Friday 30 September 2016

Silence on Irish Gallipoli heroes finally ends

Ill-fated attempt to take the cliffs of Gallipoli cut a swathe through the Irish middle class, writes David Davin Power

David Davin Power

Published 19/04/2015 | 02:30

GALLIPOLI: Commonwealth soldiers take a moment’s rest in the trenches before going over the top in August 1915
GALLIPOLI: Commonwealth soldiers take a moment’s rest in the trenches before going over the top in August 1915

This week a hundred years ago my grandfather Jack Power was about to embark on an adventure that would change his life.

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He was one of the thousands of Irish soldiers who poured on to the beaches of Gallipoli in 1915. Their sacrifice was to be marked by a century of silence.

This week, the sound of a bugle echoing over one of those beaches will mark the end of that silence, with the first official acknowledgement of Irish involvement in the Gallipoli campaign at the Commonwealth Ireland Commemoration.

The title might not trip off the tongue - but its significance is unmistakable.

President Michael D Higgins will be there, along with a senior member of the British Royal Family, to mark the centenary of a campaign that failed spectacularly.

Jack Power was one of the thousands of Irish who signed up in 1914. A 33-year-old Dubliner from a comfortable background with a young family, he had three children with his wife, Rita - who had the unusual distinction of holding the title of the first Miss Ireland, though she wouldn't have seen it like that.

In 1908, the Chicago Tribune had set out to find the most beautiful woman in the world. The paper cast its nets as far as the Emerald Isle and my grandmother was selected.

She was featured in a full page spread in the paper, described in hyperbolic terms as a teacher, mother and a poet who was "worshipped by Ireland" and whose husband was the "luckiest man in the land".

This was the background that Jack left behind when he enlisted in the Army Service Corps.

He was to embark for France - only to be diverted to Gallipoli, where Churchill, who had been seeking what he described at the time as an "alternative to chewing barbed wire in Flanders", fatefully backed a hastily planned land campaign which was to end in real disaster.

When the first Irish solders tried to storm the beaches, the Dublin and Munster Fusiliers suffered 1,000 casualties in just four days as the seas ran red with blood.

After a war that would cut a swathe through the Irish middle classes ended, Gallipoli wasn't just swept under the UK carpet. "They came home to a country where there was only room for one set of heroes - and it wasn't them," says Oliver Fallon of the Connaught Rangers' Association.

When it comes to a campaign where well over 100,000 Allied and Turkish soldiers would die in just eight months, our TV programme reveals the proud records of those Irishmen who fought there. Men such as Dr Andrew Horne, one of the last five officers off the peninsula in the evacuation, whose twin daughters kept his memory alive by donating his archive to the National Museum.

Men such as young Philip Brennan, who left his Tipperary home for a new life in Australia, only to enlist there and lose his life at Anzac Cove.

Men such as William Cosgrove, who earned a VC for his part in storming the beaches - and is still remembered in his native Whitegate, Co Cork.

Another generation, including the grandnephew of Joseph Bagenal Lee, from a prosperous Dublin family but killed at Suvla Bay, has played a huge role in keeping the Gallipoli story alive.

But most of all I think of Jack Power, husband to the most beautiful woman in Ireland and my granddad. He came back a changed man, moved out of the family home and rarely spoke about Gallipoli. His niece says he was only known in the family as having been "very brave".

That is reflected in how he met his end; having survived one war, he perished in another, as an Air Raid Warden in the London Blitz. I hope that our documentary does justice to his record, and that of his forgotten comrades.

'Gallipoli: Ireland's Forgotten Heroes', written and presented by David Davin Power and directed by Ann Marie O'Callaghan and Mike Lee, goes out on RTE 1 at 10.15pm this Tuesday

Sunday Independent

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