MBE for Bessbrook man who became custodian of the Ulster Memorial Tower.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

MBE for Bessbrook man who became custodian of the Ulster Memorial Tower. thumbnailTeddy and Phoebe Colligan.

A Bessbrook man has been named in the Queen's New Year's Honours list for his selfless work at the Ulster Memorial Tower in Thiepval, France.

Mr George Edward (Teddy) Colligan has received the MBE for services to the museum sector.

For 16 years Teddy and his wife Phoebe lived in the Ulster Tower where they worked to maintain the site, run a cafe and offer guided tours of the battlefields.

One year after the end of the First World War, a decision was taken to build a memorial on the site where so many men of the 36th (Ulster) Division lost their lives on the 1st and 2nd July 1916. The Ulster Memorial Tower was the first memorial built on the Western Front and is built on land given to the Government of Northern Ireland by the French in 1921.

The Tower is a replica of Helen's Tower on the Clandeboye Estate in Co. Down.

On the 19th November 1921, the Ulster Memorial Tower was dedicated at a ceremony on the site of the Somme Battle.

The dedication ceremony was carried out by Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson, who was then the Chief of the Imperial General Staff of the British Army.

Sir Henry Wilson, a famous Irish soldier born in Currygrane, County Longford, was commissioned into the Royal Irish Regiment in 1884.

From 1921 up until the early 1970's the Tower had a resident caretaker (veteran soldier) and served as a focus for pilgrimages to the Somme Battlefields. By the late 1980s however the Tower had fallen into disrepair and public access was limited.

In 1988, a cross community group known as the Farset Somme Project began to raise public awareness of the Tower and lobbied government to have the memorial refurbished. On 1st July 1989 the Tower was rededicated in the presence of HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester and The Somme Association was founded to manage the Tower and enable it to be open for visitors.

In 1994, a Visitors' Centre, adjacent to the Tower, was opened and a full-time caretaker appointed. The upper portion of the Memorial Tower provides accommodation for the Somme Association's staff.

"Phoebe and I travelled to the Ulster Tower back in 2001 with the intention of staying for just a few weeks," said Teddy.

"But we ended up staying, we lived there from the last week in February each year through to the first week in December.

Phoebe opened a cafe and I offered guided tours (we ran two tours per day except Mondays) The Somme Association also bought Thiepval Wood and rebuilt the trenches for guided tours.

"It has been tremendous to see the increase in the visitor numbers over the years. I feel a great responsibility to make sure the story of the Somme is told to future generations so the sacrifice of these soldiers is not forgotten.

"Living at the Ulster Tower gives you that sense of responsibility every day but I must say Phoebe and I thoroughly enjoyed our years in France, it was very satisfying work."

George's MBE comes just a few weeks after his daughter Carol Walker, a director at The Somme Association, received her MBE.

"Carol organised the Royal visits to Messines and to the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and Phoebe and I were able to join her at Buckingham Palace when she received her MBE." George was notified on November 20 about his MBE but was sworn to secrecy.

"It was a very proud moment but so difficult not to be able to share it with family and friends," said Teddy.

"On December 22 we always have a family gathering and this year we all went to play 10-pin bowling and then came back to our house. It was when I had the whole family gathered that I shared the good news - I also swore them to secrecy!

It was lovely to be able to share this news with my family."

Teddy was born in College Square, Bessbrook where he attended the public elementary school. In 1949 he did the 11 Plus exam and moved to Newry Grammar school. On leaving Newry Grammar Teddy moved to Belfast to follow his dad into an engineering firm. He also served as a retained firefighter for 27 years from 1961 to 1988.

"I have many great memories of growing up in Bessbrook and I am very proud to be receiving the MBE. Since the news broke I have been receiving letters and phonecalls from all over the world which has been incredible."

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council Deputy Lord Mayor said Teddy Colligan's MBE is a fitting tribute to the fantastic work he and his wife Phoebe have carried out at the Ulster Tower down through the years.

"I had the honour of visiting the Ulster Tower on a number of occasions and also the honour of meeting both Teddy and Phoebe," said Mr Nicholson.

"They have transformed the Tower in terms of growth and development and this honour from Her Majesty the Queen is richly deserved.

"I wish both Teddy and Phoebe many happy years of retirement and I know they will be missed by everyone who visits the Ulster Memorial Tower."

Meanwhile the Somme Association paid tribute to Teddy and Phoebe on their Facebook page "It is with great pride that we congratulate Teddy Colligan on being awarded an MBE in the New Year's Honours List.

Teddy has received this award for both his and his wife Phoebe's selfless service and dedication over the last 15 years at the Ulster Memorial Tower, Thiepval, France.

Everyone at the Somme Association is extremely proud of this achievement. Well done."


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