Ir­ish­men in the Great War – Re­ports from the Front 1915

By Tom Bur­nell

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - THE GUIDE -

(Pen and Sword, 240 pages, £19.99) With this year’s cen­te­nary of the Dublin Ris­ing – which led ul­ti­mately to Ir­ish in­de­pen­dence – soon upon us, it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing the 200,000 Ir­ish­men who fought for King and Em­pire on all fronts dur­ing the First World War. Con­scrip­tion was never in­tro­duced in Ire­land, so ev­ery man who fought was a vol­un­teer.

His­to­rian and au­thor Tom Bur­nell has spent seven years trawl­ing Ir­ish ar­chives and presents 150 fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries from 26 Ir­ish re­gional news­pa­pers, cov­er­ing many aspects of the war as seen by Ir­ish troops. There was lit­tle or no lo­cal press cen­sor­ship so some of the sto­ries de­scribe quite graphic ac­counts of the fight­ing and life in the trenches. An Ir­ish Guards­man isi quite can­did that: “Out of 1,100 men we on nly had 464 left at the roll call.” Else­wher re, an of­fi­cer de­scribes in hor­ri­ble de­tail the ef­fects of gas on its vic­tims and an Iris sh priest, serv­ing with the Aus­tralians, leads a charge when all of the other of­fi­cers have been in­jured.

In an­other telling ac­count, a sol­die er writes: “It is the worst war since the cre­ation­reation of mankind.” There’s even a ghost story of a spec­tral nun vis­it­ing an Ir­ish of­fi­cer in Flan­ders and telling him the war would not end “so long as the in­hab­i­tants of Europe re­mained in a cal­lous state”. The book clearly il­lus­trates the value of nnews­pa­pers as a source of in­for­ma­tion oon per­sonal aspects of the war.

The war of 1915 has been de­scribed ass “the loss of in­no­cence” but, in spite of eveery­thing, some re­mained in­cur­ably con­n­fi­dent af­ter 12 months of con­flict. Writ­ting from Gal­lipoli at the end of 1915, Sapp­per Locke said: “We here are very op­ti­m­mistic re­gard­ing the war, and hope to be home ffor the sum­mer.” It would be in­ter­estin­ter­est­ing to see how opin­ions changed af­ter 1916 and as the war dragged on.

Phil To­maselli is a mil­i­tary fam­ily his­tory ex­pert

The 1st Bat­tal­ion Royal Mun­ster Fusiliers in Coven­try, 1915

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