Left: Lt Thomas Greenwood Haughton.
Photograph courtesy of Our Heroes, South Dublin Libraries & D Power.
Haughton got a commission and went to the war with the 12th Royal Irish
Rifles, landing in France in late 1915 with the 36th Ulster Division.
Many Cullybackey men, former UVF or merely employees of the family, went
with him, some influenced by a patriotic call to arms that he had made
on the factory premises in 1914. Hugh was one of them and he had
apparently ‘signed up’ with his father’s approval in the recruiting
office in Ballymena. Two days thereafter he clambered aboard a train
crowded with ‘would be’ soldiers at Cullybackey Railway Station and made
his way via Belfast to Clandeboye Camp, Bangor.
Hugh, fit and tough, nevertheless found camp life difficult and does not appear to have enjoyed training. He apparently returned to his family on leave at one point to try and dissuade, albeit without success, his brother Jack (John) from enlisting. The Ballymena Observer, August 24, 1917, says Jack joined ‘the army in October 1917’ and that he was ‘admitted to hospital suffering from wounds’ in 1918. His wounds were slight and he recovered, though without one of his thumbs. Jack had trained as a gardener at Craigdun Castle, though he was possibly working as a postman immediately prior to his enlistment.
Rifleman Hugh Johnston went to England, completed his training, and then went onward via Folkestone and Boulogne to the war zone in ‘France and Flanders’ with the rest of the 36th Division in October 1915. He was in the area around the Somme and was part of the build up of troops, men of the 1914 ‘rush to the colours’, volunteers to a man, who would be thrown into battle for the first time in 1916.
The synoptic chart for 1st July 1916 at 0700, just 30 minutes before the first allied soldiers went 'over the top', shows a ridge of high pressure over Europe bringing warm temperatures, south westerly winds and generally good weather. The glorious weather and the prospect of victory must have encouraged the men as they waited. They knew that during the previous week, 250,000 Allied shells had pulverized German positions near the Somme in an unparalleled barrage. At 7:30 a.m., ‘Zero Hour’, 100,000 British soldiers flowed out of their trenches and into 'no-man’s-land', expecting to find the advance a ‘walk over’. However, German machine guns, stored safely in deep bunkers, had survived the artillery onslaught, and the infantry were mown down. At day’s end, about 20,000 British soldiers were dead and 40,000 wounded. It was the single heaviest day of losses in British military history.