Irish Government Pardons 5,000 'Deserters' from WWII

Today (May 8, 2013), the Irish government formally pardoned some 5,000 an apology for the way the State treated members of the Defence Forces who "deserted" to join the fight with Allied forces against Nazi Germany.

This decision generated some passionate discussion when it was posted on The Wild Geese Facebook page, so I wanted to broach the subject here.  Some would still consider these Irish men joining with British forces an act of treason.  Others laud the commitment and courage displayed by these men in helping to thwart the diabolical regime of Adolf Hitler.

What are your thoughts?

Tags: Germany, WWII

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I do not believe that there should be any official pardon and apology from the Irish government on behalf of the state. I am especially enraged by the following comment made by the Defence Minister, Alan Shatter, "The bill is being enacted in recognition of the courage and bravery of those individuals court martialled or dismissed from the defence forces who fought on the Allied side to protect decency and democracy during World War II." Isn't that, in effect, saying that Southern Ireland was wrong to remain neutral during the war and that Dev should have dragged us into a fight to "protect decency and democracy"? Yes, we all know that Nazi Germany was evil, but if we had joined the war we would have been fighting alongside Stalin's Soviet Union which was anything but decent and democratic and which murdered more people than Hitler's Germany did. And how decent and democratic was Britain which, during WW2, still ruled (often by force, and enforced starvation e.g. the artificial famine in Bengal in 1943 that killed up to 4 million people) over the largest empire the world had ever seen and which was still occupying the north-east of Ireland against the democratic wishes of the majority of the Irish people...that, though, is getting away from the topic.

What did those soldiers, who, we shouldn't forget, DID desert their own country's armed forces in time of national emergency, expect when they returned home after the war...a pat on the back and "Here's your job back"? However honourable their motives were (and many did not join the British military so that they could crusade against the evils of fascism but rather for the better pay they could earn, or for the chance of excitement and travel etc) they WERE deserters and were rightly treated as such. Why should Ireland have treated its deserters with any greater leniency than other countries did? Germany executed at least 15,000 deserters during the war, the Soviet Union executed 10 times that number. The United States prosecuted some 21,000 deserters, and Britain was still actively hunting down and imprisoning wartime deserters until 1953. Compared with that, the punishment meted out by the Irish government - being dismissed from the military and banned from holding a government job for 7 years - doesn't seem so severe.

To change the subject slightly...One of my Irish Grand-Uncles was working in Britain during the early war years and incorrectly assumed that because he was from Southern Ireland he would escape the draft, but he was called up and served as a tail-gunner in Sunderland flying boats with RAF Coastal Command. At one stage he was stationed at Pembroke Dock, in south-west Wales, and given the proximity to Ireland, and the fact that he was very homesick, he deserted from his unit and hopped on board a boat bound for his homeland. He was, however, arrested by the Irish authorities and returned by them to his unit in Wales...

Short video about these pardons.

http://youtu.be/hJeZ1I-Vc40

Kieron, fascinating story. I agree with you on this one. So did your grand-uncle remain in the UK after the war?

Kieron Punch said:

I do not believe that there should be any official pardon and apology from the Irish government on behalf of the state. I am especially enraged by the following comment made by the Defence Minister, Alan Shatter, "The bill is being enacted in recognition of the courage and bravery of those individuals court martialled or dismissed from the defence forces who fought on the Allied side to protect decency and democracy during World War II." Isn't that, in effect, saying that Southern Ireland was wrong to remain neutral during the war and that Dev should have dragged us into a fight to "protect decency and democracy"? Yes, we all know that Nazi Germany was evil, but if we had joined the war we would have been fighting alongside Stalin's Soviet Union which was anything but decent and democratic and which murdered more people than Hitler's Germany did. And how decent and democratic was Britain which, during WW2, still ruled (often by force, and enforced starvation e.g. the artificial famine in Bengal in 1943 that killed up to 4 million people) over the largest empire the world had ever seen and which was still occupying the north-east of Ireland against the democratic wishes of the majority of the Irish people...that, though, is getting away from the topic.

What did those soldiers, who, we shouldn't forget, DID desert their own country's armed forces in time of national emergency, expect when they returned home after the war...a pat on the back and "Here's your job back"? However honourable their motives were (and many did not join the British military so that they could crusade against the evils of fascism but rather for the better pay they could earn, or for the chance of excitement and travel etc) they WERE deserters and were rightly treated as such. Why should Ireland have treated its deserters with any greater leniency than other countries did? Germany executed at least 15,000 deserters during the war, the Soviet Union executed 10 times that number. The United States prosecuted some 21,000 deserters, and Britain was still actively hunting down and imprisoning wartime deserters until 1953. Compared with that, the punishment meted out by the Irish government - being dismissed from the military and banned from holding a government job for 7 years - doesn't seem so severe.

To change the subject slightly...One of my Irish Grand-Uncles was working in Britain during the early war years and incorrectly assumed that because he was from Southern Ireland he would escape the draft, but he was called up and served as a tail-gunner in Sunderland flying boats with RAF Coastal Command. At one stage he was stationed at Pembroke Dock, in south-west Wales, and given the proximity to Ireland, and the fact that he was very homesick, he deserted from his unit and hopped on board a boat bound for his homeland. He was, however, arrested by the Irish authorities and returned by them to his unit in Wales...

No, grand-uncle Joe did not remain in the UK, but returned to Ireland and lived in Limerick until his death in about 1999/2000. I spoke to him a year or two before he died about his wartime service and his memories of those times was still very sharp. It was obvious, though, that his experiences had traumatised him as he became quite upset when he recalled how he saw the remains of some of his aircraft gunner comrades being literally hosed out of their turrets following attacks by German fighters. There are many stories about how the Sunderland flying boats in which he flew (he also flew as a gunner in Catalina flying boats) were almost invulnerable to German fighter attacks thanks to their relatively heavy defensive armament, and the aircraft was given the nickname, "The Flying Porcupine". That was all Ministry of Defence propaganda used to cover the fact that the slow-flying Sunderland was very much at risk from the Luftwaffe.

These planes were given what types of missions, Kieron? Did Joe take part in any veterans reunions?

The Sunderland flying boats were manufactured by Short Brothers, of Belfast. They did not have great range, but they could stay aloft - cruising at less than 200 mph - for up to 14 hours. This made them ideal for convoy escort work and anti-submarine patrolling. My uncle served with 228 Squadron, RAF Coastal Command, and his squadron frequently patrolled in the Bay of Bascay where they sank at least two U-boats (I don't know if my uncle actually participated in those two engagements). His squadron also engaged in rescuing downed airmen anywhere from the western approaches, through the Channel and the coastal waters near the Netherlands and Denmark.

I don't believe he ever attended any reunions, and I don't think he ever returned to Britain again, even though he had two sisters living here in Coventry.

You go AWOL from an army and its known as desertion. They turned their backs on Ireland in time of war to serve the British Empire. They fought the Nazis so countries like Poland could be to be taken over by the communists. They fought in Asia so the Asians could be freed from the Japanese and ruled by the British. hardly noble causes.

It's a point of view I've seen expressed before, Ronan. How widespread would you say it is in Ireland? And would it likely start a fight in a pub when broached?

I generally avoid politics in pubs unless I know the people well. I remember staying in youth hostel in Belfast, which was located near Sandy Row.I went into the nearest pub and they were very friendly -until I mentioned I intended going to West Belfast. The atmosphere turned sour immediately.

I grew up knowing the Dublin Fusilier's Arch in St Stephens Green to be 'Traitors Gate'. These days those who fought the empire are regarded as heroes. The media and newspapers such as the Irish Times will not tolerate any criticism of those who fought for the empire.

I think a lot of Irish people have no opinion on the matter of the noble deserters. I would say my opinion, though popular twenty years ago, would now be the opinion of the minority. 

 

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