Remembering the Irish

Young Irelander wonders if there is any form of website that promotes the issue of Irish participation in the two world wars.

This is a serious subject, and one I have personal experience of. My great grand uncle, Owen Clerkin, was killed near the Somme valley on the 15th of September 1916. This was towards the end of the Somme campaign. He was a private in the Irish Guards and died at the age of 26. He is buried at Delville Wood Cemetery, Longueval, France. In 2000 I visited his grave, and was on of his first relatives to go there. It was an emotional experience, as are all of the Great War memorials in Belgium and France, many of which I have visited. There is something about the Great War that is different, something about the sheer waste that makes my perception of it different to other wars.

And all credit to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, they are a great source of information. Details of my relative are here.

Details of the area he saw battle in are here. There is also a photo of the cemetery he is buried in, it is an incredibly well maintained place, as are all CWGC graves. My relative was one of the lucky ones, his body was actually identified and he has his own grave, unlike hundreds of thousands whose names appear on memorials like the Menin Gate in Ypres.

15 Responses to “Remembering the Irish”

  1. Treasa says:

    In 1998, I took a tour around the Ypres area of Belgium, just something to do some Sunday, and having lived there for a while, I felt that it was somewhere you should go.

    As far as I know, none of my more immediate family fought there – but it’s hard to say as we lost contact with some of them anyway. At any rate, there was still, at that stage, a portion of the trenches maintained by some guy with an absolutely amazing museum. In particularly, he had a horrifically graphic collection of sepia negative viewfinder photographs (the sort of thing I had as a toy with views of the world in it when I was a child). Although the summer hadn’t been wet that year, the bottoms of the trenches were still pretty wet. I still feel cold thinking of men having to fight in there. We went up to Tyne Cot Hill Cemetery afterwards, and in that cemetery, something like 80% of the graves have no names. Known Only To God. The first headstone I happened upon with a name was the same family name as mine. A weird sort of coincidence, I suppose.

    I’ve often felt that any person who went to that place, saw that trench, would never willingly lead people into war. Maybe it’s naive of me.

  2. Tom Raftery says:

    Maybe that’s why George W is willingly sending his people into war – it is something he has never experienced firsthand.

  3. Gavin says:

    I was at that museum Treasa, its in Sanctuary Wood. I walked through some of the still maintained tunnels too.

  4. Ciarán says:

    Gavin, I agree with all you said, though I could never have said it in a touching way. I too visited Ypres, strangely enough on the 12th of July 2003. Standing at the Menem Gate really brought home the immediacy of the Great War and, as Young Irelander said, the sadness that we’ve forgotten the part the Irish played in it for better or worse. Thanks for the post.

  5. John says:

    My grandfather and his brother bought fought in the first World War. Fortunately, they both survived. They were from County Clare, but fought with the US Army. My grandfather served m the NY 69th and his brother in the NY 111th. The Irish contributed a large number of the American forces in that war (as they did in the Civil War, which was two generations earlier).

    My wife’s great grandfather fought and died in WWI. He was a member of Connolly’s Citizen Army, but he joined up with the British Army (he was “old” 35 or so when he joined). He had fought with the British in S. Africa as a young man. I think he was in the Dublin Fusiliers, but I’m not sure where he died. I know my brother-in-law found his grave in France a few years ago.

  6. John says:

    Although I’ve never been to any of the battlefields in Europe, I’ve been to quite a few in the US. Gettysburg was the best of those I’ve been too. I was there on a hot, hot day and it was easy to imagine the heat of the sun on July 1-3 1863, but not the slaughter that went on.

    The US Civil War was a precursor to the slaughter in Europe 50 years later and explains some of America’s reluctance to enter that war. Machine guns, trenches and total war (Sherman especially) were all part of the Civil War.

    Treasa, most of the military leaders at the time of WWII had first hand experience of the trenches of WWI. They weren’t put off leading men into war by that experience.

  7. Treasa says:

    John
    I am not sure that I agree. See this link: http://www.sparknotes.com/history/european/ww2/context.html and have a look at the comments about the application of appeasement/negotiation with the intention of avoiding another war. It’s probably more accurate to say that at the time, leaders wished to avoid war at all costs, but when they failed in that bid, they did their duty.

  8. I think it’s time that the efforts of the Irish people in those two wars were given proper recognition.
    I would like to see the statue of Sean Russell that was recently damaged,to be torn down and replaced with a statue honouring Irish people who served in the British Army.
    I would also like to see efforts made for Irish people to wear the poppy for the Remembrance ceremonies each year.
    The ignorance that Irish governments have shown to these brave people was wrong and deserves to be corrected.

  9. John says:

    Treasa, okay, it could be my understanding of your phrase “would never willingly lead people into war”. I guess I was saying that the men who led the allied armies in Europe and the Pacific did so willingly, although I’m sure not all of them did so eagerly.

    That page is quite a sympathetic reading of how appeasement could be justified. The fact that it fails to mention Mein Kampf (and that too many people in France & Britain failed to read it too) indicates that the person who wrote those paragraphs believes nobody could have anticipated what Hitler would do.

    Here’s one passage (and there are countless others that I could select):Finally a new and triumphant idea should burst every chain which tends to paralyse its efforts to push forward. National Socialism must claim the right to impose its principles on the whole German nation, without regard to what were hitherto the confines of federal states. And we must educate the German nation in our ideas and principles. As the Churches do not feel themselves bound or limited by political confines, so the National Socialist Idea cannot feel itself limited to the territories of the individual federal states that belong to our Fatherland.
    The National Socialist doctrine is not handmaid to the political interests of the single federal states. One day it must become teacher to the whole German nation. It must determine the life of the whole people and shape that life anew. For this reason we must imperatively demand the right to overstep boundaries that have been traced by a political development which we repudiate.
    The more completely our ideas triumph, the more liberty can we concede in particular affairs to our citizens at home.

  10. John says:

    Maybe, given what yesterday was all about, I should post another quote from Mein Kampf:

    The mightiest counterpart to the Aryan is represented by the Jew.

  11. Niall says:

    Check out this website http://www.artoncanvas.net . They have ‘’The Fighting 69th’’ Gen Meagher and the Irish Brigade Fredericksburg, Virginia, december 2, 1862. By Mort Kunstler. 75 Patrons Edition Prints Signed and Numbered by the artist.

  12. Niall says:

    ARTONCANVAS.NET PRESENT ”The Fighting 69th” Gen Meagher and the Irish Brigade Fredericksburg, Virginia, december 2, 1862. By Mort Kunstler. 75 Patrons Edition Prints Signed and Numbered by the artist. This Limited Edition Print is printed on 100% rag, Neutral ph, heavy vellum custom made stock, using fade resistant inks. Fine Offset Lithography. Each print is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity.See it at:
    http://www.artoncanvas.net/gallery/index.php?category=31&page=1

  13. Mike says:

    Thanks Niall i checked out that site art on canvas and bought the 69th picture from them.You should see the picture it is top class.Thanks for the link….

  14. Johnie says:

    Since moving to france I have visited many battlefield sites. I have always felt a certain connection with those who died, on all sides. Young men, most younger than myself (I’m 32), went to battle in a strange country and died far away from those back home, it must have be so lonely. Beside the house of my wife’s uncle’s house there are several German bunkers still remaining and the structures of the ones that didn’t take any hits are in excellent condition and still look a formidable shelter. Standing inside of one looking out to sea, I had brought along a recording of a battle with shells hitting nearby, I got a sence of vulnerabilty and fear, imagine what it was really like for the Germans.

  15. Helen says:

    I have visited the Somme five times, my Great Uncle, A Royal Scots Fusilier was killed there in 1918 and is buried in Dernancourt Cemetery. This year I visited Ypres where my Grandfather was gassed. I agree that there should be some sort of memorial by the Irish Government in recognition of the Irish who fought and died in the First World War, there were many of them and they truly are the forgotten heroes of a forgotten war, at least in Ireland it is.
    Helen