Wednesday 24 January 2018

Irish POW refused Casement's 'German brigade' offer out of loyalty to comrades

Dave Roche said his uncle Laurence Burke politely turned down the offer from Roger Casement. Photo: Michael MacSweeney
Dave Roche said his uncle Laurence Burke politely turned down the offer from Roger Casement. Photo: Michael MacSweeney
Laurence Roche. Photo: Michael MacSweeney
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A Defence Forces veteran has revealed how his uncle politely refused a plea from Roger Casement to join a German-run Irish Brigade while he was a POW.

Dave Roche (78) said his uncle Laurence Burke simply couldn't countenance the idea of betraying his Munster Fusilier comrades while in a German prisoner of war camp by joining such a brigade, which would owe allegiance to Kaiser Wilhelm II.

"He was a private in the Munster Fusiliers. He joined the regiment in 1899 and served in both South Africa and at Aldershot," explained Mr Roche, who is a UN peacekeeping veteran.

Private Burke hailed from Shanballymore in north Cork and, when World War I erupted in 1914, he was shipped out to the western front in France.

"He was captured along with some other Munster Fusilier soldiers under the command of Lieutenant EW Gower in an orchard outside Etreux in France by a large force of German soldiers," said his nephew.

Private Burke went to a German POW camp in late 1915. In early 1916, Casement approached him and other Irish soldiers about joining a special brigade the Germans hoped would exploit the success of the planned Rising in Ireland.

"My uncle, like a lot of other Irish soldiers, just felt that it would be letting down the comrades he had served alongside in the trenches."

Pte Burke was released in 1918 from Limburg and returned to Ireland where he became the postmaster in Bantry, west Cork.

Irish Independent

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