Wednesday 21 March 2018

Ardee man tells of his father's fight during the Great War

ROBERT McMullen can still remember it so clearly. Now 78, he was just a boy when he listened to the silence in his home at Dawson's Demense in Ardee.

Suddenly it was broken by screams and shouts, orders rang out 'fire!, for God's sake, fire!'.

This was a battle, raging in the head of a former soldier who had seen too much. It was his father, James.

'It happened about once a month. He'd be asleep and then it would start, the roaring. He was dreaming he was in the trenches and each time he'd call out the names of his comrades and reach across to touch them and say things like 'ah, no, they got you Jack'. I'd stand beside the bed and you could imagine yourself being there,' Robert stated.

There is little doubt that Private James McMullen, once of the West Yorkshire regiment, was suffering from shell shock.

What James McMullen went through no-one will really know, but another moment defined his struggle, a story Robert recalls with awe.

'My father was in Flanders and his area had taken heavy fire. He was hit by shrapnel, which blew his eye out. He was bandaged up and amidst the battle had to crawl to safety.'

But coming in the opposite direction at that very time was an officer and beside him, a sniper.

'Can you see the 'Hun' crawling?,' the officer questioned of his charge. 'Pick him off.'

The sniper raised his weapon, but in a split second lowered it again, telling the officer he believed the injured man was a British soldier.

'Well, go over and check,' the officer replied.

The sniper advanced and turned the badly wounded James on his side and exclaimed 'Jemmie, it's you!'

The sniper was private Joe McMullen, James own brother!

'Joe asked him where were the rest of the lads to which my father replied 'I'm it, the last one, but we gave as good as we got.'

That was the last action of the conflict for James McMullen. Joe helped him off the battlefield and he was invalided out of the army.

He was born in Bentham in Yorkshire in 1894, one of six children to Archibald McMullen from Preston and his wife, Mary, a Riley from Dundalk.

James married Margaret (Byrne) from Tierney Street, Ardee, in 1912 when he was 18 and on November 5 1914, enlisted with the West Yorkshire Regiment.

After the conflict they decided to leave England and make their home in Ardee. There, they got one of the Soldier's Houses in the town.

But life was tough for an English born ex-serviceman by the banks of the Dee.

He gained work with the McKeevers who owned the Ardee Bakery and excelled as a harness maker and he could sow boots and shoes with the best of them.

There were 11 in the family and Robert well remembers the stigma associated with being the son of a former British soldier.

Drogheda Independent