War and Remembrance: Captain Robert Samuel Flood, Commemorations and Healing
Seeing the First World War Cemeteries of Northern France are a memory that I will never forget. In the summer of 2005, my wife Pauline and I boarded a train from Paris to Amiens city where the author Jules Verne once lived. We were in search of a grave belonging to Albert Smith, a cousin of my grandfather. Albert had served with the Canadian Forces. Later, we changed to a coach, and passed endless numbers of graveyards, some with black crosses, others with white headstones. Soon you realise, that no matter what you have read or watched on television about the ‘Great War’, nothing prepares you for the sheer scale of death on the battlefields. Many Irish were killed, including a considerable number of Cavan soldiers.
Robert Samuel Flood
Born into a farming family in 1891, Robert Samuel Flood was the son of Robert James and Maria Flood of Killycreeny, Ashfield. His siblings were John Alexander, Anna Beatrice, Henry Scott Flood, Maud, William James Lowe, Samuel Bailey, Albert Edward, and Emma Marion. His parents later moved to Millvale, Tullyvin. Robert’s paternal grandparents were John and Matilda Flood from Killycreeny, Cootehill.
Robert was educated at the Royal School, Dungannon and afterwards worked as an assistant manager at the Bessbrook Spinning Company, Armagh, which was under the management of his uncle, Robert Scott. The Dungannon War Dead database records that Robert joined the 9th Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and quickly advanced through the ranks from Private to Lieutenant. Before the outbreak of the First World War, he was a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force.
Robert Flood was awarded a Military Cross for gallantry at Ypres on August 16, 1917, and the award was publicly announced on October 18, 1917, in the London Gazette. Another newspaper later noted that Robert had earned his M.C. ‘for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of his company during an attack. He secured the objective after stubborn resistance. When compelled to retire owing to the troops on his flanks falling back, he conducted the withdrawal with great coolness, and held a position further back’.
At 9 o’clock on the morning of December 5, 1917, (acting Captain) Robert Flood breathed his last when he was tragically struck by shrapnel and wiped out on the French battlefield. His remains were interred 10km south-west of Cambrai, at Ribecourt British Cemetery, due south of the village of Ribécourt-la-Tour. I would like to acknowledge the Dungannon War Dead database for information quoted in this week’s column.
In recent times, new memorials were unveiled in County Cavan to commemorate the soldiers killed in the Great War. A memorial listing the all the County’s dead was unveiled at an event in Cavan Town in 2012, and a plaque was unveiled in Virginia in 2013, which recognised 24 men from the town who lost their lives. Cootehill opened a Peace Garden for those ‘who lost their lives in the First World War, other wars and in the service of peace for the United Nations'.
In August 2014, Cavan County Council marked the centenary with a two-day conference on ‘Ireland and the Great War – 100 years’ that was held at the Johnston Central Library and featured a lineup of historians, poets, novelists, playwrights and musicians. In the same year, I received an invitation from Sheila Courtney of the Virginia District Historical Society to give a talk titled 'The Great War– Centenary Lecture' in the picturesque surrounds of the Virginia’s local Church of Ireland.
Another fascinating development was the creation of a First World War trench experience at Cavan County Museum, which has proven a major tourist attraction over the years. Such developments are an important sign of healing and that these events can take place and encompass all traditions is always encouraging.