Remembrance Day

Commemorating Irish soldiers in the Great War

Today is Remembrance Day.   On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent over Europe in 1918.  But to preserve the macabre symmetry of that date, the politicians and the generals insisted that young men of all nations continue to slaughter each other right up to the last moment.

I never knew my grandfather.  He died long before I was born, but I wish I had met him.  I wish I had the opportunity to speak with him, though I suspect he would not have wanted to talk about the things he saw in the Somme all those years ago. I’m told he suffered his entire life as a result of the horrors he witnessed.

Every year, on Remembrance Sunday, a small ceremony takes place in Limerick, and I attend it every year.

I don’t go in order to celebrate the war.  I don’t go because I think the soldiers fought to keep small nations free.  They did not. Plucky little Belgium with its African colonies cared nothing for small nations.

I go to the ceremony because in this small way, I can honour the memory of my unknown grandfather and all the young men like him who returned from the hell of the Somme and spent the rest of their days trying to make sense of it.

41 thoughts on “Remembrance Day

  1. Ar dheis di go raibh a h-anam…….May his soul be on the right side of God is the Irish blessing (I think!), and I don’t believe in God, but there is a gentle honouring of your ancestors in that saying. I think we should remember our heroic precedents with pride, fair play to you for honouring your grandfathers memory Bock, and as you say all the other men that sacrificed for their ideals. That is the absolute most that a person can do and it is good to remember that people did it.

  2. I’m not sure he did it for his ideals. Like a lot of young men, I think he went naively, not knowing the horrors he faced, but with the incentive of a better wage than he could expect at home.

  3. Remembering my granduncle
    Serjeant Frederick Roughan
    2nd. Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers killed in action 24/08/1916.
    He lied about his age to enlist, he was 17 years old.

  4. My Great Grandfathers served in WWI. I am told that one of them said that the saddest day of their life was when they came home. And realised that he was the only one from his street that came home.

  5. Bock – well put, as you watch the programmes about the great war it surely must have been a living hell hole. I saw a programme one night that said some 2-3 hundred returning soldiers were then murdered in Ireland over the subsequent years, murdered for fighting for the Brits.
    Beggars belief.

  6. Are we inadvertently or indeed, deliberately, celebrating a human proclivity to warfare, when we continue to commemorate these events?

  7. I have visited the War Graves of the Somme, a more humbling, emotional experience is hard to imagine. The 000’s of graves for young men and boys is hard to fathom, young men and boys from all over the world. There are excellent museums in Albert and Perone. Remembering the dead soldiers of all nations is the least we can do.

  8. As long as we commemorate soldiers who went to war and died for their country,their political believes or plain simple to earn a wage; we will encourage new soldiers to do the same. The whole ‘honour them’ bit is very strange. And the surviving war veterans with their thousand medals pinned on their lapels standing in a saluting fashion,it sends shudders down my spine,but then my grandfather fought in WW1 too in France but on the other side. Not something i can and want to celebrate.But I still loved my grandfather.

  9. Birgito — I have no plan to honour the war. Just the memory of my grandfather. I believe that’s a legitimate thing to do.

  10. May he rest in peace – well said Bock. Pity you didn’t get to know him.

    Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

    The obscenity.

  11. I have to agree with Birgito in som e respects. Yes , honour the memory of the fallen but not with the army culture that often surrounds the commemorations. Armies seemed to trade on structured unemployment in traditional recruiting grounds, emotive hysteria (small nations etc), perverted nationalism whereby it is deemed legitimate to kill other human beings, myths and a load of other excuses to whip up enthusiasm for their “cause”, most of which serve the interests of big capital.

  12. Some people choose to wear a poppy for their own personal reasons. I was told the other day about a man who came home from France in 1918, joined the IRA, committed one more murder and spent the rest of his life wearing a lily at Easter and a poppy in November.

    Why? I don’t know.

  13. @Poll Durcha :
    Your analysis seems not to allow for utopian ideals to sit side by side with having an army.

  14. I don’t fully understand Lapsedmethodist but rarely does war justify itself in achieving anything other than misery and destruction. Sure , there may be a justifiable war on occasion. I’m not sure that WW 1 was one, as much of its origins was the result of German militarism, challenging French, British imperalist tendencies, played out through Austo Hungarian meddling in the Balkans and a host of other tensions, alliances and consequential deals between these powers. Jean Jaures was one person who saw much of this and its consequences for the ordinary person, and he was assisinated at the eve of WW1..

  15. One of the interesting things about war is how easily people of different nations can be manipulated into murderous hatred for each other based solely on propanganda nonsense rather than personal experience.Very few armies in history could be viewed as heroic at least in the moral sense.Although I do regard the Vietnamese army as being truly heroic.Anybody watch.. Indochine…on rte the last two friday nights.What an amazing struggle against seemingly impossible odds.

  16. @ Poll Durcha. What I meant was that I consider it no crime to have peace as an objective while maintaining an efficient army to defend oneself against those who may not share those ideals. Unless you agree with Ghandi that the Japanese should have been allowed to walk into India unopposed and that the Jews should have walked to their deaths without a word ? Myself I prefer to be prepared to defend against aggression.

  17. Agreed to a point. It is the definition of defence against aggression that becomes the difficult one. It is easy to decide on an aggressive action against one’s immediate territory, borders etc. but it has often been construed to mean an attack against a country’s interests or sphere of interest and that’s the trouble with it as a principle. (I’m sure this kind of justification (not yours by the way) was offered by the French in Algeria, Vietnam; the US in Vietnam, Grenada and the UK in Aden and lots of placees, the Chinese in Tibet).

  18. Am i actually missing something here, Bock was remembering a relative who actually made a stand. For whatever reasons, he went to war. It is the person that Bock is commerating! not the WAR!!!

  19. That’s correct. This is not about war. This is about a man who went to war and suffered for it until the day he died.

    I don’t know why people can’t simply take it for what it is.

  20. Don`t you blame poetry for any of the shit about poppy`s Sean j. The poppy cult as you call it has been hijacked by the british establishment to poke at the collective consciousness ( sorry about the spelling ) of the great british public. They do not commerate the men who died, they commerate the memory of the British Empire!

    Wars and the results of Wars are intrinsically evil. They are not about life and freedoms. They are about Power/Control/Subjugation, murder-ethnic cleansing-violence of an unimagined capicity. It is always the civilians that suffer the most from all Wars. Human beings that go to war do so for so many reasons, many of those who survive, if survival is the right word, either keep their horrific experience to themselves or tell the world of the true horrors.

    All the survivers without exception are largely forgotten by the establishment media, except for when the recruitment of more cannon fodder is required. Then they single out the heros of war to beat the drum, most of whom are very conviently dead!

    Some of the most wonderful poetry has come from war, and up until the last few years suppressed by the mainstream media. All of the poetry that has come from the war poets has highlighted the suffering and agony of war visited on the combatants of all sides and the incompetence of the leaders who got them into the conflicts.

    The blogs of many retutning soldiers coming from Iraq, Afganistan and other conflicts have taken the place of the war poets.

  21. “Human beings that go to war do so for many reasons”. Very true,there are some also who actually love it and do not care who or what they are fighting for.Such is human nature.

  22. Sodacake, so it was not this very poem out of which the ‘poppy cult’ arose? What is its origin, then?

    By the way, it would not come to my mind to blame poetry for anything.
    And as for the rest you wrote: D’accord.

  23. Disect as in take apart? Tear asunder? Surely you mean explain Willy.

    Well let me explain to you just in case you missed it. I stated that ” Human beings that go to war do so for many reasons”. That was an all encompassing, all inclusive, unambiguos (sic) statement. It really meant ALL points of the REASONS for going to war were covered.

    If i can help you with anymore of this i will only be to glad.

    Just in case we forget, to commerate the person ( as Bock stated ) is wonderful. Seeing or knowing how it affected the person being remembered gives an acknowledgement to that person of respect for decisions taken and actions followed up, no matter what the results were. The abandonment of returned veterans of conflicts bears very hard on their lives and the lives of their families. This sense of abandonment is never carried to the next generation until they too suffer as either participants or bystanders no matter what side they are on.

  24. Sean J. My understanding is as follows. When some of the veterans returned to the killing fields of The Somme etc, they were blown away by the fields and fields of red poppys that were growning were death and mayhem had hounded them. Some of them even picked the poppy and put it into the lapel of their coats, the rest they as they say is history.

    As simple as that!

  25. As an aside Sean J Flanders is in Belgium. While there were certainly many battles fought in Belguim. The main thrust of The Great War was in France. In Flanders Fields was written some time after this conflict, allmost all of the war poetry from this time was written during the war itself by various poets who did not survive the fighting itself. One of the greatest was Wilfred Owen, but there were others just as good.

  26. The Quest

    On ground called no-man`s land
    men had died; there played a band,
    war was over homeward bound
    leaving the dead in the ground.
    Talk of peace and loved ones missed
    pledge to meet each armistice,
    group is smaller each passing year
    we meet; there`s one less here.
    Left but a handful still proud
    awaiting our turn for a shroud,
    last battle`s over; death`s at hand
    join our comrades in no-man`s land.
    Search is over for that universal quest,
    we have won; we are at peace, blest!

  27. Well Sody they dont all come back traumatised as you imply,many have no adverse effects.And there are two sides in every war,and while one side usually want to subjugate and oppress(or perhaps to right a percieved wrong) the other side are fighting to prevent it rather than fighting for the same reasons.The reaons for war are as complex as human society and its myriad of beliefs and values.Your simple little posts do not even begin to explain it or its consequences or indeed its benefits to humanity either.Oh and yes there are many the computer you are hammering away on condeming war is ironically something that has come from it.

  28. Sodacake13: Thanks for your thoughts and for your kind lessons in history, poetry and geography.

    Certainly, both we could go on and on, but as you rightfully stated: This is not a post about war.
    In this sense: The peace of the night.

    Ah, and as I intended just to quickly give one possible answer to what – perhaps due to my suboptimal knowledge of the English language – I understood to have been questions, I forgot to mention what after reading this post I had virtually done: Bowing with respect to your grandfather, Bock, and to yourself.

  29. Thank you for understanding what this post is about, despite your sub-optimal command of English. Native speakers seem determined to turn this into an argument about war when it’s simply an acknowledgement of one man’s life.

  30. I like that you do this Bock, Remembrance Day is about people, not the wars. It’s our history and helped shape us, least we can do is remember and show a little respect.

  31. The Duke of Wellington was supposed to have said that the only thing sadder than losing a war is winning one. he is said to have said this whilst surveying the carnage on the field at Waterloo. I do belive that men like your granda should be remembered, they did what they believed to be the right thing at the time. The British recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. This was possibly the most important battle ever fought as it turned the tide on the Nazis and allowed Britain to remain free to be used as a base for the bombing of the Riech and the launchpad for the invasion of Europe. One of the top pilots of that battle was Brendan”Paddy” Finucane whose father was one of the defenders of Bolands Mill under De Valera and later fought alongside Michael Collins. Indeed many who fought the Irish Independece war had received thier grounding in the British army. Of course due to the recent treason against Ireland and her people this is all acedemic now.

  32. I’m not going to debate the rights and wrongs of war, i too have relatives who died in WW I, one of them is remembered on the unknown soldiers monumnent to the 94,000 who died at the battle of the Somme. He is there with Tom kettle, poet, irish nationalist, scholar, politician and who left us one of the most poignant poems of the war dedicated to his baby daughter whom he never saw.

    To My Daughter Betty, The Gift of God
    by Thomas Michael Kettle
    dated ‘In the field, before Guillemont, Somme, Sept. 4, 1916’.

    In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown
    To beauty proud as was your mother’s prime,
    In that desired, delayed, incredible time,
    You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,
    And the dear heart that was your baby throne,
    To dice with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme
    And reason: some will call the thing sublime,
    And some decry it in a knowing tone.
    So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,
    And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,
    Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,
    Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,—
    But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed,
    And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

  33. I was in Limerick visiting family on Saturday 12th Nov. and to have my new baby boy christened with ‘his people’. I live in the UK now and with the current conflicts that Britain is involved in, the attention to the serving military personnel and those that have fallen is more visible than at any time since I moved here 10 years ago.

    I was pleased to see that the Irish men who served in The Great War were being remembered on 11th November with the floral tributes on display. These young men lived in different time, when Ireland’s relationship with Britain was less complicated than it was soon to be. I had two granduncles that served. One came home the other did not. I never knew them personally, but I have been told much of about them.

    I would like to remember:

    James St. John Dundon
    Lieutenant (TP) Royal Army Medical Corps
    Served in Mesopotamia-entered 18th April 1916.Died: Saturday, 17th July 1916, Age 24.Son of John Dundon (solicitor) and Annie Dundon (nee Frost), of 101 O’Connell Street, Limerick, Ireland
    Cemetery: Basra War Cemetery, Iraq
    Grace Reference: V.S.8

    A bright young man that graduated first in his final year of medical school at Trinity College enlisted as an army doctor only to die from diseased water at his base.

    His brother George who was fighting in France wrote to his mother when St. John joined up; not to worry about him as he was well away from the intensity of the fighting.

    I would also like to remember George (Lieut. 5th Field Company R.E) who survived the war and upon returning quickly left again to continue his army carrier in India as an engineer in Punjab. George eventually came back to Ireland and lived out a quiet life in Dublin. I was told of his tremendous kindness to my father when both his parents died when he was a young man. His modesty belied his strong character that saw him through the conflict as evidenced by his award of a Military Cross for gallantry in action under heavy fire on 21st Aug. 1918. He never spoke of his experiences, but whenever the subject came up I seem to remember my father telling me that there would just be a long silence.

    I would also like to remember another young man, who I fear has nobody connected to him that can. Lieut. Francis Beresford Gloster of Parteen House. Francis was a Pilot in the Royal Flying Corps shot down with his co-pilot over enemy territory and killed 3rd Dec. 1917. The only reason I know this is that while clearing out my father’s office basement, I found the correspondence from the War Office setting out the details of his reported missing in action, right through to that confirming him in the list of dead from Germany via The Red Cross in Copenhagen.

    One other remarkable thing is a letter written by Lieut. C. Mayweg addressed to the mother of Francis and passed on by The War Office. Lieut. Mayweg was a German artillery officer, who being one of the few to witness the fall of Francis’ plane felt compelled to write to his family to let them know where he fell and what had happened. Mayweg reassures that ‘there were no external traces of injury and their peaceful and smiling countenances testified to rapid and painless death’. Mayweg found some personal effects on Francis’ body, one of which was a letter that gave him the address to write to. He tells how he could find nothing on his very youthful companion and ‘as circumstances did not allow the bodies being taken to the rear, they were buried on the spot where they fell. Their mutual grave lies in a neighbourhood which even in that fairly unquiet time was not much shot over by our opponents. Our Pioneers have put a cross over the grave with the inscription; Here lies the English Flight Lieut. Gloster and his companion’.

    The humanity of this has never left me and the sense of honour that combatants felt despite the slaughter is breath-taking.

    When I watched the visit of Queen Elizabeth 2nd to the Irish War Memorial earlier this year to honour so publicly the contribution and sacrifice these Irishmen gave, these names came to my mind. When I saw the excellent way the ceremony was handled by the Irish Government, by our then President, the army and The Queen, I felt at last my country has grown up and truly taken its rightful place as a mature and honourable nation and was moved to tears.

    Let none of them be forgotten.

  34. I’m a bit late but in the same sentiment as @GeorgeDundon, I’d like to remember my great-grandfather who fought at the Battle of the Somme. I knew him as a child. He died at 98 when I was 7 years old. He never liked to talk about his experiences at war. According to older family members, he rarely spoke of it and left no recorded memories or notebooks. Majoring in War Literature at university, I very much wish I had the opportunity to know him better and maybe have been privileged to hear some of his personal accounts. I think he would have had some stories to tell!

    Rest in Peace “Granddad”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.