My grandmother’s small flat was usually crowded on Sunday morning after mass. My father, uncles and aunt talked noisily as the room filled with cigarette smoke (almost everyone smoked in the 1950’s). Seated in the armchair between the fireplace and the radiogram, my grandmother was matriarch and umpire should voices become raised or jokes unfitting. There in South London, far from Cork, Limerick and Dublin of their early lives, their gentle brogue and easy laughter belied an older sadness, the clues to which were easily found by a schoolboy, squeezed onto the floor  beside the bookshelf, which held volumes of orange and white Penguin paperbacks. On the top shelf a hard cover copy of the WW1 memorial book “The Pals at Suvla Bay” could be found and beside the fire grate two embossed brass shell cases “Ypres 1914-18”.  Sometimes I could look at the rugby cap stored in the old sea chest in her bedroom.

My grandfather’s ghost didn’t intrude much on day to day matters though, but he was grieved in stoic fashion on anniversary days and by remembrance cards guarded in missals. If I should ask about him I wasn’t exactly silenced but soon learned that conversation soon moved on to other more pressing matters: The London Irish rugby team, forthcoming christenings, union unrest, something else. So silently I studied Henry Hanna’s golden-bound book from Dublin: Ponsonby 12s.6d (1917) and often turned to page 221 to look at the photo of William Joseph Nagle, a two inch square portrait of a handsome young man in a private soldier’s uniform, among almost three hundred similar heads and shoulders. It’s the memorial book to the Dublin Pals, who marched from the sporting fields of Dublin to the sun broiled beaches of Gallipoli to fight with the allies, in a hail of bullets and shrapnel. It’s well over fifty years since those Sunday mornings and a whole century since they “Answered the call”. Beside my computer The Pals lies open once again on page 221, William Joseph Nagle, rugger forward from St Mary’s College RFC, looks out from the top of the page, beside him William O’Grady the young solicitor. Below him, portraits of Edward Nolan the doctor’s son from Tullow, Eldon Oldham of Dalkey chemist’s, Norman Connolly an official at Guinness’s and Michael O’Loughlin, civil servant and rowing champ of the Commercial Rowing Club. 

When, many years later, I visited the Gallipoli Peninsula and, one hot summer’s day, sat alone on a stone bench in one of the seldom visited Commonwealth cemeteries on the Suvla Plain, I felt a tremendous sadness among the graves of those Irishmen of the Tenth Division. All those young lives ended in seconds, minutes or days from each other, in the prime of life. My mental chatter halted, stunned and respectful, while time seemed to stand still. Just the rustling of trees and the sparkle on the Aegean Sea remained. A voice called me back, Mr. Ali Efe my Turkish battlefield guide and friend broke the silence “Don’t forget to say a prayer for our Turkish boys too”. 

My grandfather survived Gallipoli, then Serbia, where he froze in the mountains, Macedonia where he got malaria, eventually as Lieutenant he fought at Paschendale in 1917 but was badly wounded and shipped to London to recover in hospital. When it was finally all over he married my grandma in 1921 - they had seven children before he died at just forty two from pneumonia at Cork in 1933. Her grief and struggle to raise the littlest babes while the older ones were boarded at the Dublin Orphanage of St Vincent de Paul was a marathon of struggle and grief.

In the noisy sitting-room surrounded by her family and grandchildren she seemed positively queenly, generous and wise. The silent man from Mallow and Dublin had eloquently whispered in the schoolboy’s ear “ Don’t forget us, we went to fight for Ireland you know”.


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Tags: Dublin, WW1

Comment by Bit Devine on August 4, 2014 at 10:56am

Fitting to read this today... My father's paternal Grandfather gave his life at Gallipoli ... He and his two brothers and a cousin... all perished at Gallipoli...

Comment by John W. Hurley on August 4, 2014 at 8:56pm

Bob, my grandfather was in the 2nd Bat. Royal Munster Fusiliers, so he spent the war on the Western Front, but his neighbor in Ballyheigue Michael Reidy was in the 1st Bat. RMF's which went to Gallipoli and was slaughtered. Mr. Reidy was killed. With so few survivors the battalion had to be merged for awhile with the equally destroyed Dublin Fusiliers for a time giving themselves the nickname the "Dubsters". My grandfather lived on until 1969, I was only two when he died so I have no memory of him, but my middle name William, was for him.

It's so great that you have photos of him from the period. : ) Thanks for this article.

Comment by Jim Curley on August 6, 2014 at 6:23am

My God, your grandfather fought at Gallipoli and Paschendaele, He certainly didn't catch a break.

What your Turkish guide said reminds me of the words Kemil Ataturk said at the unveiling of a monument to the Anzacs:

Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

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