Ireland and the First World War

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 1 (Spring 1995), Letters, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 3, World War I

Sir,—I feel I should step in between Mr Bowman and Professor Boyce, if only to declare a ‘no contest’ (HI Winter 1994). As I said in my book on the 16th (Irish) Division (Ireland’s unknown soldiers), the formation’s infantry (as distinct from its supporting arms) was always largely Catholic Irish. Bowman should not cite my book selectively to imply that I ever said anything different. The letter from Tennant that Boyce quotes refers to transfers within the 16th Division, not between the 16th and 36th (Ulster) Divisions as the professor seems to think. The 16th’s commander explained that the men involved (including those in his Inniskilling battalions) were nearly all Catholics. Tennant’s misunderstanding has simply been compounded by Boyce’s. The question of the ‘nationality’ of the Irish units in the First World War has been answered, definitively, by Nicholas Perry in the May 1994 issue of War & Society. He uses facts and figures, not wild generalisations.

I discussed the widespread ‘racial’ generalisations made about Catholic Irish troops during the First  World War in the November 1991 issue of Irish Historical Studies. Mr Bowman might like to read it; Professor Boyce clearly has.

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Sir,—Having served in the Australian navy for over twenty years I feelqualified to question the manner in which the academic fraternity seemto religiously quote from senior staff offic­ers and assume historicaltruth. As far as Australia’s involvement in the First World War isconcerned the history is far more accurately presented by C.E.W. Bean,official historian, who was actually there and for decades worked topresent the history. Another was Keith Murdoch (father of Rupert), awar correspondent who became sickened by the wanton slaughter of hiscountrymen and incensed by the inept and insincere behaviour of theBritish high command, who hid behind the censorship of stories from thefront. When he returned Murdock presented to the Australian people andgovernment the truth of the debacle. Bean and Murdoch were notrestricted by the need to protect military careers nor by the need tobe sycophants.
More recently we had the charades of General McArthur in thePacific theatre in the Second World War. His publicity team fed back tothe American press stories of the general at the head of his troops insome of the fiercest battles. In reality he was often hundreds of milesfrom the action. My point is that I’m sure there were many ‘historicalrecordings’ of McArthur dodging bullets because the accuracy of hispublicity team was believed.
Being of the age to have been able to discuss this issue withveterans of the First World War, including relatives, I am indeedconvinced that you are less likely to be conned if you steer clear ofthe red tab mob. Blackadder had them well covered.

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