This is the decade of centenary commemorations in Ireland. I was in Woodenbridge recently for a beautiful summer wedding.It was a happy occasion but all the while I was remembering John Redmond a hundred years ago and his exhortation to young Irishmen to go and fight in the Great War. It was to bring no end of benefits to Ireland. John himself didn’t go but his brother Willie did and died with countless others, in the Flanders mud.
No doubt orators in many countries urged their young men on to war in like manner. They died in their millions: Sikhs, Ulstermen, Connaught Rangers, Prussians, Russians, Pomeranians, Serbs, Italians, Senegalese, Zulus, Moroccan Zouaves, Portuguese, The Grimsby Chums, Seaforth Highlanders, Newfoundlanders, Doughboys, Diggers, New Zealanders, Belgians and Dutch, Indo-Chinese, French, Greeks, Aviators, Miners and Seamen.(Apologies to the millions not mentioned.)
My father joined the Dublin Fusiliers out of a desire for adventure. He was eighteen, the age of indestructibility. On a dismal November day a German machine-gun felled him in No-Man’s-Land, in front of Beaumont Hamel in the second phase of the Battle of the Somme. He lay in the open all day. He was cold and in pain. On the following day it snowed, spreading a white veil over the battlefield.
My son rang me. “Did you see that film about Newfoundland,with Kevin Spacey, The Shipping News?”
“The ferry was called Beaumont Hamel. Isn’t that where Grandad was wounded.?”
Indeed it is. The Newfoundlanders, from a snowy land, were near neighbours to The Dublins. They suffered horrendous casualties. Canada has not forgotten their boys. The caribou memorial looks out over the trenches where they bled.
There will be many commemorations and many fine speeches in the coming years, but I remember the boy who became my ‘old man.’
He fought in the war to end all wars. Well done that man.