A major exhibition paying tribute to Orangemen and women who served during the First World War has opened in Belfast.

‘Service and Sacrifice’ at the Museum of Orange Heritage marks the centenary of Armistice this year and chronicles the remarkable personal stories of individuals associated with the Loyal Institutions who enlisted for King and country.

A number of significant items relating specifically to Orangemen who served with the 36th Ulster Division and other regiments from the period feature in the exhibition, as well as a number of battlefield incidentals and other artefacts.

Among the exhibits is a replica of a Royal Naval Armoured Car – ‘The Ulster’ – which was deployed on the Western Front in 1915. The display also features a walk-through imitation World War One trench.

The exhibition was officially opened by David Wilsdon, whose great-uncle – David Russell – fought with the Royal Naval Division in Russia during the Great War.

It is estimated 200,000 Orangemen and women from across the world served during the First World War, with thousands seeing action at the Somme and other seminal battles. At least five Orangemen were awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry, including Robert Hill Hanna from Kilkeel. Many others like Benvarden Orangeman, John Meeke, were also hailed for their outstanding bravery on the front line.

Many Orangewomen enlisted with medical and nursing units, including Jean Victor Bates, who served with the Ambulance Corps, and was recognised for her service by both the Belgian and Serbian governments.

Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Harold Henning, said the Institution was “honoured” to showcase such an exhibition, the only one of its kind marking the centenary of the Armistice.

He said: “The involvement of Orangeism across the globe to the First World War effort cannot be overstated. The selfless service and sacrifice of Orangemen and women was truly incredible; their bravery and heroism shining brightly in the darkest theatres of battle. As we mark the centenary year of the Armistice, it is right and appropriate we remember our former members locally, and right across the Commonwealth, who volunteered for the greater good.

“Indeed, their service prompted Sir Edward Carson to say on the Twelfth of July 1918: ‘I believe that throughout the whole of this war wherever Orangemen have been found they have been in the forefront of duty, ever willing to give a hand to bring about a successful conclusion to the war’”

He added: “This exhibition is an educational and historical asset regarding the Great War and the Orange contribution to it, as well as a fitting tribute to all of those who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy today.”

Curator of the Museum of Orange Heritage, Dr Jonathan Mattison, said: “Through this exhibition we wanted to explore the more unusual stories about Orange participation in the First World War. In this centenary year of the 1918 Armistice we wanted to demonstrate that Orangemen and women served in a variety of roles and theatres of the war. We are indebted to families across Northern Ireland, and elsewhere, who provided us with information and artefacts relating to the service of their loved ones, not only on the Western Front but as far away as Russia and Africa.

“This exhibition is the flagship endeavour as part of a series of events being held by the Orange Institution to mark the ending of the First World War. We hope it will encourage others to share their stories about participation during that awful conflict.”

‘Service and Sacrifice’ runs at the Museum of Orange Heritage, Cregagh Road, Belfast until 15 December 2018. Opening hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm. For group bookings, please contact 028 9070 1122.

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