He was the youngest Al­lied sol­dier to die in the war and he joined up vol­un­tar­ily... there was no con­scrip­tion

Irish Daily Mirror - - STATESIDE -

within min­utes. John fought in the last of the six bat­tles, at Belle­waerde, six kilo­me­tres from Ypres.

In the early hours of May 24, 1915, the Ger­mans re­leased a gas at­tack that took the Al­lies by sur­prise.

Troops had just enough time to get res­pi­ra­tors on be­fore the deadly green cloud swept over them, al­though these poorly-made de­vices were barely ef­fec­tive. Many of the ranks were over­come.

The Ger­mans took a nearby farm and blasted the trenches with hand grenades. The Al­lied troops fought for two days but were even­tu­ally forced to re­treat.

By the end of the last en­gage­ment John was dead – killed in the gas at­tack. His fam­ily didn’t even know he was in Bel­gium un­til they were con­tacted by the Bri­tish Army and told he was miss­ing in ac­tion. It was an­other 10 years be­fore his body was dis­cov­ered by a farmer and he was given a proper burial in what is now a huge war ceme­tery.

In 1922 John was posthu­mously awarded the Bri­tish War Medal, the Vic­tory Medal and the 1914-15 Star.

Two years later his fa­ther was sent a piece of his son’s boot – the only link his fam­ily in Wa­ter­ford had with the brave young lad buried in a for­eign field.

For the Ir­ish­men who made it through the war, their re­turn home was bit­ter­sweet.

They thought they would come back as heroes but in­stead had to hide their medals as anti-bri­tish sen­ti­ment soared fol­low­ing the Easter Ris­ing ex­e­cu­tions.

But many were se­cretly proud of their ser­vice – not who they were fight­ing for but what they fought against.

Austin, a guide at the Somme Cen­tre in New­tow­nards, Co Down, said: “Martin Doyle fought for the Bri­tish Army and was awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross.

“Af­ter the war he joined the IRA and fought for in­de­pen­dence. But when he was close to death he asked to be buried in his Bri­tish uni­form in Grange­gor­man Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery.

“The IRA didn’t like it but what could they do? It was his dy­ing wish.” One hun­dred years af­ter the end of WW1, Ire­land ap­pears to have come to terms with its role in the con­flict.

Austin added: “Lots of places are recog­nis­ing the sac­ri­fices made and have put up memo­ri­als to the lo­cal men who fought and died in the war.

“The Dublin Fusiliers have a mu­seum where you can learn the his­tory of that reg­i­ment’s role. Things are chang­ing.”

So now young John Con­don can rest in peace, know­ing he is as much of a hero as any of the brave men ly­ing along­side him in that for­eign field.

AD­VEN­TURE John Con­don may have signed up at 13

MEM­O­RIESWil­liam “Sonny” Con­don in Wa­ter­ford

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