World War One on RTE
Our country’s story told through the lives of those who survived and died.
The 4th of August 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the United Kingdom declaring war on Germany. This declaration of war also marked the entry of Ireland into the bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen. About 210,000 men from Ireland served in the British forces, and about 35,000 of them died.
In this five-part series, we'll be looking at World War One from Ireland's perspective. How the country responded to the outbreak of war, as young men enlisted for a variety of reasons. We'll be telling the stories of those who served on the front lines. And, finding out how the war affected the lives of those who were left behind.
Episode One - Call to Arms
As Europe went to war, what was it really like for Irish people at home and on the front lines?
Guests: Historians, Catriona Pennell, John Horne and John Dennehy (author of Tipperary in a Time of War). Also, military genealogist, Gordon Power.
Defence of the Realm Act
This was passed in the United Kingdom 4 days after war was declared and gave the government wide ranging powers which included huge restrictions.
Germans living in Ireland
With the outbreak of war, Germans, Austrians and Hungarians who lived here were viewed with suspicion and they were regarded as a threat to national security. Ruth Fleischmann’s German born grandfather, Aloys, was arrested and detained in an internment camp in Oldcastle, Co. Meath during the war. Her grandmother, a piano teacher in Cork, had to endure anti- German prejudice as Ruth told us.
There was also a Prisoner of War camp at Templemore, Co. Tipperary where the Garda Training barracks is now located. John Dennehy discussed how it impacted on the local community.
U Boat Campaign in Irish Waters
War came to our shores in the form of German U-Boats. This was the first submarine war patrol in history. The most famous ship they torpedoed was in May 1915 when the Lusitania was hit. Fewer than 600 out of 2,000 passengers and crew survived.
The sinking of the mailboat, the RMS Leinster on the 10th of October, 1918 was the worst disaster ever to happen to an Irish-owned shipping company. 501 people died - the highest-ever loss of life in the Irish Sea. Sligo historian, Brian Scanlon recalled the story of a local nurse who was killed that day.
Training the Recruits
In all, 210,000 men from Ireland joined the British army. About a quarter of these had already enlisted in various capacities before 1914. However, most had no previous military experience. So, new recruits were sent for training to prepare them for the rigours of war. Military historian, Tom Burke of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who has researched what was involved and how woefully ill-prepared they were for what was to come, spoke to Colette Kinsella .
The most potent image we have of World War One is the trenches which zig zagged for 475 miles from the North Sea to the Swiss border. They have become a powerful symbol of mud, rats, disease, decay – and death. We heard an excerpt describing the scene from the 1915 diary of Captain Frank Hitchcock of the Leinster Regiment.
Iconic images of the First World War have been etched on our consciousness through the legacy of soldier-poets such as Francis Ledgwidge, Thomas Kettle and Dorothy Letts. But do their powerful pen pictures over-simplify or sentimentalise the war?
Tom Kettle prophesised that the Easter rebels of 1916 'will go down in history as heroes and martyrs; and I will go down, he said, if I go down at all, as a bloody British officer.' At the time, this was not a universal reaction to the outbreak of the Easter Rising – as we heard from veterans.
We addressed questions such as how quickly after the Rising did the wider population become sympathetic to the rebels? How did the Easter Rising change attitudes to enlistment here? How was morale on the Front affected? How were the families of men in the British army regarded after the Rising?
Memorials to the Missing
The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in the Belgium town of Ypres contains the names of more than 54,000 British soldiers whose bodies were never found. It is one of many such memorials across Europe. While traffic constantly passes through its fourteen-and-a-half metre tall archway, it is in fact, a serene place. Louise Denvir spent a balmy summer's day there with David Baxter, as he rediscovered the sheer enormity of missing casualties lost in battle in that municipality.
The vast majority of families here who had a relative killed between 1914 and 1918 would never have got to visit their loved one’s grave and 40% of the remains were never recovered. Our guests talked about how these people have been remembered.
Ireland after the Armistice
After the Armistice, men arrived home to a very different place that existed when war was declared in 1914. The country was divided – and even within families, there were political divisions.
In many families after the Free State came into being, their relatives’ involvement was never spoken about. In some cases, family stories have been lost to history, because the veterans themselves never talked about their experiences.
Former British soldiers who joined IRA
A month after the Armistice in November 1918, an election took place in Ireland which virtually wiped out the Irish Parliamentary Party. The radical nationalist Sinn Féin party - led by Eamonn De Valera - won a landslide victory. They formed a breakaway government in early 1919 and declared Ireland’s autonomy from Britain.
The Irish War of Independence, followed. At least 116 men from Ireland who fought with the British army joined the IRA. One remarkable example of a man who served with both the British and Republican forces was Wexford man Martin Doyle. Orla Rapple told his story. Martin Doyle died in November 1940 and he’s buried at Grangegorman Military cemetery in Dublin.
We discussed how Ireland’s commemoration and memorialisation of the war changed after the Free State came into being. Our guests noted the many positive developments in Anglo-Irish relations in recent years. The most recent being the Queen’s visit here and our President’s visit to London which is leading us closer to a point where we can jointly remember our war dead?
The History Show would like to acknowledge the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Reconciliation Fund.