Pardon is too late for dad, says son of soldier branded an army deserter
Published 26/01/2012 | 05:00
THE son of an Irish soldier who was branded a deserter after he joined the British army to fight in World War Two says any state pardon will come too late for his father.
Paddy Reid spent five years fighting in horrific jungle conditions in Burma struggling with malaria, starvation and a fierce Japanese onslaught. He also fought in one of the most brutal battles of the war at Kohima in India.
He returned to his native Dublin after the war ended and married and settled in the docklands area.
However, rather than being hailed a hero, he found himself labelled a deserter by the Irish Defence Forces and placed on an employers' "blacklist". Unable to find work, he and his family struggled for years.
He was just one of nearly 5,000 soldiers from the Irish Defence Forces who deserted to join the British and Allied forces. Now a pardon for them is being considered by the Government.
Defence Minister Alan Shatter has said that the dishonourable discharge of the soldiers when they returned home after the war was "untenable". He said he was awaiting formal advice from the Attorney General Maire Whelan about how to proceed, but has indicated that a pardon is on the way.
Last night Paddy's son, who lives in Balbriggan and is also called Paddy, said his father, who died in 1988, left his barracks in Kilkenny and joined the 253 anti-tank regiment of the British army for a variety of reasons.
"There was low morale in the Irish Army, poor conditions, boredom, poor pay. The Army had nothing to do but sit there while the war was on."
Mr Reid said his father's inability to get work -- he was barred from any public service or state jobs -- meant the family often went without food.
"The man fought bravely, he was well respected in his community, but he wasn't allowed to work, to make a living or recover from the mental trauma that such a war had on a young man.
"There is no comfort in a pardon for these men, most of them died a long time ago.
"I always knew he was a good man, they didn't have to write a law to tell me that. These men fought to protect us from the Nazis. We'd all be speaking German if these men hadn't gone out to fight," he added.
Phillip Farrington (91), from Seville Place in Dublin's north inner city, is another soldier who was branded a deserter.
He was 19 when he enlisted in the British army and served in France and Germany, taking part in the D-Day landings and helping to liberate Bergen-Belsen.
However, he was reluctant to speak of his experiences once back in Ireland.
"It was always hush, hush, he didn't mention it. On his 90th birthday we made him put on his medals for some photos but he took them off as soon as someone he wasn't familiar with came into the room," explained his grandson, Patrick Martin.
"From what I've heard, there was a mixture of reasons why he enlisted with the British army. The war was on and he had just married so he needed the money and the pay was better than in the Irish Army.
"Boredom had a little to do with it -- they were doing nothing here."
While visiting Ireland during the war, Mr Farrington was arrested for desertion and imprisoned in Cork for six months. He was released suffering from malnutrition, but once fit he returned to Britain.
Mr Martin said he understands why the authorities at that time labelled his grandfather and the others deserters, however that needed to be overturned now, he said.
What they did was wrong