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