Historical mystery

The house where I grew up in Belfast was built around 1930 (the post box on the corner was marked “EVIIIR” which ties it down to a particular eleven-month period in 1936). The gates were falling apart with rust when we were children in the 1970s, but a little name plate attached to them indicated that some previous owner had wanted the house, otherwise an unexceptional suburban semi-detached, to be known not merely as “215 Upper Lisburn Road” but as “Le Sars”. My parents’ French dictionaries offered no clue as to what “sars” might be (this was long before it became an infectious epidemic) and it remained one of those minor puzzles from childhood that one is left with.

Thanks to the glories of the internet, however, I now know that Le Sars is a small French village which was on the front line during the Battle of the Somme during the first world war, and was captured by the British in the first week of October 1916 in the Battle of Le Transloy. An Irish soldier, Henry Kelly, won the Victoria Cross during that battle, and I wondered if perhaps he might have settled in Finaghy after leaving the army; but it’s pretty clear from the information on-line that he spent most of his life in Manchester (though spent time fighting against Franco during the Spanish Civil War), so it probably wasn’t him. Indeed as far as I can tell from skimming the on-line sources, most of the British troops involved in the capture of Le Sars seem to have been from the North of England.

Of course, that wouldn’t prevent a veteran of the Great War from settling in south Belfast a few years later; it’s also entirely possible that my skimming of the internet has not given me a completely accurate picture of the make-up of the forces. When I have a chance, I’ll have to go and check the Belfast street directories and find out who was the first person to live in the house when it was built, and then see if I can track down their war record. Of course, Le Sars itself is only two hours’ drive from here; but battles are rarely commemorated in much detail on the site where they actually took place.

It all reminds me of the vivid first world war scenes in Robertson Davies’ fantastic novel Fifth Business (the first book in his superb Deptford Trilogy). Horrendous, but an inescapable part of modern history.

One thought on “Historical mystery

  1. Lovely read and great analysis. I think Tom Baker’s Doctor has had an enormous effect in the lives and outlook of the generation that watched him.

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