Written on: 6. 6. 2022 in the category: Uncategorized

June 6th,1944: A Day to be Remembered For Ever

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On June 6th, 2017, the 73rd anniversary of the Normandy landings, as a pioneer journalist in the study of the Irish who served against the Third Reich, I made an address in Monkstown Church of Ireland Church in honour of the memory of the Irishmen and women of the allied forces in the Second World War. This is what I said.

Each June, a pot of shamrock mysteriously appears in the cemetery in the little Normandy churchyard of Toufreville. It is placed beside the grave of  Private Edward Delaney O’Sullivan of the 22nd Independent (Pathfinder) Company of the British Parachute Regiment. When this Irish volunteer touched down outside the village after midnight on June 6th, seventy five years ago, he was part of the human vanguard of one of the greatest political and cultural advances in world history.

At that moment, almost the entire Eurasian landmass, from the Arctic circle to the Mediterranean, from the South China Seas to the north west Pacific, was governed by various forms of brutal totalitarianism – Nazi, communist, fascist and Bushido.

This young Irishman, who went into action with a tricolour on his sleeve, was thus the personal representative of an entire democratic culture, now arriving under arms to displace the genocidal murderousness of The Third Reich. He was soon killed in a brief and mutually-fatal firefight with a German sentry, thus becoming one of the first allied soldiers to die in the battle for  Normandy. By the time that battle was over,  up to 50,000 French civilians had been killed. 

In 1944 alone, from north and south, some 1,900 Irish-born soldiers, sailors, airmen and servicewomen were killed with UK forces: more than five a day. Demographically,  the American equivalent today would be an annual death toll of  some 700,000 people, or 14 times the US losses in Vietnam. From the first landings in continental Europe in July 1943, some 800 soldiers from independent, neutral Ireland – many of them veterans of the Irish army – gave their lives in the freeing of Europe, from the shores of Sicily to the gates of Belsen and beyond.

That terrible name alone gives us some sense of the rival moralities at work. As do the following:

From independent Ireland, Royal Marine Commando Sergeant Samuel Wallace,  Army Commando, Sapper Peter Farrell, Special Air Service Privates Christopher Ashe and Michael Joseph Brophy,  SAS NCOs Corporal John Kinnevane  and Sergeant Michael Fitzpatrick MM.

From Northern Ireland, SAS privates  Thomas Barker, Howard Lutton, George Robinson,  Joseph Walker and William Pearson, Croix de guerre.

These Irishmen were all captured in uniform, tortured and then murdered in the field, with two exceptions.

Private Ashe was held for two unimaginable months in Germany before being shot on November 25, 1944.

Private Hutton had been badly wounded before being captured. He was brutally interrogated before being finished off with a lethal injection.

Other Irish SAS men to die that summer included Dominic McBride from Donegal and James O’Reilly from Dublin

In all, ten percent of the SAS war-dead were Irish, as were one in thirty of ALL British army warrant officers. For example, Company Sergeant Major James Dunphy from Kilkenny, with the Devonshires, and Company Sergeant Major John Murphy of the South Lancashires, were both killed in the landings. However, Company Sergeant Major Daniel O’Connell, from Ballineen, Cork, with the Surreys, survived them.

Alongside him was Lieutenant Patrick Toolan a working class Catholic from the slums of North Belfast who had won a Military Medal with the Gordon Highlanders before being commissioned into the Surreys. These two gallant Irish officers, both of extremely humble origin, were killed within a day of one another in mid-June 1944.

And, like them, most Irish volunteers actually served in non-Irish regiments. Amongst the Irish dead of Normandy are Private Michael O’Connor of the Somerset Light Infantry, Private Bill Liston of the South Lancashires, and Trooper Thomas McClelland of the London Sharpshooters.

Many Irish volunteers fell with the RAF during the Normandy campaign; let Kenneth Robinson of this parish, and air gunner Patrick Joseph McCarthy of Dublin, stand for them all.

Flying Officer Robinson was fatally wounded while attacking German shipping in his Spitfire, while Flight Sergeant McCarthy’s Lancaster was shot down over Normandy and his body is buried in Etreville Churchyard, along with those of his Canadian crewmates, like the Irish, volunteers all.

In revenge for the landings, Hitler unleashed his V1 flying bombs on London, where thousands of Irishwomen had gone over to help the British war effort.

 Violet Cunningham from Sligo was a Fire Guard, attending the aftermath of enemy bombings, and Ellen Moore of Cork was a member of the Women’s Volunteer Service.  

Nurse Nora Field from Mallow was working in the Jewish home of Rest, Nurse Bridget Quinn of Tourmakeady was at the West End Hospital, and Nurse Mary Coughlan from Moate, county Westmeath was at Mary Abbott’s Hospital. Nurse Bridget Baker, from Mayo, had recently been bereaved, her husband Charles having been killed in action in Italy.

And that June, all these Irishwomen serving the cause of freedom were killed in V1 attacks. So too was Bridget Baker’s four-year old son Michael, while her other son, Stephen, now an orphan, duly vanished from history.

As did so many other people that summer in those camps beyond the horizon.

Meanwhile, third battalion, Irish Guards were deploying to Normandy in July when a V1 missile hit the London home of Sergeant Frederick Collins of that regiment, killing all three of his children Thelma, seven, Marjorie, nine and Trevor ten.

On July 12, a Dubliner and former Connaught Ranger, Louis O’Loughlin welcomed to his London home some Irish visitors who had joined the British war effort.

At Christmastime 1940, his earlier home had been hit by a Luftwaffe bomb, and his wife, originally Mary Leonard, from Gort, County Galway, had been killed.

Two years later in 1942, also at Christmastime, their son, Able Seaman Louis O’Loughlin junior, Royal Navy, had been killed in an attack on his ship, HMS Firedrake.

Now, on this July day in 1944, a V1 missile fell on the crowded O’Loughlin home, killing Able Seaman O’Loughlin’s young widow, formerly Margaret Carroll, from County Clare.

It also killed both of Louis O’Loughlin’s daughters, Mary Rosalie O’Loughlin, and Agnes O’Loughlin, another nurse.

It killed their Irish friends, Nurse Madeline Brown from Cavan, and Nurse Mary Kavanagh whose husband was at the front.

But it did not kill poor Louis O’Loughlin senior, a veteran of the Boer war and the Great War. Of his entire family, just he and his son, Flight Lieutenant Michael O’Loughlin DFC, who logically should have been the most vulnerable, survived the war.

No words in any language yet devised by mortal man could ever convey the immensity of such a personal catastrophe, delivered as it was in such evil, measured instalments.

And ahead lay the bitter harvest for those who would lose their loved ones in the very last days of the war. In south county Dublin, these included RAF Pilot Officer William MacKay of Glenageary, Lt Martin FitzGerald MC, Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, of Dundrum, and Irish Guardsman PJ McKee of Blackrock, who died of wounds the day after the war ended.

Even as peace finally settled on the charnel house that was Europe, in Kinsale County Cork Ethel Barry was to receive two of those much-dreaded telegrams from the War Office. The first announced that her son Denis, a Captain in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, had just died as a prisoner of war in Germany and the second that her husband, Brigadier Francis Barry, had perished also.

From these few words, you will have gathered something of the utter vileness of war. But a far greater vileness was meanwhile being spelt out in the alphabet of National Socialism’s pathological anti-Semitism: Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Chelmno, Dachau, Endlosung, Flossenberg, Gestapo and Heydrich.

The Irish people were denied knowledge of this lexicon of extinction until after the war. But from May 1945, Irish newspapers were finally able to report on the monstrous fate of most of Europe’s Jews, and also to carry death notices for the Irish fallen, previously forbidden.

These, now informed by the revelations over the death-camps and the utter foulness of the enemy that their loved ones had died fighting, were often steeped in the contradictory emotions of excruciating grief and immeasurable pride.

For example: “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.G.S, a friend.”

It would reassuring if the Irish who had fought to save Europe were treated with respect once they had come back to Ireland. But the reverse was the case. In May 1945, Irish Army deserters who had enlisted with the allies began to return home in the belief that there was an amnesty. However, there was no such kindness. In the largest arrest-operations since the Civil War, Military Police began to check incoming ferries and cross-Border traffic. Two such deserters, Patrick Kehoe, RAF, and Patrick Shannon, British army, were arrested at Dundalk. Flight Sergeant Kehoe had flown 22 missions over Germany before being shot down in March 1945 and taken prisoner. Corporal Shannon had served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, where he was captured. Upon liberation, an only child, he had been given special leave to rush home and see his terminally-ill mother. Despite this, Shannon (like Kehoe) was kept in military custody for over two weeks, while hundreds of other returning servicemen were arrested. They included Patrick Mortimer, 22, who had deserted the Army in 1943, joined the British Paras, and jumped in both the D-Day landings and in the Rhine Crossing. Six weeks after the names “Belsen” and “Buchenwald” made their first appearance in Irish newspapers, he was arrested arriving at Dun Laoghaire, on June 6th 1945, no less: the first anniversary of the day he had helped begin the liberation of Europe.

Counsel for Kehoe and Shannon, Irish Army Captain Peadar Cowan, told their court martial in Collins barracks that they had gone to serve against “what His Holiness has called ‘the satanic spectre of Nazism’”.

The two men were sentenced to 156 days in military custody, but the sentence was put aside, and they were released, as later was Mortimer.

Asked in the Dail by Mr S O’Leary TD about the hundreds of other such cases pending, the Minister for Defence Oscar Traynor declared: “I am afraid that I cannot share the deputy’s apparent solicitude for deserters. They are, in my opinion, worthy of very little consideration.”

However, he continued, since it simply wasn’t worth the trouble of dealing with them all “as they deserved”, Army deserters who had fought for the allies would no longer be court-martialled. Instead, and by special government decree, these men – numbering many thousands – would NEVER  be able to claim old age pensions or unemployment benefits in Ireland, would NEVER be allowed to work for state boards and would NEVER be employed by any local authority.

In other words, they become official non-persons.

However, as we now know, IRA men who had been in league with the Nazis were given their jobs back in the semi-state sector after their release from internment, their pensions protected during their time on the Curragh. Soon Dublin Corporation would allow a statue to be raised in the memory of one of their colleagues, Sean Russell, who had died on his way to Ireland in a German U-boat at the height of the Battle of Britain.

All these years on, what is the appropriate emotional response to the war-service of that generation of Irishmen and women who took the side of the allies? Is pride still the right word? Can that even be proper, amidst so much unspeakable suffering?

But why not? For the plain people of Ireland to have done nothing and to have declared that this war was none of their business, would have been a betrayal of that deep human obligation to take sides against tyranny.

It also would not have been consistent with the highest standards of what it is to be Irish.

This is not a criticism of our neutrality. That was the only prudent response for a virtually defenceless island when confronted by a homicidal lunatic like Hitler. Moreover, were the landings themselves not made possible by weather intelligence gathered in Black Sod Bay and sent to the allies by the Irish Government? And now consider the outcome. Today, most of the Eurasian landmass, from the north cape of Norway to the straits of Hercules, from the straits of Malacca to the Kamchatka Peninsula, which lay helpless beneath various tyrannies 75 years ago, is either free or vastly freer than it was then. 

Young O’Sullivan’s lonely death at Touffreville long before sunrise that June morning in 1944 was NOT in vain but the prelude to a new dawn. So we may acclaim him, along with ALL the many thousands of Irish volunteers, those who survived and those who did not, for doing their duty, on behalf of European civilisation and for the honour of their homeland.

They have given us the answer to those who ask of Ireland what did Ireland do, to which we can say, this is what the Irish did. Their service and their sacrifice for our freedom, today, and the good name of Ireland forever, deserve our eternal gratitude.

At the end of that service in  2017, I was approached by a woman who introduced herself: she was the German Ambassador. She was most interested in my talk. Could we meet to discuss it further? She had to return to Germany for work reasons and then was going on holiday. Could we meet for perhaps lunch in early August?

Of course, I said. At the end of July, I was falsely denounced on the internet as a Holocaust Denier during the most ferocious lynching in the history of Irish journalism. Most Irish journalists, who had never written a word about the Irish who had fought against the Third Reich and nothing about the Holocaust, either gleefully denounced or abjectly deserted me. They were not alone.

In early August, I rang the Ambassador as arranged. She was unable to take my call.



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