Interview With My Grandad

Published in Personal History

My grandad’s name is Michael Smith, he is 85 years old and has lived through many historical events such as World War II and the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He has lived in Kanturk, Co. Cork for all of his 85 years. I asked him about his experiences during World War II in Ireland. This period in irish history is often referred to the’Emergency’.

What was life like for you during the war?

Well, when the war started in 1939 the Irish government created the LDF (Local Defense Force) to protect Ireland against invasion. I, myself was too young to join but I signed up at the local Post Office, saying I was 17 when in fact I was 14. Training was held once a week after school in the local hall where we were issued rifles which were to be brought home and kept beside your bed for the week with 50 ammunition shells. One particular experience that stood out for me during my time in the LDF was when we were brought to Fort Camden in Cork Harbour. The Irish Army trained us there and at the end of the course we were given the task of a mock battle. Our aim was to get from Mallow to Kanturk while the Irish Army acted as our enemies. We were given British navy guns – Remingtons, Eddistones and Enfields filled with blanks. All animals were to be locked up in the neighbouring area. However one farmer neglected to do this and a wild bull attacked our “regiment”. Luckily for us, one of the members of our force had brought spare live ammunition and he was forced to shoot the bull. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. The proudest moment was when our LDF met President De Valera in Kanturk. Luckily , the Germans never invaded us and our LDF was never called into action.

War is stupid and futile and we were right to remain neutral.

How did you cope with the rationing?

As you know, rationing was implemented during the war as there was a general shortage of food. We grew most of our own food but tea and sugar were scarce as they had to be imported. You were only allowed half a pound of sugar a week and half an ounce of tea. There was a very low commodity of tea as it had to come all the way from India and ships were often sunk by the Germans. The tea was easy to make last as we made a large pot of tea at the start of the week and this was stored in the cooling cupboard and reboiled when we needed it. However, the rationing of petrol was the worst as we ran a garage. You were only allowed 8 gallons a month – nowadays a car would be able to drive 40 or 50 miles on 8 gallons but cars were very fuel inefficient back then, so it was a lot harder to make it last. When the Germans torpedoed more of the ships the ration was dropped to half a gallon a month. Doctors and taxis were the exceptions and they received 40 gallons a month. We ran an illegal taxi service so we could receive this extra petrol. We never got caught luckily as the only time an inspector arrived, we received a tip-off which gave us time to hide the car and tell the neighbours.

What did your parents do as regards work?

We ran a car mechanics at the time but cars weren’t used so we changed to trucks. This didn’t really create a lot of money so we cut turf at night in Newmarket and Ballydesmond where there was good black turf which was a good substitute for coal. We then sold this the next day in Cork City. This helped with our income

Did you know anyone who went to fight in the war?

Oh yes, a lot of people went from our village as we were not a very anti-British town. My dad wa a former British Army Officer in World War I so he felt quite strongly about the war – this was because he had experienced the evil of fascism before and knew how it affected people in the occupied countries on the continent. Thankfully nobody close to me left to fight.

Thank You.

Joe Smith

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