One Ir­ish vil­lage sent most of its men to the bat­tle­fields in the Great War

As the world marks the centenary of the Ar­mistice to­day, one Ir­ish vil­lage stands out, writes Alan O’Keeffe

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - News -

ONE Ir­ish vil­lage has a dis­tinc­tion to­day as the centenary of the end­ing of World War I is marked with pub­lic re­mem­brance cer­e­monies.

Rath­new once had the ti­tles of ‘the Bravest Vil­lage’ and ‘the Khaki Vil­lage’.

More men from the Co Wick­low vil­lage re­port­edly joined up to fight in the war dur­ing a con­sid­er­able pe­riod than any other place in Ire­land or Bri­tain or the Empire, based on pop­u­la­tion size.

“Prac­ti­cally every able-bod­ied man in the vil­lage joined up,” said John Fin­lay, chair­man of Wick­low His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety.

Out of an es­ti­mated 190 adult males in the vil­lage, 129 signed up to fight — and that ap­peared to be al­most every man of mil­i­tary age.

At least nine fa­thers from the vil­lage joined up to fight along­side their sons.

A let­ter ar­rived from Buck­ing­ham Palace at the home of Mr P Jame­son in Rath­new in Fe­bru­ary 1916 in which an official wrote that King Ge­orge V wished to ex­press con­grat­u­la­tions that six sons in the fam­ily and a son-in-law were serv­ing in the army and the King “much ap­pre­ci­ates the spirit of pa­tri­o­tism”.

There were eight lo­cal men named Jame­son in uni­form and records show a fa­ther and son both died in 1917. Michael Jame­son of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who died in Jan­uary, aged 46, was the hus­band of Ellen Jame­son. Arthur Jame­son of the Royal Field Ar­tillery, who died in May, aged 25, was the son of Ellen Jame­son.

There were 13 lo­cal sol­diers named Doyle, in­clud­ing two pairs of fa­thers and sons.

At least 12 sol­diers from Rath­new died as a re­sult of the con­flict and many are listed as hav­ing “no known grave”. A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber were wounded. Pri­vate Robert Daly died in a Ger­man pris­oner of war camp.

John Red­mond, leader of the Ir­ish Na­tion­al­ist Party, had urged all mem­bers of the Ir­ish Vol­un­teers to rep­re­sent Ire­land by join­ing the Bri­tish Army to fight for the free­dom of small na­tions like Bel­gium which had been over­run by Ger­man troops.

Urg­ing im­me­di­ate en­list­ment, he ad­dressed thou­sands of men in Wood­en­bridge, Co Wick­low, in Septem­ber 1914.

There is a mon­u­ment at Wood­en­bridge with the names of al­most 1,200 men from Co Wick­low who were killed in the war.

Rath­new’s neigh­bour­ing vil­lage of Ash­ford lost 32 men in the war.

The vil­lage of New­town­moun­tkennedy up the road also had ex­cep­tion­ally high num­bers of men who joined in the con­flict.

Rath­new res­i­dent Stan O’Reilly, sec­re­tary of the Wick­low His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, said there was wide­spread eco­nomic de­pri­va­tion in the lo­cal area and many men joined the army out of fi­nan­cial ne­ces­sity.

Their wives and fam­i­lies would re­ceive at least £1 a week while they were on the bat­tle­fields.

Thanks to the up­heaval that fol­lowed the 1916 Ris­ing, men com­ing home from the war in 1918 failed to re­ceive a heroes’ wel­come.

In 1921, an ex­plo­sive de­vice dam­aged the can­teen of the Com­rades of the Great War club in Wick­low.

In 2016, all the names of the Rath­new sol­diers were dis­played on a large Roll of Hon­our at a lo­cal ex­hi­bi­tion.

But would to­day’s young peo­ple from the lo­cal­ity be as will­ing to march away to war?

Mr O’Reilly and his wife Maeve ac­com­pa­nied the

Sun­day In­de­pen­dent to the lo­cal Youthreach ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre in nearby Wick­low town last Wed­nes­day, where a group of young peo­ple ex­pressed dif­fer­ing opin­ions about go­ing to war.

“I don’t think you would get a lot of teenage boys to fight nowa­days,” said Becky Cana­van (19) from Wick­low.

“The odd few teenagers would fight but the rest would be afraid of break­ing a nail. I don’t think many of the lads I know would be ready for it all,” she said.

She said she would be will- ing to work as a nurse in the ap­palling con­di­tions that the sol­diers en­dured in the trenches.

Dy­lan O’Sul­li­van (19), whose fa­ther came from Rath­new, said he would have been will­ing to fight in World War I, de­spite the ter­ri­ble suf­fer­ing en­dured by the troops.

“I def­i­nitely would have gone and tried to help. I would have gone if it meant I was fight­ing for Ire­land and it was pre­vent­ing wars like that from hap­pen­ing again.

“I would be will­ing to en­ter the trenches with the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing wounded or killed. I greatly ad­mire those guys in World War I,” he said.

He said he was not sure if Ire­land should join a Euro­pean army to de­fend the Europe- an Union na­tions. He would be will­ing to fight if it was a de­fen­sive war. “This is our coun­try and we are part of Europe. We should stand our ground,” he said. Stephen Bel­ton (19) said he def­i­nitely would not have joined the army in World War I, know­ing what hap­pened. “It would not have been a big enough rea­son for me to risk my life. I would not go,” the Wick­low man said. He said Ire­land should stay out of all wars and Ir­ish de­fence forces were not strong enough for a war. Nei­ther did fel­low stu­dent Ge­orge Wild (18) feel that he could agree to fight in the con­di­tions ex­pe­ri­enced in World War I. “I don’t want to be killed,” he said.

Sarah Fox (19), from nearby Ash­ford, said she would be will­ing to help the troops in a sit­u­a­tion sim­i­lar to the trenches of World War I.

“I don’t think I’d be much help fight­ing but I would go and help with nurs­ing and pre­par­ing food,” she said.

She said she was against Ire­land taking a fight­ing role in any mod­ern war.

“The Ir­ish should try to put an end to wars… Ir­ish peo­ple should go to those places and try to stop the fight­ing,” she said.

Mr O’Reilly, a pas­sion­ate lo­cal his­to­rian, said poverty and pa­tri­o­tism of­ten mo­ti­vated the lo­cal men who went to war.

There was also a lo­cal tra­di­tion of en­list­ment go­ing back to the Bat­tle of Trafal­gar in 1805.

A num­ber of lo­cal re­servists who served in the Boer War with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers were called up at the start of the war.

Lo­cal men con­tin­ued to die from the ef­fects of the war long af­ter it was over.

He said mus­tard gas at­tacks had a devastating af­fect on the lungs of sol­diers.

One ex-sol­dier, who died in Rath­new in the early 1930s, was suf­fer­ing from flu but a gas at­tack in the war had dam­aged his lungs.

He said let­ters writ­ten in the trenches sent home to Rath­new con­veyed some of the hor­ror the men en­dured.

Lo­cal man Thomas Sul­li­van, a pri­vate in the Ir­ish Guards reg­i­ment, wrote to his wife Martha in the early days of the war on Septem­ber 13, 1914.

His let­ter was pub­lished soon af­ter in the Wick­low News­let­ter and County Ad­ver­tiser. Thomas wrote: “Dear Mar- tha, we are get­ting it very hard and are in every bat­tle… There are some ter­ri­ble sights… One of the Cul­lens is shot dead — one of the three broth­ers… I hope in God this war will soon be over…

“Tell all in the quarry that I was ask­ing for them, and tell my mother that I am go­ing on well, thank God.

“With the help of God, I will be spared to see you and my child again.”

Two days later, he wrote a more graphic let­ter.

Af­ter ask­ing Martha to send cig­a­rettes and socks, he said: “This is a ter­ri­ble fight that is go­ing on at present; this is five days go­ing on with­out a stop night and day.

“I think if we win this bat­tle we will have a lot of them wiped out.

“Our reg­i­ment cap­tured a lot of guns and a lot of Ger­mans but we lost a lot of men be­fore we could get to sur­round them.

“We had to charge them with the bay­o­net or we could have been all cut up by then. We had given up all hope of our­selves, but we had some­one’s good prayer that saved us.

“We are go­ing through some cruel hardship; we have never had our boots off since we started. I hope it will soon be over.”

Thomas put two ‘x’s at the end of his let­ter “for Tottey,” adding “Tell Tottey his daddy was ask­ing for him.”

It ap­pears that Pri­vate Sul­li­van sur­vived the war.

‘This is a ter­ri­ble fight ... we had to charge with the bay­o­net’

‘At least nine fa­thers joined up to fight along­side their sons’

NEW GEN­ER­A­TION: Would to­day’s young adults sign up? Stu­dents hold­ing dif­fer­ing views are (left to right) Ge­orge Wild, Sarah Fox, Dy­lan O’Sul­li­van, Becky Cana­van and Stephen Bel­ton. Wood­en­bridge World War 1 Me­mo­rial, Co Wick­low (right) and (be­low) Royal Dublin Fusiliers

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