Written on: 13. 11. 2011 in the category: news

Address at St Patrick’s Cathedral on Remembrance Sunday

This is the address I made on Remembrance Sunday at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin November 13, 2011

I begin today by honouring our new President, the commander in chiefof our Defence Forces. Mr President sir, that is surely an honour you will hold closeto your heart – and in this place especially.
For fifty one years ago this week the Niemba Ambush of our soldiers in the Congo took place. And it was at the remembrance Sunday servicehere two days later that the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Simms, made the very FIRSTgreat public tribute to theArmy’s dead in the Congo. Among those to contribute most generously that day to the newly-established Niemba-fund were the associations of the disbanded Irish regiments of the British army.
Irish soldiers always honour Irish soldiers.

Five decades on, the Army is again maintaining its noble UN peace-keeping traditions, now back in the Lebanon: tomorrow, as it happens, is the 20th anniversary of the death in action there of Corporal Michael McCarthy. Meanwhile, inAghanistan, our incredibly brave Ordnance Officers on a UN mandate serve alongside their NATO friends. They are all in our thoughts today.

But we are here primarily to remember the Irish dead of two world wars:. Only a handful of survivors of the Second War now remain, some of whom are with us here today.

Over the years, I’ve spoken to many Irish veterans, and asked the same question: why? The answer has invariably been: because it was the right thing to do.
Quite so.
But it was also right for others to have stayed behind, to defend Irish sovereignty.

Moreover, it would be naïve to attribute simple, pure motivations to all our 9,000 war dead.

The first Irish victim, for example, was a career-airman, 23 year old Flying Officer William Murphy, from Mitchelstown County Cork, killed in the very first RAF bombing raid of the war. His brother, an army doctor, was to die in Japanese captivity.
But how can we presume to judge others’ motives? Of, say, the 19 year old Royal Navy sailor from Cork, lost in 1940, whose name was Patrick Pearse Murphy? Or of the RAF warrant officer who died of wounds in 1942, aged 21, and whose name was
Terence de Valera Dignan.

The first RAF Victoria Cross of the war went posthumously to an Irish career-airman: Flight Lieutenant Donald Garland, from Wicklow. By war’s end, his three remaining brothers – Patrick, John and Desmond – had also lost their lives in RAF service. So who now cares whether Donald was professional or not?

Dermot Duggan of Foxrock, an only child, was just four when his father, George, was killed in Flanders in 1917. In June 1940, surgeon-lieutenant Dermot Duggan was lost when the HMS Glorious carrier forcewas sunk in the North Sea, with the loss of over a thousand lives, 68 of them Irish, so leaving his mother Dorothy
a childless widow.

Harold Sloan of Bray, similarly an only child, was six whenhis father was killed in Flandersin 1917. Like Dermot, Harold became a doctor and joined the royal Navy. Like Dermot,Harold was killed at sea in 1940. And like Dermot’s mother Dorothy, Harold’s mother,
Mabel was also left a childless widow.

Who will ever know anything of the lives of grief and sorrow and solitude that those poor women thenceforth lived?

The very same day that Dermot Duggan died, Flying Officer Charles Bomford of Ballycommon, Tipperary, was shot down and killed in France.

Four years later, his only brother Richard, a lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade, was killed in action in Italy.

23 year old Lieutenant Herbert Oswald was killed in France in May 1940. He was the son of The Revd. Herbert and Constance Oswald, of Co. Westmeath. Two years later, their only surviving son Noel, now also 23, was killed in action with the Royal Artillery.

John McFall was from Monaghan and was killed with the Royal Ulster Rifles in April 1941. A year later, his parents’ sole surviving child, sergeant pilot Joseph McFall RAF was fatally wounded.

Captain Henry Gallaugher, from Donegal, had been one of the bravest officers in the Inniskilling Fusiliers in the Great War. He was killed in action at Messines in 1917.

His sister Mary named her first-born son after him.

And Pilot Officer Henry Gallaugher Browne, RAF, aged 22, was shot down and killed, almost twenty-four years to the day after his uncle’s death.

In May 1943, Flight Lieutenant Arthur Patrick Dowse DFC, the son of Herbert and Florence Dowse, of ArdBrugha Villas, Dalkey, and on his second tour of operations, stayed at the controls of his doomed Lancaster to enable his crew to bail out.

They did and all survived. He did not.

Eighteen months later, his only brother, Dick, a sergeant pilot in the RAF, was killed, aged 21.

Death did not always come singly. In May 1941, HMS Gloucester was sunk off Crete, taking with her George Simmons aged 30, and James, aged 23, youngest and oldest sons of Alfred and Christina Simmons of Westport, County Mayo

Yes, There are memorials to the dead: but none to the bereaved, perhaps because the stone has not yet been cut that is able to convey the wasteland of grief that must lie between
that final telegram and the final peace of thetomb.

In 1940, a group ofIrish nurses in London enlisted together. Four years later, in February, 1944, their vessel, the SS Khedive Ismael was torpedoed, sinking within minutes.

Amongst the1300 dead were many Kenyan volunteers: but so too were nine,young,Irish military nurses:

These were Isabella Burrowes, of Coote Hill, Cavan;
Gertrude Dervan, of Loughrea Co Galway,
Beatrice Dowling of Belfast;
and Muriel Lecky from County Down.

And also

Two-seven-four-six-three-six Catherine Fitzgerald, of Douglas Co Cork; two-seven-four-seven-three-seven , Maud Johnston, of Ireland, two-seven-four-seven-two-seven Maggie Kells, and her sister, two-seven-four-seven-three-threeWinnieKells, daughters of William and Mary Ann Kells, of Milltown County Cavan.

These young women’s almost consecutive numbers tell us that they’d enlisted together, trained together, and served together.

And then, in the Indian Ocean, between the equator and the Maldives, on a bearing of one degree 25 to the north, and seventy two degrees 22 to the East, this gallant band of sisters died together.

In all, 16% of British military nursing deaths were of Irishwomen.

From May 1945 onwards, Irish newspapers were finally allowed to carry death notices. One of them tells an abiding truth far more powerfully than can I. It reads: “Williams, in memory of a dear friend, a noble character, a loyal companion, and former student. Lieutenant Sean Williams, Royal Artillery, Trinity College Dublin,

who gave his life so that I and others might live to pursue our ideals in freedom.

Signed
E.GS, a friend.”

The first Irishman actually to give his life in the territorial liberation of Europe wasMajor Astley John Cooper, a glider pilot, killed in the Sicily landings in July 1943. He was from Dundrum, County Tipperary.
From that day, over 800 soldiers from independent, neutral Ireland were killed in the freeing of Europe, from the shores of Italy to the gates of Bergen Belsen and beyond.
During the evil battles of 1944 alone,from north and south, some 1,900 Irish-born soldiers, sailors and airmen were killed: that is, more than five a day.Which,demographically, would betheequivalent of adaily death-toll of over 350 Americansin Afghanistan, which God forbid.
And not all the Irish died in battle.
At least eleven Irishmen serving with the SAS or the Commandoes were captured and murdered by the Nazis. Others were killed with the Special Operations Executiveworking with resistance movements.

These varied in social status from the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava of Clandeboye,
to Tom Kennedy
from just up the road here, who’d won the DCM, was commissioned from the ranks, and as Captain, was killed in Italy 1944.

Sgt John Mahony – from Birr, County Offaly, at 18,was the veryyoungest RAF flier of any nation killed in action in 1943. And Stanley O’Connor-Tate an air-gunner from Dunmore East was, at 41, probably the oldest.

Flying Officer Robert Sullivan was the son of
Alexander Sullivan QC, who had defended Sir Roger Casement after the 1916 Rising. Robert was on his 30th andfinal mission of his tour when his plane was lost without trace in January 1944.

John Kirwan a 25 year old airgunner from Dungarvan Kilkenny had just won a DFM for bravery, and Flight Sergeant Bernard McDonagh from Sligo had similarly won a George Medal. Theywere killed the same night in 1944.
Two lads from the northside of Dublin called Whelan went up to Belfast to enlist in 1943 and became air-gunners.
John Whelan, from Glasnevin was 19 when he was killed with the RAF inMarch 1944. An orphan, he had been fostered by a Mrs Kenny, a previously childless widow
– to which condition she now reverted.

His fellow air-gunner and near namesake, Leo Whelan- fromMarino –had managed to make it to the age of 20 when was he was killed that August .

Gerald Neville, anothernorthsideworking class boy was from Phibsboro,justbeside the old Dalymount Park football stadium. William Purnell-Edwards wasfrom Blackrock, andas his name suggests, was probably a little bit grander,.
What these two boys had in common was that they were both Irish. Both volunteers in the war against Hitler. Both air gunners: Both aged 19.
Andthey both died,the same OCTOBERnight over Germany.

In all, some 250men from neutral independent Ireland died in the service of RAF Bomber Command alone. 250 – Compared to 218 Frenchmen, 136 Czechs and 34 Norwegians, all of whom came from lawfully belligerent countries.
I cannot mention this without reminding you of the abominable fate of the hundreds of thousands of German civilianswho perished in alliedair raids. But we are here not to endorse war-policy, butmerely to remember ourIrish military victims.Nor is this always simple.

In 1947, this notice appeared in The Irish Times: In loving memory of my son, Captain Arthur Luger, 1stbattalion Leinster Regiment, died 13 August 1918, and my grandson Flt Lieutenant Derek Luger, RAF, died, March 1945.

The man who placed that death-notice was in fact German. Anton Luger had come to Ireland to teach at King’s Hospital school. HisIrish-born son,Arthur, an officer in the British army,was killed shortly before the end of one war.The death notice from Arthur’s mother, the German-born Clara, summed up all the hideous confusion of their lives as she lamented: “With Christ, which is far better” .
And Anton’s and Clara’s grandson Derek died of wounds twenty six years later,afterbombingthe capital city of their native land.
The German name Luger brings me to my final Irish name, O’Hara:
Lieutenant Michael Frederick O’Hara, SOE, was caught behind Nazi lines in April 1945, andshot.
He is one reason why this gathering remains important.
For his real name wasn’t Michael O’Hara, but Egon Friedrich Berliner, a Jewish freedom-fighter from Vienna. Michael O’Hara was just an alias. How interesting that he should have chosen such an emphatically Irish-soundingname.Did he think that it was a perfect cover-story for an outsider in the British army?
For who else in Europe but the Irish have so often and so generously given so much to others,to paraphrase an earlier testimony, in order that “wemight all live to pursue our ideals in freedom”?

Perhaps,EgonFriederich Berliner knew this: perhaps he didn’t. But we DO know. We also know that no organised government has ever unleashed such psychopathic, irrational and genocidal violenceupon every single one of its neighbours,as did the Nazis .

They diminished our common vocabulary with an unmatched and imperishable lexicon of evil that is without historical precedent in the annals of the English language;
Auschwitz, Belsen, Chelmno, Dachau, Eichmann, Fuehrer, Goebels, and Himmler through to V-weapons, Waffen SS, Yellow Stars of David and Zyklon B.

We know that unless free people defend their freedom against such a foe, there is nothing left to defend. Once that freedom goes, all else might follow. And some 200, 000 volunteers from the island of Ireland volunteered that that freedom should not go. They helped end a regime that ruled by the guillotine, the firing squad and the gas-chamber.

Which is why we still honour the memory of our Irish dead, from Norway to Normandy, the Baltic to the Balkans.

The liberated lands, in due course, became the heartland of what is now the European Union. Our bondholders there, who have us on the rack, might be completely unaware of the debt that they owe the thousands of Irish dead, who died freeing an unfree Europe: but at least we in this cathedral do know of it.
And we DO remember.
Which is why we are here today.