Irishmen in the Great War – Reports from the Front 1915
By Tom Burnell
(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