Lar Joye of the National Museum of Ireland brings to life the experience of Irish soldiers during the First World War, placing particular emphasis on the Gallipoli campaign of 1915.
Lar Joye is curator of Irish Military History at the National Museum of Ireland. He recently gave a talk, as part of the National Army Museum’s Lunchtime Lectures series, examining the experience of Irish soldiers during the First World War.
In this lecture he pays particular attention to Gallipoli, a campaign largely remembered for the contribution of Anzac (Australian and New Zealand) troops, during which as many Irish soldiers died as New Zealanders.
We’re going to look at the outbreak of war and what was happening in Ireland in 1914.
Then we’re going to look at the Irish soldier in the British Army, which is a story, of course, in Ireland that has largely been forgotten. But in the last 20 years there’s been huge efforts to change that. And, since about half of our population are under 25, it’s a story they’ve grown up with. My own generation would not have learnt about it in school, but it has been quite a contentious story up to the 1990s.
Then we’re going to look at Irish soldiers in other armies, because it’s not just the British Army. The Irish served in the Canadian Army in large numbers and the Australian Army, and also later on in 1917 in the American Army. And there’s new research on that coming out every year. It’s a new and exciting area of research for PhDs.
And then we’re going to look at commemorating World War One in Ireland, and some of the issues that have occurred over the last couple of years, and more importantly what we’re actually doing now for the period 1912-22. We call it the Decade of Commemorations in Ireland. Due to our history, with the 1916 Rising, War of Independence, and our civil war and World War One, there is almost an anniversary every single day for ten years in Ireland… which is good for me because it means I have a job for ten years.
So, this is a recruiting map for the Irish regiments in the British Army. Two hundred thousand Irishmen volunteered over five years, of which about 35,000 were killed. If I bring five academics into the room, they will all argue about those figures, but I am suggesting that those are the figures. They could be higher, they could be lower.
They all volunteered. Conscription was never introduced into Ireland and the real peak for recruitment is right up until 1917. And then the impact of the 1916 Rising, but also the harsh reality of the large casualties occurring after the Somme and in Passchendaele, also impacts on recruiting in Ireland.
There were 14 Irish regiments in the British Army in 1914 and they were to provide over 72 battalions to the British Army during the war. You can see on the map the areas that they recruited in.
There were also three separate divisions: the 10th, the 16th and the 36th – the famous Ulster Division – and they all fought in the war. And we will be talking about those. You will note in the piece about the lecture, I’m going to be very much focusing on 1915 and the role of the 10th Division.
This is a blow-up of the map just showing the various areas where the regiments recruited. In the west you have the Connaught Rangers, covering the west of Ireland – Galway, Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo and Mayo – which are very large counties. And then the Royal Muster Fusiliers going from Cork as far as Tralee, again mainly recruiting in the towns of Tralee, Cork and Limerick, but also sometimes in the countryside.
There’s always low recruitment in Ireland from the countryside, from the labouring class. It’s mainly from the towns that you are actually going to see large recruits happening. And as you get around Dublin, you’ve got the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who provide 11 battalions; the Royal Irish Regiment, which are based down in the south. And then in Northern Ireland you have the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Royal Irish Fusiliers and then the Royal Irish Rifles.
So, in 1914 what was happening in Ireland? There was the Home Rule Crisis between 1912 and 1914. Many Irish nationalists were looking for independence through Home Rule. It had kind of got bogged down in Parliament over the previous 30 years. Volunteer armies were created – the Irish Volunteers and the Ulster Volunteer Force were created in 1913 – and by 1914 you are looking at 30,000 men in uniform in these paramilitary or militia-type units.
A split occurs in August 1914 among the Irish Volunteers over what is going to happen now that the war has broken out. The Home Rule Act is suspended. Everyone thinks this war is going to be over by Christmas. And of course it is not going to be over until 1919 and many things have happened by 1918.
John Redmond takes the majority of the members of the Irish Volunteers and creates the National Volunteers. John Redmond is largely forgotten in Irish history now, but he was the key politician of Irish nationalism in 1914 in the mould of [Charles] Parnell and [Daniel] O’Connell. But he is now largely forgotten because of decisions that he made in 1914 encouraging men to join up into the British Army.
A small minority of that group of Irish Volunteers – about 11,000 of them – remain as the Irish Volunteers, and those are the Volunteers who are going to be involved in the 1916 Rising. But the majority follow John Redmond and join up into the British Army.
And this is what would have been printed in September and August of 1914: very specific World War One recruiting posters, printed in Dublin and very much geared towards encouraging Irishmen to join up. And there was about 300 of these posters made between 1914 and 1916.
We have a very sizeable collection ourselves, but… Trinity College actually has a wonderful collection on their website which you can actually go through every single one. It’s very much… either it’s bishops from the Roman Catholic Church or politicians from Irish nationalism encouraging recruits to join up.
Also, focusing on the Irish regiments. There’s the encouragement with the Pals to join up with their friends, go to an Irish regiment before things change and then you’re just going to be thrown into any old regiment. So that’s the main focus at this time.
And the Irish themselves, where do they fight? They fight everywhere. They fight on the Western Front. They fight from 1917 in northern Italy. The 10th Division fight in Gallipoli and later on, in Salonika, they fight in the Bulgarian war when Bulgaria joins – a largely forgotten battle – but the 10th spend almost two years there.
And then you find the Connaught Rangers… mainly the Connaught Rangers in Mesopotamia – modern-day Iraq – fighting in the disastrous campaigns of Townshend down that way, and later on, Palestine. So they really are in every part of the war of World War One.
Just to focus on one of those… I’m not going to go through all 14 regiments, but just to focus on the Royal Dublin Fusiliers; they provided 11 battalions during the war. The 1st Battalion, 6th and 7th Royal Dublin Fusiliers all fight in Gallipoli in 1915. The 2nd are the first battalion to go into battle in August 1914 as part of the 4th Division. The 8th and 9th are part of the 16th Division which goes to France in December 1915, but really doesn’t get involved in heavy fighting until the second part of the Battle of the Somme in Ginchy in September .
The 10th arrived in France in August 1916. They are actually involved, which I will talk about later on, in suppressing the 1916 Rising. And then the 3rd, 4th and 5th Reserve Battalions really stay in the British Isles and don’t move beyond serving in those countries as Home Defence units.
The 11th Royal Dublin Fusiliers were the last unit to be created in July 1916 and by January 1918 was located in Aldershot. What happened with that unit was they were used to fill in the gaps in the other units and eventually the 8th and 9th were actually disbanded and their men were moved down into the 1st and 2nd Battalions. That kind of shows the problem with recruiting once the Rising occurs.
Then if you look at the figures, quite stark: 4,777 soldiers died during World War One. The Royal Dublin Fusiliers were based in Dublin, very much a cosmopolitan town, and 28 per cent of the Dublin Fusiliers who were killed were not Irish, which kind of represents what the city was. It was very much a Unionist city at the time with mixed people, a lot of Scots joining up into Irish regiments as well as Welsh.
So, just to move down south to the Royal Munster Fusiliers, one of the donations that we recently received at the museum was a photographic album, photographs of the Royal Munster Fusiliers in Burma in 1912. The lieutenant colonel decided to have every single section of the battalion photographed. We’ve colourised some of the photographs just to show you what the Munster Fusiliers would have looked like on the parade ground in Rangoon.
The Munsters are interesting because they are the furthest of any Irish regiment. They have the furthest to come back to England for the war. And when they come back in 1914 they are then sent off to fight, and the first battle is Gallipoli and suffered very, very large numbers of deaths.
But as I said the lieutenant colonel has decided to have every section of the battalion photographed. And it is amazing he has also filled in all the details. We have a list of names on this. And, as I say, the first battle that they do take part in is Gallipoli and over 65 per cent of the people in the photograph album are dead by the end of the first day of battle… including the hockey team. Everyone got photographed.
The 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers were back in England in Aldershot and they are sent off to fight very, very quickly in August of 1914. Their big battle that they fight is the Battle of Étreux, and largely forgotten nowadays in Ireland, but more and more people are learning about it in the Retreat from Mons.
They are surrounded at Étreux, which is a small little village based on a crossroads of a railway – a typical French town, a railway and a canal, so an ideal place for them to settle on. But they were surrounded by about 5,000 angry Germans at that stage; they were chasing them, including a large amount of artillery.
As I said, they have been the year before in England, and had been serving in England. That would have been the tradition with the Irish regiments. One battalion is Home Service and the other battalion was going to be somewhere in the British Empire, normally in India.
This is a book from 1915 which was published by the families of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, detailing what had happened to the battalion in the first year and a half of war. It details what happens to the Munster Fusiliers just outside Étreux.
Étreux is down here with the railway and with the canals. And they are surrounded around an orchard and they hold out for 12 hours, but the casualty rates are quite high – 130 are killed, 155 escaped and then 250 surrendered at that stage. So a very short war for many of these men. And they would have only seen about three weeks of fighting before they surrendered and spent the rest of the war in prisoner-of-war camps.
What is interesting about the graveyard that you see here is that the Munster Fusiliers after the war – because it was so early in the war – were able to recover all the bodies and put them into this grave, which they built themselves and paid for.
So in one case, we would find one graveyard with 99 Irishmen lying there, which is very unusual because as the war takes hold, the numbers and scale of war are quite colossal, they are very concentrated on specific lines… of the front lines. Here is a very small battle and as I say it is quite a moving graveyard, which I visited last year and is quite regularly visited by the Royal Munster Fusiliers Association.
One of the Munsters was William Foley and he became captive for years. This is a photograph of him as prisoner of war. He was 33 years old and as I said he was captured and his war was over. And especially by 1918 it became very tough for prisoners of war with a poor diet – Germany didn’t have the food to provide for them – and it became very, very tough for them. But a very short war for him. And it’s quite a common story. Later on he serves in the British Army, or in the Irish Army, and retires from that as a sergeant major.
This is Major Egan of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Traditionally in Ireland, the medical schools in Ireland – there would be five of them – have provided since the 19th century large numbers of graduates to the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Major Egan was a Roman Catholic from County Waterford. He joined just before the war and became a doctor, and this is quite common, as I say. Out of his class in UCC, which is University College Cork, 80 per cent of the class actually would have joined the Royal Army Medical Corps.
He was captured very early on, again at Mons, and this is a photograph of him having a drink of beer with his opposite number, the doctor in charge of the camp or the medical facilities of the camp. And then you have his prison wardens behind him. But he was released on a prisoner exchange in 1915. Again, as a doctor, exchanges do occur. Not for Fusilier Foley in our previous slide.
What’s interesting about Egan: Egan is released in the summer of 1915 and straight away after two weeks leave with his family was sent to Gallipoli. And he serves there for the next six months in that campaign.
Then once the evacuation of Gallipoli occurs he is given another two weeks with his family before getting ready for the big battle of the Somme for the summer of 1916. And he remains on the Western Front and later on going up to Ypres and serving throughout Passchendaele.
And at the end of the war he is moved back to India and he is there just in time for the Third Afghan War, which is the war between Afghanistan and India.
So, I’m not saying this is a normal story of an Irishman in World War One, but we use it to tell our visitors that the story isn’t all based around the 200 miles along the Western Front. People do move around, and Major Egan is probably an exception, but he did travel.
We also have the London Irish Rifles and we have objects on display in our exhibitions relating to the London Irish, in particular to Ralph Summerland. And this is a problem when you come to defining how many Irishmen served in World War One because you have large emigration occurring from Ireland. Between the famine in 1850 and 1914, 1.4 million people alone go to America and another million probably come to England.
So trying to go through records to actually find out second- and third-generation Irish people joining up into the British Army, Ralph Summerland is one of those. And he’s involved with the London Irish Rifles at the assault at Loos, which is when they famously kicked a football across no-man’s land. But he dies at a very, very young age.
Another soldier, this time from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was a veteran of the South African war, was minding his own business in Dublin and as a Reservist was called up. And again he becomes a prisoner of war in 1914. That’s Private Dowling.
But his family had served for two generations in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and he was actually born in India and spent a large amount of his childhood in Malta before joining the Royal Dublin Fusiliers as a young man to fight in the Boer War, and then of course being captured. In many ways he was lucky that he was captured in 1914.
There is a big effort in Ireland for women to become VADs [Voluntary Aid Detachments], but also to become nurses. Eleanor and Poppy Burrows become nurses in 1915 and go out. And again, a bit like the Munster Fusiliers photographic album, spend a huge amount of time taking photographs.
They are only about 15 miles behind the front lines and this is the two sisters here. But they have an amazing collection of photographs and letters from soldiers to them, thanking them for the care that they received during their stay with them.
Again, we have colourised a lot of our photographs that we have copyright, just again for our younger audience to make them realise what is behind a black-and-white photograph. I love black-and-white, but I find my own kids nowadays live in a world of iPads and bright colours and don’t engage with black-and-white photographs as well as my own generation would.
So we cover the soldiers. We also cover the landed gentry. Lieutenant Nugent was the grandson of the Earl of Westmeath, who owned most of the county and lived in wealth and privilege. Traditionally, the family had served in the Scots Guards and he was killed just before Christmas on 18 December 1914.
If you read the records for the Scots Guards, one of the reasons why they participated in the Christmas Truce was to find out what actually had happened to Nugent and a number of other officers, and try and recover their bodies. That was one of the reasons why they were involved in the truce.
We have these permanent mementoes of John Grumley who is from the Connaught Rangers. When these arrived on the front line, he had already been killed while he was serving with the 2nd Connaught Rangers, and they were then posted back to his family. So we have the box, but also the original cigarettes which were never used, of course, because poor John had passed away.
When we come back to what is happening in Ireland, Belgian refugees are coming to England, of course, but 3,000 of them make further trips to come in to Ireland, mainly going to live in places like Monaghan and Cavan and get involved in industries there. Many of them are still there today.
Also in Tipperary, Richmond Barracks which was the home of the… where the Royal Munster Fusiliers were based for a long time and was turned into a prisoner-of-war camp for German soldiers. So almost 3,000 soldiers were based there.
In late 1915 Dublin Castle decided maybe having 3,000 bored Germans in the centre of Ireland was not a good thing and they were sent off to Canada, which was probably a smart move – one of the few things that Dublin Castle did right during the Rising.
Munitions factories are opened in Ireland. Again, because there isn’t conscription in Ireland, only about 3,500 women work in these factories. There are still enough men around to be involved in industry in Dublin. Florence Lee is one of those and she works in Dublin making many 18-pounder shells not too far from where the National Museum is today.
And this is an amazing collection of photographs from the Imperial War Museum’s website, just photographs from this particular factory. And as you can see on the back wall, the man in trenches wants shells – he wants an Irish shell, apparently. But an amazing little collection of photographs.
So, moving into 1915, the Irish are heavily involved with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Munster Fusiliers on ‘V’ Beach – which I will talk about – and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. These are all full-time units which were then sent into battle.
For the Munster Fusiliers and the Dublin Fusiliers they land on ‘V’ Beach just here. And within a 12-hour period you can see the quite large casualty rates that they receive – 300 men left from 900 men for the Royal Munster Fusiliers. And the Dublin Fusiliers get fairly hammered.
This is the boat that they were on, the ‘River Clyde’. They were also on barges on either side of the boat. The Turkish positions, they were heavily dug in, they were well equipped, they had ‘Pom-Pom’ artillery guns – small artillery guns firing 3-pound shells – and machine guns.
And the idea was that the boat would come and be beached on ‘V’ Beach and simply the troops would throw themselves off and run up and defeat the Turkish positions. But sadly for the Munster Fusiliers and the Dublin Fusiliers that was not to happen.
And this is what the Irish were actually attacking, which is an old Ottoman fort which had been re-inforced. And you can see here the barge, one of the barges. This is taken from the ‘River Clyde’. Again, it’s part of the collection of the Imperial War Museum.
What I find interesting about this photograph though, is that if you look here you can actually see the soldiers. And they are hiding or are in cover from the machine guns that are coming from the Turks. But sadly for a large number of the Munster Fusiliers here, they had been killed already.
Both units are amalgamated and becomes known as the ‘Dubsters’. They amalgamate both units. The senior surviving officer after 24 hours was a 17-year-old second lieutenant. All the other officers had been wounded or killed during the operation.
And on loan to us from the National Army Museum is the wheel and light which were presented to the Royal Munster Fusiliers after the war and then went into the collections of the National Army Museum. And they’ve kindly lent them to us for the last eight years. I think they will be going home this year.
But it’s a very important memento of that occasion to have on display in our museum in Dublin. And recently was nominated as one of… The History of Ireland in 100 Objects, was nominated as object number 96 as a very poignant memory of the Irishmen who fought in World War One.
Another doctor – we seem to have a lot of doctors in our storyline in the National Museum of Ireland. Andrew Horne was a Roman Catholic doctor from Dublin. His two daughters are now in their nineties and they came to visit me last year and they presented to us his photographic album. Again, we seem to have been very lucky recently with getting photographic albums from donors.
But Andrew, because he was in the rear lines towards the beaches on, I think, ‘W’ Beach, took amazing photographs. As you can see, some of the explosions occurring. And also we’ve had colourised again some of the photographs just to give you an idea of what the beach and ‘W’ Beach would have looked like from his First Aid post. He was one of the last officers to actually be left.
He took photographs of the British and Turkish lines and you can see how barren the land is and how close the two lines were. And here you can see… he was one of the last officers to be taken off from Gallipoli. And these are the last five officers who leave on 11 January 1916. So it’s an amazing resource that we have in our collections.
It also turns out that Major Egan was his commanding officer, which we only found out quite recently. So Major Egan had been captured and sent out to Gallipoli and is put in charge of the young lieutenant. I’m not sure if they got on with each other, but we will never know.
So… the second landings then, which are represented in Mel Gibson’s film on Gallipoli as one of the great disasters – the landings at Suvla Bay. The 10th Irish Division go in on 6 and 7 August and this is how the division was broken down. Again it is one of those… a second disaster if you like. The first landings were terrible on the 25 April, but the ones on the 6th and 7th were equally as bad.
Naturally, the Irish story has been largely forgotten at home, but it has also been overshadowed by the Australians, who we all know fought at Gallipoli on their own and did all the fighting while the Irish and British officers drank tea on the beaches apparently! I did Australian history in college, so I can say that!
And one thing that we do know about the guys, the soldiers who went to Gallipoli, is that they served in our barracks. This is where I work today. It’s a former military barracks called The Royal Barracks. It consists of a cavalry and infantry barracks – this is the infantry side – and we’ve turned it into the National Museum of Ireland since 1997 and have a very large military exhibition there.
But in 1915, 100 years ago, the 7th Battalion were based in this barracks – just short of a thousand men from Dublin. And D Company was a Pals company. It was made up of rugby players, and again coming from the better parts of town. It’s very well documented, we have a lot of their letters.
They also published a book in 1916 of their experiences called ‘The Pals at Suvla Bay’. And this is a disparity that you see in remembering World War One. It is sometimes very hard to find soldiers’ stories, the working class of Dublin. But of course the Pals unit, which was very well documented in newspapers at the time and in letters, their story 100 years later is quite easy to understand.
They were created, or brought together, by Mr FH Browning who was in charge of the IRFU at the time – the Irish Rugby Football Union. And he encouraged all rugby players in Dublin to join up. And this is them at Lansdowne Road, which is now known as the Aviva Stadium, where we will be playing England in a few weeks time. It should be interesting to see what happens.
What is interesting from a point of history is that Browning is later on killed during the 1916 Rising. He is one of the first officers to be killed. He is too old to go off to fight in Gallipoli, but he joins up in the Reserve, the Volunteers. And he is out for a weekend exercise, walking back or marching back to his barracks at Beggar’s Bush when he is killed in an ambush at Mount Street. So, again, because Dublin is quite small you see the stories continuously happening and I will talk about that later on.
In the book, ‘The Pals of Suvla Bay’, every soldier is photographed. And we have a little pen picture of what happened to them in 1914, 1915 and 1916. And it does mean that we have a huge amount of material just about the Pals and D Company.
This is them – again, we’ve colourised some of the photographs. This is the Pals marching from Lansdowne Road to go up to the Royal Barracks to join up en masse.
They are being led by two full-time soldiers, Regimental Sergeant Guest who is from Tipperary, a small town called Cloughjordan, who would survive the war and be awarded for his bravery and also became an officer before retiring and joining the Irish Civil Service in the 1920s. And then a John Hassett who is the quarter master.
These two men would spend a huge amount of time with the Pals, training them and trying to turn them from young gentleman into fighting soldiers.
On the last day before they left the barracks, they took photographs of themselves leaving the barracks. We have this amazing collection called ‘The England Collection’ of photographs of all the officers. The gentleman in the middle is the colonel in charge of the 7th Battalion, Colonel Dowling. But we have this amazing collection of all the various photographs of them on the square, where the museum is now today, before they march out.
They all thought they were going to France. They left on 30 April. They thought they were going to France and it came as a great surprise to them that they ended up in Gallipoli. And again because of the secrecy and the climate of secrecy of the time, information was only given to the senior officers and in many cases they didn’t even know, when they were going to Gallipoli, where they were going to exactly land.
And great descriptions of the battles that they fought. The first battle that they fought was called ‘Chocolate Hill’. But within a week of arriving, 131 of them were killed out of 230.
Again, they landed with very little training. The training that they had received in the barracks was very much marching, route marches, and when it came to fighting, coming off boats, very little training for them. And of course the British Army changes this in 1916-17 where more and more training is based on recreating and rebuilt trenches. At this time you’re really seeing Kitchener’s Army going off with very, very limited training.
And the [Irish] casualty rates are about 3,411 – again, we all have these arguments about exactly how many died – and that’s comparable to New Zealanders. I think the Australians lost just about 7,000-8,000 and 75 per cent of the 10th Division is killed or injured.
When it comes to casualties, more casualties are coming from actually heat exhaustion, lack of water and dysentery, which are the great killers or knock-outs for them, or casualties. And, again, water conservation, or having enough water for the troops when they were landing, wasn’t even thought about before they got off those ships. So what you read in all the letters within three or four days is every account, every description they talk about is water. That’s all that is on their minds, which is quite horrific.
So that happens in 1915. Gallipoli is evacuated in January. In many ways Dublin had come to, in a six-month period, mourn what had happened to the 6th and 7th Battalions, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and to the 10th Division. And the Rising of 1916 comes as a huge shock, not just for Dublin Castle, but also to the population in Dublin.
This a drawing of Dublin from one of the newspapers at the time, just showing you the River Liffey in the centre of the city and then the various buildings that the rebels had taken over, and the fires that take hold on our main street, which is O’Connell Street, or was known at the time as Sackville Street.
To give you a more colourful one, interpretation, the blue areas are where the volunteers were holed up taking over a series of buildings. And then Dublin has nine military barracks in it, of which two are still occupied and used by the Irish Defence Forces. So in 1916 there was a large collection of barracks.
So in many ways the British authorities just surrounded the city very, very quickly. And within four days the rebellion was over, and was a complete disaster. Much of the local population, especially in and around what we call the postal districts Dublin 1 and Dublin 8, which were the poor parts of Dublin, were in great opposition to the rebels because their sons and their husbands of course were… many of the working class soldiers, who were out fighting in Gallipoli. And you do see conflict between both sides.
The immediate response from the British Army is to send in the Irish battalions. So it was the Irish regiments that respond. And in this case Richard Burke is a young officer who has just joined up from a bank job where he was a bank clerk. And he joins up in the Royal Irish Regiment who recruit in Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny. And we have his uniform on display at the museum and he’s just here.
This is Richard here – with the captured flag, rebel flag, called the Irish Republic flag, which we also have now got on display at our museum. And for many years this photograph is described as ‘British Army officers with captured rebel flag’. They actually are all Irish and they are all from the Royal Irish Regiment. In many ways the 1916 Rising is a small mini-civil war: Irishmen fighting Irishmen.
In relation to the 10th Battalion, the 10th Battalion were based in the barracks I am in today, the Royal Barracks, where our museum is. We have a collection from a family who gave this to us from a Sergeant Watson who joined up. He was an engineer in the railways, joined up into an Irish regiment. They advertise themselves very much as a Pals unit again, the 10th Commercials, looking for people from middle-class jobs and then advertising themselves as having a billiard room and a reading room and smoking room, and not really focusing on the horrors of World War One, more on the social aspects of joining up into an army.
They leave the barracks, which is just around the corner here, and are ambushed at Mendicity Institute, which is an institute just across the water. So the shooting is starting on this side and then large numbers of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers are just killed here beside this shop, including Gerald Neilan.
Gerald came from a very famous nationalist family. Had served in the South African war, had then rejoined the British Army. And he is the first officer to be killed during this ambush.
The irony of Irish history is his brother is just around the corner, about 500 metres, fighting with the rebels – Arthur Neilan – and he survives the 1916 Rising. So it’s not just a small civil war; you are actually seeing brother against brother in this. People who have followed Redmond into the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, thinking this is the right thing to do for Irish nationalism. And those who have decided the only way to go forward is revolution. And, as I say, it’s very much brother against brother.
The immediate impact of the Rising… and this is a dramatic picture done in the 1930s of the last days of the leaders. And this will be the collection of leaders here in the General Post Office which is clearly, as you can see, heavily on fire by Thursday of the week.
But the real impact of it is the executions afterwards. Ninety rebels are sentenced by court martial, field court martial, to death. And 15 executions are carried out. And it’s the impact of those executions that changes Irish history.
When I talk to American students, they can’t understand how just a simple incident like this could change… where the majority of society accept being part of the British Empire to suddenly by June 1916 a complete and utter political change, which leads actually to the eventual destruction of the main nationalist party to be replaced by Sinn Féin.
The war carries on, though. The 16th Division led by this gentleman here, a General William Hickie, goes to war in September 1916. The 36th Division of course famously are involved on the first day of the Somme and do very, very well for the first couple of hours. They left their trenches early. They succeeded in getting as far as the third line of German trenches. And when they came back, they presented this helmet to the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin as a war trophy along with other items.
Sadly for them, the divisions on either side of them didn’t get as far as they did. So by lunchtime the Germans along the front line were now able to focus on the 36th. And 5,500 of them are killed or made casualties in a 12-hour period. But this incident is very much remembered in Belfast even today.
This just gives you the short area around the Somme, where the Irish were fighting in that period from July right up to November. On 1 July the 36th Division are up around here – Thiepval – and Ginchy and Guillemont are where the 16th Division fight later on in September.
When you break down what happens to the 36th and the 16th Division, they are involved in nearly every major battle right up until 1918. The casualty rates are very, very high. But as the work carries on, especially for the 16th Division, there is less and less Irish joining up. So the units require more and more Englishmen joining up. So the whole cohesiveness, if you like, or the Irishness of the division becomes less and less. And the 36th Division also suffers in many ways during the period.
As I said earlier on, the story now has been expanded in Ireland and we’re looking at how Irishmen served in other countries. Recent research now shows that 6,600 Irish-born men served with the Australian Army. And, like the Irish Volunteers, in Australia conscription was never introduced, although there were two referendums about it.
But these… and I will show you later on a website that’s been established that actually lists all of these Irish-born men. But if you look at the second- and third-generation Irish in Australia, of course, your numbers again would increase a lot higher.
In the Canadian Army it is estimated – and there is no PhD research yet to do this, but research is being carried out at the moment – that 20,000 Irish-born men served in the Canadian Army.
Here we have a bust of a particular Irish soldier from Dublin called Private Lawless. His body was recovered ten years ago by the Canadian Army at Vimy Ridge and after doing exhaustive DNA testing they actually found out who he was and were able to contact his family, including his surviving niece who was at the ceremony to have him re-buried.
A Canadian sculptor has forensically recreated Private Lawless and we now have his bust on display in the museum. And particularly the Canadians are spending a huge amount of effort trying to – when they do find the bodies – to try and match up the bodies. So it’s through DNA testing and other scientific testing they eventually found out through his teeth that he at the age of ten had drunk water in the north of the county of Dublin. It was actually through the teeth that they were able to do the chemistry test.
I don’t know how that happened but they tell me, the experts, that that’s how they did it. Because of where the water was coming from – there is only certain parts of the world where this water is – and when you’re growing up as a kid apparently that is layered through your teeth and it’s one way of finding out where you came from.
As I said, later on the Irish join up in large numbers in the American Army. The 69th ‘Fighting Irish’ are a very famous regiment. They fought in the American Civil War. General Lee described them as the ‘fighting Irish’ and that’s how they had the nickname ‘the fighting Irish’.
They went on to join the 42nd Rainbow Division. The Rainbow Division was… the Rainbow of America represented every single state of America and was known as the Rainbow Division at the time – 42 states.
Sadly for the Irish, the Americans decided to come to Europe and not listen to the French or the British generals, and recreated all the horrors of what had been seen before in the Somme. So the casualty rates for the Irish were quite large for the regiment. They lost 644 men and they were only fighting from February to November. Again, the Americans, especially Pershing, insisted on frontal assaults. And then 2,500 of them are wounded and return to America in April 1919.
The regiment itself is still there today – mainly third- and fourth-generation Irish Americans – has just returned from Afghanistan, and ten years ago served in Iraq, where it had the dubious distinction of having the highest casualty rates for any National Guard unit in 2005.
Then just to expand our storyline. There were Irishmen on the other side.
The Casement Brigade was an attempt by Roger Casement, the diplomat who had now fully become a nationalist, to convince Irishmen in the British Army and in the prisoner-of-war camps to join up into a Casement Brigade. It never numbered more than about 54 men, but they had distinctive Casement Brigade uniforms, where you can see an Irish harp and shamrocks are cut into the sleeves.
So the idea was that this brigade would come back to Ireland and free Ireland at some stage. But as I say the numbers were never there at 54, and most POWs were just content… They had already signed a piece of paper, they had already made a commitment and they were happy to stay where they were.
Coming back even further, Ireland has a very long tradition of serving with the Austrian forces in the 17th and 18th centuries. And this tradition carried on into the 19th or the 20th century.
Gottfried von Banfield is the highest-scoring fighter ace of the Austrian Air Force with 22 confirmed kills. He was the last person to receive the award of Maria Teresa, which is equivalent to the Victoria Cross in Austria before, of course, Austria surrendered in 1918.
He was the Red Baron for the Austrian forces and lived on until 1986 and is still revered in Austria because he was very much against the Nazis when they invaded in 1938. He eventually went to Italy but refused to have anything to do with the Nazis and that’s very much why he is remembered in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
So just coming into the last five minutes – commemorating World War One in Ireland. As Amy was saying earlier on, ten years ago we did a very major exhibition called ‘Soldiers and Chiefs’ which is essentially a wing of the museum. And it covers 2,000 square metres where we look at the complicated parts of our history, which is always fun to do, because everyone in Ireland has a strong opinion on history.
The first section looks at the wars and the history of the barracks and the wars that are fought from the Nine Years Wars to the 1798 Rebellion. But the main core of the exhibition is looking at the Irishmen who served in the 18th and 19th century with the French, Spanish, Austrian, American and the British Army. And that’s a large chunk of the exhibition.
And then the modern section, we look at the Decade of Commemoration, looking at 1914-24 as you zig-zag your way. And it is aimed very much at school groups to understand the complicated parts of our history.
And then the final section looks at the Irish Defence Forces in the 20th century with the larger objects – the Big Boys’ Toys gallery, as it’s called. And also very much we talk about the Irish in the British Army in World War Two, in particular the Irish Brigade, the 38th Brigade, who fought in North Africa and the whole way up through Italy. The unsexy end of World War Two.
And then this year we’ve just launched a new exhibition, but we’ve also launched this project here – and there’s some fliers that you will see at the front – called ‘Pals – the Irish at Gallipoli’, looking at the records of D Company and all the records that we had, working with a theatre company called ANU Productions.
And we’ve recreated a World War One billet in our museum. And four actors basically bring the story of these soldiers, these Dublin men, and what actually happened to them: the training they received in the barracks and then what happens to them when they go to Gallipoli, which as I said earlier on, with the high casualty rates, is quite horrific.
It’s running five times a day. It’s an hour-long show, so it’s a very intensive experience. And the actors never break character. You do feel that you are back there in 1915 in the rooms that these men would have trained in. And you can see the optimism of leaving on 30 April 1915 to actually what happens to them on the 6th, 7th, 8th and 12th August. And, as I said, it’s quite a harrowing experience.
That’s going to be on for three months, just the three months that the Royal Dublin Fusiliers were in the barracks, so February, March and April. And then on 30 April we’re going to recreate the march out, as they march out of the barracks, down onto the quays and down onto the boats down in Dublin Port.
And these are the actors, and you can find more details in the fliers. If you have a chance to come to Dublin, please do. We need your tourist money! I’m contracted to say that!
We’ve also established a new exhibition which kind of delves more into World War One: ‘Recovered Voices: Stories of the Irish at War, 1914-15’. We focus on the Irish regiments and in particular the history of the Royal Barracks. That’s the tie-in we have then with the actors.
We focus on 21 individuals, many of them you’ve seen through this talk. And we also look at that expanded the story: it’s not just the Irish and the British Army; there are other armies that the Irish are fighting and we talk about that. And these galleries look at the Lusitania, of course, as a key date that is coming up in May.
And then the tie-in with this club [the Army & Navy Club]. Recently we’ve just put on a display, a memorial, a World War One memorial that we received from the Hibernian United Services Club, which was founded in 1830 in the barracks that I work in – the Royal Barracks – and was a partner member to this club.
It consisted of soldiers or officers of the British Army serving in Dublin. It was their home from home, if you like. It closed down in 2009. It’s amalgamated now with the club next door. And the World War One memorial it was decided to donate to us. And this is the memorial that was put up in 1920. So there’s a link between this club, our museum and the society.
And then when you’re looking at researching World War One in Ireland, it’s become a boom for researchers. There are a large number of associations. I know some of them are in the audience. We’ve got the Royal Munster Fusiliers, Dublin Fusiliers Associations.
In the 1990s a lot of these groups were organised… they were people interested in learning about World War One and mainly tied in with their family history and looking at what happened to the particular regiments. And they have, again, become very, very popular. But they are also for school groups and people like that. Really a one-stop shop for them, if they want to know anything about a particular group.
I would also recommend the Irish War Memorials site which is a site that’s gone around and listed and photographed every World War One memorial in Ireland and you can find all the details. They’ve gone to the Roman Catholic churches, also the Church of Ireland and Presbyterian churches, to find all the details that you want about… listing World War One dead.
Then, of course, you know all about the British Army service records, but the Irish Anzacs project is being run from the museum or university in Australia and that lists the over 6,000 Irish-born enlistments.
Again, unlike the records in Kew, which have largely been destroyed, in Canada and in Australia all the records do exist. They’ve all been scanned and are free and accessible on the government websites there. Sadly, as you know, in Kew you have to pay quite a large chunk of cash to get very basic information.
And then books about World War One. In the 1980s, ‘Orange, Green and Khaki’, which is a very definitive military history of all the Irish regiments and what happened to them. If you’re looking for a summary of Ireland and the Great War and the complexities of it, how it was remembered from 1990s, right up to the present day, Professor Keith Jeffery from Queen’s University Belfast wrote a definitive book in 2000.
And more recently, this year and last year, of course, has been a boom with other books being published. This one is by Stephen Stanford which is on the 10th Division, which looks at the complexities of recruitment in Ireland and has some very fascinating and exciting new research.
That’s my contact details. If anyone is coming to Dublin, please do come. As I said, we need your tourist money, but I would happily give you a tour of the exhibitions and the museum.
And if you can come before April… as I say fliers are here about the Pals project, which as I say is very, very exciting and getting rave reviews in all of the theatre reviewers in Dublin at the moment, and getting booked out very, very quickly.
So, that’s it. So thank you very much, folks.