Monday 18 December 2017

Mementoes of war: treasured items of loved ones

Families have shared some of their most treasured items from those who fought, writes Anita Guidera

The helmet worn by William Andrews at the Somme.
The helmet worn by William Andrews at the Somme.
Dermot McGrath's uncles from Tuam.
The crucifix owned by James Burke.
Memorabilia from the Europeana 1914-18 Roadshow.

Anita Guidera

EVEN as William Andrews was being stretchered off the Somme, having survived a direct hit by a piece of German shrapnel, he was adamant that he wasn't going to be parted from the helmet that saved him.

"Give it to me – it saved my life – I'll want to show it to my grandchildren," the lieutenant in the Royal Engineers told a young officer who had suggested throwing it away.

His son, Michael Andrews, and grandson, Vincent Murphy, brought the treasured helmet to the Europeana 1914-1918 roadshow in Dublin for its image to be included in a unique Europe-wide online collection of stories, films and historical material about the First World War.

They told how, after the war, Andrews was forced to resign from the army when, in a quiet act of patriotism, he refused a posting in Dublin to suppress the unrest which had continued since the 1916 rising, saying it was impossible for him to fight against his own people.

Another Dubliner, James Burke, a 22-year-old private in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, partially credited a metal crucifix for his survival from a bullet to the chest in St Quentin, Northern France. The bullet ricocheted off the arm of the three-inch crucifix he carried in his tunic but miraculously he survived.

Don Mullan, who brought the dented crucifix to the Dublin roadshow, had been left the World War One item by James Burke's son Gary, the godfather of Don's wife Margaret.

Since the first record-breaking roadshow in 2012, which drew over 600 people to the National Library, war memorabilia and stories have continued to flood in. The growing Europeana 1914-1918 collection includes 400,000 rare documents digitised, over 600 hours of film and 90,000 personal papers from 20 different countries.

Kathleen McSharry, head of services at the National Library of Ireland, confirmed that approximately 6,000 images and over 400 stories had so far emerged from Ireland.

"There is probably a lot more out there. In 20 or 30 years from now all the people who remember these stories from the First World War will be gone. This is a way of making sure these stories will never be forgotten and technology had made it happen," she said.

She was particularly moved by the tragic story of William O'Reilly, also a POW in Limburg when he received news of the untimely death of his wife Kate, back in Ireland. She had given birth to a daughter whom he had never seen.

On hearing the tragic news on May 1915 he wrote to his sister, Annie: "I can hardly believe it's true. It's too awful and all the plans I have made to make the old place nice for her."

Suffering from illness and on his way home, his sister and the daughter he had never seen travelled to London to meet him only to learn that he had died the day before they got there. Dermot McGrath has shared a painting of his five uncles from Tuam, Co Galway, William, John James, Thomas and Patrick McGrath, who joined the British Army in Manchester where they were working. Incredibly, all five brothers survived the war.



See our dedicated  World War 1 section here.


Irish Independent Supplement

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