the previous evening, and that day had seen the damage which was done.
Mr H YATES (secretary of the Rugby Trades and Labour Council) also addressed the meeting, and said he was an out-and-out advocate of the voluntary system ; but if the voluntary system did not find the men he was out for national service and for every man who was physically able to serve (applause). He reminded them that if the Labour party’s scheme failed the only alternative was conscription. He did not want conscription ; he wanted them to win the war with the grand voluntary system, but the war must be won (applause). The call now was for more, and more men.
Mr G H ROBERTS and Mr M E T WRATISLAW having spoken, the meeting terminated with “ God save the King ” and “ For he’s a Jolly good fellow ” ; and as Sergt Somers and his friends drove off to the station the band played “ See the conquering hero comes.”
RECRUITING AT RUGBY.
The following have been attested at the Rugby Drill Hall during the past week 😀 W Press and L C Kendrick, A.S.C (M.T) ; H J Askew, R.E ; D W Bates and S G Eliott, A.S.C ; L E Webb, 220th Company R.E ; A C Dandridge, F J Harrison (gunner), and J Johnson, R.F.A ; H Turney and A Adams, R.A.M.C.—All branches of the service are now open for recruits, and Sergt Patterson, at the Drill Hall, will be pleased to give many information to intending recruits.
So far the result of the great recruiting rally at the Clock Tower on Thursday evening has been nil, but hopes are expressed that when the eligible men have thought the matter over and allowed the stirring appeal of Sergt Somers and the other speakers to sink into their minds, recruiting locally will receive a marked impulse.