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The impact of political unrest in Ireland on Irish soldiers in the British army, 1914–18: a re-evaluation

  • Emmanuel Destenay (a1)
Abstract

In order better to understand the impact of political unrest in Ireland on Irish troops fighting in the First World War, it is necessary to acknowledge that the role of the 1916 Rising has been significantly overestimated, while the influence of the 1914 home rule crisis and the repercussions of the anti-conscription movement have been underestimated. The 1914 home rule crisis significantly impacted on the Germans’ view of the Irish and conditioned the treatment of Irish P.O.W.s from December 1914 onwards. In addition, the post-1916 Rising executions and the conscription crisis had a severe impact on Irish front-line units, while also sapping the morale of other British combatants. The 1916 Rising might have been dismissed as a military operation conceived by a handful of republicans, with little support from the wider population, but the conscription crisis brought about widespread defiance towards British rule throughout the whole of nationalist Ireland. In line with British public opinion, British front-line officers and men strongly resented Ireland’s refusal to support the war effort at such a crucial moment. The consequence was the widespread targeting and stigmatisation of their Irish comrades-in-arms. Some British officers and men resorted to a form of psychological pressure, aimed at the public shaming of Irish troops. This article draws on new primary sources available at The National Archives in London, Dublin City Archives and University of Leeds Library to argue that the 1916 Rising was not the only political event in Ireland to have repercussions for Irish battalions fighting in the First World War.

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References
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1 Key works include: Falls, Cyril, The history of the 36 th (Ulster) Division (London, 1922); Harris, Henry, The Irish regiments in the First World War (Cork, 1968); Johnstone, Tom, Orange, green and khaki: the story of the Irish regiments in the Great War, 1914–18 (Dublin, 1992); Denman, Terence, Ireland’s unknown soldiers: the 16 th (Irish) Division in the Great War (Dublin, 1992); Fitzpatrick, David (ed.), Ireland and the First World War (Dublin, 1986); Hennessey, Thomas, Dividing Ireland: World War One and partition (London, 1998); Jeffery, Keith, Ireland and the Great War (Cambridge, 2000); Novick, Ben, Conceiving revolution: nationalist propaganda during the First World War (Dublin, 2001); de Wiel, Jérôme aan, The Catholic church in Ireland, 1914–1918: war and politics (Dublin, 2003); Horne, John (ed.), Our war: Ireland and the Great War (Dublin, 2008); Pennell, Catriona, A kingdom united: popular responses to the outbreak of the First World War in Britain and Ireland (Oxford, 2012), Myers, Jason, The Great War and memory in Irish culture, 1918–2010 (Dublin, 2013).

2 Leonard, Jane, ‘The reaction of Irish officers in the British army to the Easter Rising of 1916’ in Cecil Hugh and Peter Liddle (eds), Facing Armageddon: the First World War experienced (London, 1996), p. 266 ; Lemisko, Lynn, ‘Morale in the 16th (Irish) Division, 1916–1918’ in Irish Sword, xx (1997), p. 230 .

3 ‘Report of prisoner of war camp at Limburg and the attempted formation of a so-called Irish Brigade’, 1921 (T.N.A., WO 141/49); Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War: interviews and reports, 1914–19 (T.N.A., WO 161/98–101).

4 Aan de Wiel, The Catholic church in Ireland, p. 330.

5 Grayson, Richard, Belfast boys: how unionists and nationalists fought and died together in the First World War (London, 2009), p. 1 .

6 Harris, The Irish regiments, pp 8–9.

7 Pennell, A kingdom united, p. 194.

8 Pennell, Catriona, ‘Going to war’ in John Horne (ed.), Our war: Ireland and the Great War (Dublin, 2008), p. 41 .

9 Morrissey, John, ‘A lost heritage: the Connaught Rangers and multivocal Irishness’ in Mark McCarthy (ed.), Ireland’s heritages: critical perspectives on memory and identity (Aldershot, 2005), p. 76 .

10 Jeffery, Ireland and the Great War, pp 18–19.

11 Statistics of the military effort of the British Empire during the Great War, 1914–1920 (London, 1922), p. 363; Report on recruitment in Ireland, 1916 (T.N.A., WO 162/27, Cd. 8168, p. 2).

12 Cooper, Bryan, The 10 th (Irish) Division at Gallipoli (Dublin, 1995), p. 255 . At this point, the author has not identified any memoirs or letters from units with the 10th Division in which soldiers express their feelings in the aftermath of the Rising or during the conscription crisis.

13 Denman, Ireland’s unknown soldiers, pp 38–46.

14 Diary of Father McCrory, 1914–18 (P.R.O.N.I., D1868/1, p. 38).

15 Vane, Francis, Agin the governments (London, 1929), p. 258 ;

Father Joseph Wrafter to provincial, 2 Nov. 1915 (Irish Jesuit Archives, Correspondence of Father Wrafter, CHP1/63).

16 Myers, The Great War, p. 13; Denman, Ireland’s unknown soldiers, p. 127.

17 Bowman, Timothy, The Irish regiments in the Great War: discipline and morale (Manchester, 2004), p. 127 .

18 Grayson, Belfast boys, p. 11.

19 Ibid., p. xvi.

20 de Wiel, Jérôme aan, The Irish factor, 1899–1919: Ireland’s strategic and diplomatic importance for foreign powers (Dublin, 2010), p. 165 .

21 Tansill, Charles, America and the fight for Irish freedom, 1866–1922 (New York, 1957), p. 178 . See also One bold deed of open treason: the Berlin diary of Roger Casement, 1914–1916, ed. Angus Mitchell (Dublin, 2016).

22 Emmanuel Destenay, ‘La captivité des combattants irlandais de la Première Guerre mondiale: propagande de guerre, transferts de loyauté et résistances’ in Revue historique, no. 678 (Apr. 2016), pp 323–43.

23 Johnstone, Orange, green and khaki, p. 23.

24 Harris, The Irish regiments, p. 34.

25 Report of Arthur Williams, 1 Jan. 1914–31 Dec. 1918 (T.N.A., Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War, WO 161/98/385, p. 225).

26 Memorandum by Sir Roger Casement on the Irish brigade, 7 May 1915 (N.L.I., MS 13,085/7a).

27 Report of Arthur Williams, 1 Jan. 1914–31 Dec. 1918 (T.N.A., Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War, WO 161/98/385, p. 225).

28 Report of John Beattie, Aug. 1915–Feb. 1919 (T.N.A., Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War, Index 3, WO 161/101/108).

29 Report of Ryan Robert, 20 Oct. 1914 (T.N.A., Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War, WO 161/100/6, pp 2414–15).

30 Memorandum by Sir Roger Casement on the Irish brigade, 7 May 1915 (N.L.I., MS 13,085/7a).

31 Report of John Holden, 4 Sept. 1914 (T.N.A., Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War, WO 161/98/267, pp 140–1).

32 Report of Ryan Robert, 20 Oct. 1914 (T.N.A., Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War, WO 161/100/6, pp 2414–15).

33 Report of Thomas Fahey, 1 Jan. 1914–31 Dec. 1918 (T.N.A., Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War, WO 161/98/330, p. 183).

34 Report of Tim McCarthy, 1 Jan. 1914–31 Dec. 1918 (T.N.A., Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War, WO 161/98/331, p. 184).

35 Irish Soldier, 16 Oct. 1918.

36 Morrissey, ‘A lost heritage’, p. 71.

37 Ibid., p. 77.

38 Report of Ryan Robert, 20 Oct. 1914 (T.N.A., Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War, WO 161/100/6, pp 2414–15).

39 Report of John Cecil, Aug. 1915–Feb. 1919 (T.N.A., Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War, Index 3, WO 161/101/108).

40 Report of Joseph Mahoney, 29 Aug. 1914 (T.N.A., Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War, WO 161/98/119, pp 48–9).

41 Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker, 14–18, retrouver la guerre (Paris, 2000), p. 122.

42 Destenay, ‘La captivité des combattants irlandais’, p. 326.

43 Father Gill to provincial, 5 May 1916 (Irish Jesuit Archives, Correspondence of Father Gill, CHP 1/25).

44 Royal commission on the rebellion in Ireland: minutes of evidence and documents relative to the Sinn Féin movement, ix [Cd 8279], H.C. 1916, 9.

45 Joseph Clarke to Monica Roberts, 22 Apr. 1916 (Dublin City Archives (D.C.A.), Monica Roberts Collection, vol. i, RDFA/001/01).

46 Christopher Fox to Monica Roberts, 12 May 1916 (ibid., vol. ii, RDFA/001/14).

47 Thomas Finn to Monica Roberts, 13 June 1916 (ibid., vol. ii, RDFA/001/15).

48 Christopher Fox to Monica Roberts, 12 May 1916 (ibid., vol. ii, RDFA/001/14).

49 Christopher Fox to Monica Roberts, 31 May 1916 (ibid., vol. ii, RDFA/001/14).

50 Joseph Clarke to Monica Roberts, 11 May 1916 (ibid., vol. i, RDFA/001/01).

51 George Soper to Monica Roberts, 20 May 1916 (ibid., vol. iv, RDFA/001/2).

52 Memoirs of Second Lieutenant Butler, 27 Apr. 1916 (University of Leeds Library (U.L.L.), Liddle Collection, GS 0253).

53 Second Lieutenant R. B. Marshall to his mother, 4 May 1916 (U.L.L., Liddle Collection, GS 1056).

54 Grayson, Belfast boys, p. 13; The Incinerator, 1 June 1916.

55 Lieutenant R. P. Hemphill to his parents, 29 Apr. 1916 (U.L.L., Liddle Collection, GS 0741).

56 Perrett, Bryan and Lord, Anthony, The Czar’s British squadron (London, 1981), p. 43 .

57 Leonard, ‘The reaction of Irish officers’, p. 263.

58 Gwynn, Stephen, John Redmond’s last years (London, 1919), pp 230231 .

59 Denman, Terence, A lonely grave: the life and death of William Redmond (Dublin, 1995), p. 97 .

60 Lucy, John, There’s a devil in the drum (London, 1938), p. 352 .

61 Harry Loughlin to Monica Roberts, 17 June 1917 (D.C.A., Monica Roberts Collection, vol. i, RDFA/001/02).

62 Tom Barry, Guerrilla days in Ireland (Dublin, 1949), p. 1.

63 Hennessy, Thomas, Dividing Ireland: World War One and partition (London, 1998), p. 237 .

64 Denman, Ireland’s unknown soldiers, p. 142.

65 Bowman, The Irish regiments, p. 202.

66 Telegram from Dublin Castle to the War Office, 28 Apr. 1916 (T.N.A., Employment of military forces: Irish rebellion, WO 32/4307).

67 War diary of Anthony Brennan, 1915–17 (Imperial War Museum, London, P262, p. 7).

68 Regimental diary of 86 Infantry Brigade, General staff report, 24 Apr. 1916 (T.N.A., WO 95/2298).

69 Douglas Gill and Dallas Golden (eds), The unknown army (London, 1985), p. 59.

70 Regimental diary of 1st Irish Guards, 2–16 June 1916 (T.N.A., WO 95/1216).

71 Denman, Ireland’s unknown soldiers, p. 181.

72 Terence Denman, ‘The Catholic Irish soldier in the First World War: the “racial environment”’ in I.H.S., xxvii, no. 108 (Nov. 1991), p. 365.

73 Morrissey, ‘A lost heritage’, p. 72.

74 Denman, ‘The Catholic Irish soldier’, p. 358.

75 Bowman, The Irish regiments, p. 205.

76 Diary of Captain Mason, 27 Apr. 1916 (U.L.L., Liddle Collection, GS 1066).

77 Second Lieutenant Goodwin to his mother, 26 Apr. 1916 (ibid, GS 0644).

78 Denman, Ireland’s unknown soldiers, p. 151.

79 Gwynn, John Redmond’s last years, pp 105–13.

80 Lucy, There’s a devil in the drum, p. 360.

81 Aan de Wiel, The Catholic church in Ireland, p. 205.

82 Second Lieutenant Parr to his parents, 23 May 1918 (U.L.L., Liddle Collection, GS 1227).

83 G. Mortimer to his father, 26 May 1918 (ibid., GS 1136).

84 Charles Winterbourne to a relative, 21 July 1918 (ibid., EP 094).

85 S. J. Wallis to a relative, 8 Oct.1918 (ibid., RNMN/WALLIS).

86 Harry Loughlin to Monica Roberts, 17 June 1917 (D.C.A., Monica Roberts Collection, vol. i, RDFA/001/02).

87 Father Gill to provincial, 29 May 1918 (Irish Jesuit Archives, Correspondence of Father Gill, CHP 1/25).

88 Major Nightingale to his mother, 24 Apr. 1918 (T.N.A., Nightingale papers, PRO 30/7/3).

89 Ibid.

90 Aan de Wiel, The Catholic church in Ireland, p. 211.

91 Denman, Ireland’s unknown soldiers, p. 139.

92 Grayson, Belfast boys, p. 102.

93 Morrissey, ‘A lost heritage’, p. 83. The author of the article would like to express his gratitude to the French Ministry of Defence and to the Irish Research Council for their funding, without which it would have been impossible to conduct his research.

* Centre for War Studies, School of History and Archives, University College Dublin,

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Irish Historical Studies
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