Thursday 22 March 2018

Poignant tribute to war dead

Photographs lost for a century portray shocking reality of battle

Kevin Keane

FOR almost a century, they lay undisturbed -- photographs taken amid the horror of World War One by a young Frenchman with Irish roots.

Raymond Joseph Fitzgerald could never have predicted his granddaughter would find these poignant mementoes in the living room of her Dublin home.

Now his prints are part of an exhibition in Christ Church, Bray, Co Wicklow, 'The Exhibition of Remembrance', depicting the shocking reality of war.

"Raymond would have been from the officer class but he wanted to be involved so he joined as an ordinary soldier down in the trenches," his granddaughter Aoife Fitzgerald said.

She found the pictures in files brought back to Ireland by her father after the Fitzgeralds had lived in France for three generations.

"Only a French soldier would do that, with the two bayonets and the tin plate, his flowers and his bottle of wine down in the dugout," Ms Fitzgerald said of one of the more humourous photographs taken by her grandfather.

Elsewhere in the church, the exhibition includes weapons brought back from the front, and a large vista of gravestones and ruined buildings overgrown with poppies painted behind the altar.

A typical 1940s Irish living room has been recreated to show the everyday life for parishioners whose sons went off to fight in World War Two.

Simple white crosses have been erected in neat rows around the church, showing photographs of some of the 168 Bray men who died fighting in World War One.

"Many of them would have gone for patriotic reasons to ensure that by supporting the British, Ireland would have Home Rule after the war, and they died in horrendous circumstances," Reverend Baden Stanley told the Irish Independent.

This week, Irish people with links to the war will commemorate Remembrance Sunday to mark the end of World War One on November 11, 1918.

Despite the passage of time, Rev Stanley said the connection to the world wars was still strong.

"There's a parishioner of mine, she's in her 80s now and her brother was in the war on a ship in the Dardanelles. The order came for them to sail into the bay and they knew if they did it was going to be utter destruction.

"He looked around the ship and said, 'There's 20 or 30 Wicklowmen here, if I go in to that bay, they are all gone'.

"Later on in the war this man died but this parishioner of mine, she says that over the years people have come up to her and said, 'Your brother is the reason I am alive today'."

'The Exhibition of Remembrance' is open 9am-9pm each day this week until Sunday, November 13.

Irish Independent

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