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


Daily Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - NEWS - KEVAN FURBANK

HE was born in Water­ford city in 1901. He died 13 years later and a thou­sand miles away in a field of mud and blood in Bel­gium. John Con­don is said to be the youngest Al­lied sol­dier killed in ac­tion in the First World War – and one of 49,500 Ir­ish­men who per­ished in the four-year con­flict.

His head­stone in Poel­cap­pelle Ceme­tery, Bel­gium, is the most vis­ited of all the memo­ri­als to those killed in WW1.

And it re­minds us the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the war should mean just as much to Ire­land as it does to Bri­tain, France, the US, Ger­many and the other par­tic­i­pants.

What is even more as­ton­ish­ing is none of the 210,000 Ir­ish­men who served with the Bri­tish forces had to do it. There was no con­scrip­tion. In­stead, they vol­un­teered for a variety of rea­sons.

WW1 re­searcher Austin Cheev­ers said: “There was a lot of poverty at the time so peo­ple joined up be­cause it was a job and they would get fed and clothed.

“There was also a tra­di­tion of Ir­ish­men fight­ing in the Bri­tish Army long be­fore the First World War.

“Some did it for glory and ad­ven­ture. Peo­ple rarely left their own vil­lage so to go to Europe was a big plus.

“Some saw the big­ger pic­ture, that Ger­many was a threat to the whole of Europe. And oth­ers did it for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. John Red­mond be­lieved if a lot of na­tion­al­ists fought for Bri­tain they would ad­vance the cause for Home Rule.”

It was prob­a­bly for glory and ad­ven­ture John signed up. He had two broth­ers and two sis­ters and all the males were em­ployed. He him­self had a job at Sul­li­van’s Bot­tling Stores in the city.

Wil­liam “Sonny” Con­don, whose fa­ther was a cousin and friend of John, said: “He al­ways wanted to be a sol­dier.

“He used to play hurl­ing and use the hurl as a ri­fle and he said when he was old enough, he’d be­come a sol­dier.”

So on Oc­to­ber 24, 1913, he turned up at the re­cruit­ing of­fice for the Royal Ir­ish Reg­i­ment, took the oath and signed up for six years. He gave his age as 18.

Leg­end claims he was ac­tu­ally five years younger and his med­i­cal form, com­pleted at the time, shows he was av­er­age height for a 13-year-old – about 5ft 3ins. At 8st 4lbs, he was only slightly heav­ier.

John joined a re­serve bat­tal­ion of part-time sol­diers who could be called up full­time in the event of war.

His train­ing lasted four months and he re­turned home at the end of Fe­bru­ary 1914. More in­struc­tion fol­lowed in

April and May be­fore he was again re­leased. Then on July 28, war broke out. John was called up just 10 days later and in March 1915, he left Ire­land for the first time in his life, never to re­turn.

He was posted to the Western Front where his bat­tal­ion fought in the Sec­ond Bat­tle of Ypres – a se­ries of en­gage­ments be­tween April 22 and May 25 to con­trol the Flem­ish town.

It was the first time the Ger­mans made ex­ten­sive use of poi­son gas, chlo­rine fumes de­signed to force en­e­mies out of the trenches.

The chem­i­cal re­acts with mois­ture in the eyes and lungs to form burn­ing hy­drochlo­ric and hypochlor­ous acids, which eat away at the skin. It blinded and even killed

He used to use his hurl as a ri­fle.. he said when he was old enough he’d be­come a sol­dier WIL­LIAM CON­DON SON OF JOHN CON­DON’S COUSIN AND FRIEND

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


“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.

RE­SEARCH Austin Cheev­ers

TRIBUTE Ron­nie Ar­mour

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