Why I joined the Army
- IRISH PATRIOTS IN A COMMON CAUSE.
- SHARING THE PERILS OF THE TRENCHES.
From the moment that war was declared between England and Germany, from that hour when the issues were so clearly and cogently defined by Sir Edward Grey in the House of Commons, without doubt or hesitation of any sort I, as an Irish Nationalist, abating not one jot of my national opinion or views, threw in my lot whole-heartedly with the cause of the Empire, which I conceived to be also the cause of liberty and of humanity.
The group of Independent Nationalists, with Mr. William O’Brien, MP., as our leader and the eloquent exponent of our doctrines, made no conditions or stipulations as to the nature of the support we should give to England in her hour of need. If the war was a just war, if it was waged for righteous ends, if it was in the interest of Ireland to bear arms in it , then assuredly it would be but a beggaring of our support if we were to lay down conditions and to haggle over contingent benefits. Either the war was a just one from the British standpoint or it was unjust. Either it was to the interest of Ireland to identify herself with the Empire, or, sulking in the memories of past wrongs, to remain aloof, or, seeking vengeance for what was done in evil times, actively to associate herself with the aims of the enemy. But for men of principle and honour and straightforward thought there could be no middle course and no paltering with petty issues of party or parochial advantage.
- THE THICK OF IT
We did not offer that the services of our fighting population should be confined to the duty of defending the shores of Ireland from invasion. We said that, wherever the fighting was hottest and severest, wherever there was need of the proved valour of Irish arms, there our fighting race should go to maintain the proudest tradition of Irish chivalry and courage, and to win the heart of England for ever to the side of Ireland by the generosity of our sacrifice and the extent of our support.
Such was the attitude of Mr. William O‘Brien, MP., and his friends towards this greatest of wars and on the basis we made appeal to the manhood of Ireland to rally to the side of England and her Allies. We even went further, we sought to unite all parties and creeds in Ireland on a common platform in support of a common war policy.
It would serve no purpose at this stage to attribute blame for the failure that attended the efforts of Mr. O’Brien to realise a most noble ideal. Had he succeeded in his purpose, and had the leaders of all political parties in Ireland been able to subordinate personal considerations and rise to the heights of a great occasion many things might have been different at this moment, and, instead of having created one Irish division in twelve months, we might have raised an Irish army corps, composed of the cream of the fighting blood of Ireland.
- UNSTINTED SUPPORT
When the decision was come to by the War Office authorities to create a purely Irish division, we decided to give it our unstinted support. I made earnest appeal to my friends among the working classes of Munster -–I was president of the labour movement in that province, and had established some claims to their confidence – to give of their best to the prosecution of this war, and to come forward early. But as time went on, and as the war assumed its true proportions, as the tide swept on from Mons and was rolled back at the Marne, it began to be borne in on me – that I had a personal duty and an obligation of honour to discharge -- that I had no right to demand from others a sacrifice it was well within my own power to make.
True, I was no longer a young man – I had reached what is known as the prime of life. True, also, I had a wife and a large family, to whom I am deeply attached. Further, my eldest boy was serving in the Navy, and on those grounds I might plead some claims to exemption from active service.
But, after all, when I came to examine my position by the cold light of logic and reason, I found that these were only the flimsiest of pretexts and excuses, and that so long as I could serve, so long as no physical bar or impediment existed, so long as no overwhelming private or public claims barred the way, there was only one thing for me to do -- unless I was to stand as a coward before my own conscience -- and that was to offer myself to the Army, so that I might share the same perils, endure the same hardships, undergo the same training, equip myself in the same way as thousands of other married men who were bravely leaving home and family and affection behind to give their all for the cause most dear to mankind – liberty and justice and the right to live under a free flag and a generous constitution.
And so early last year saw me enrolled as a fighting soldier in Kitchener’s Army. I learnt my trade in the barrack square of Buttevant, Co. Cork. I tumbled out of bed at six o’clock every morning – and I was by no means an early riser before – I went through my hour’s physical drill with the youngest and the best and it gives me rare pleasure to say that Mr. Stephen Gwynn, M.P., over whom I possess some advantage in age, did likewise.
He and Mr. Kettle from the Redmonite side, and I from the O’Brienite camp, others of every varying hue of political thought, forgot everything save that we were soldiers in a common cause. And that it was “up to us“ in the least possible time so to get trained ourselves that we may be able to train others, to take their place in the military organisation of the Empire.
We have already been in the trenches. We know what trench warfare means. We have suffered our share of casualties, but, we are out here for the glory of Ireland and to maintain the prestige of British arms, and we mean to leave our mark on the battlefields of France before this dreadful carnage comes to an end.