The Irish at Gallipoli

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2015), Letters, Volume 23

Sir,—Having read ‘The Irish at Gallipoli’ by Jeff Kildea in your fine magazine (HI 23.4, July/Aug. 2015), I was intrigued by his omissions and, if you will pardon the description, his sleight of pen. In tone it was reminiscent of G.A. Henty, who long ago eulogised the ‘derring do of young Englanders’ as they helped to build the empire. For instance, Prof. Kildea lets the elderly but inexperienced Lt. General Sir Frederick Stopford (4th Earl of Courtown) off lightly. Not so in Richard Van Emden’s book Gallipoli:

‘… the seeds of failure were already sown before anyone put a foot on the shore at Suvla by the appointment of sixty-one-year-old Stopford, enjoying semi-retirement in England, where he was Lieutenant to the Tower of London … chaos was the result as orders were matched by counter-orders. Lt. Gen. Stopford was all at sea, literally and metaphorically, never leaving the sloop HMS Jonquil that brought him there and he slept as the landing was in progress.’

Capt. Arthur Crookenden commented on the chaos: ‘No one at Suvla seemed to care a solitary damn … nothing can convey the atmosphere of indifference, laissez-faire and chaos into which we plunged’.

The article admits that Sir Bryan Mahon resigned ‘in a fit of pique’ because he was not promoted to fill Stopford’s position. In fairness it also mentions that Mahon’s resignation was the cause of the disaster on Kiritich Tepe. However, Mahon escaped with a caution because, as Australian L.A. Carlyon wrote, he (Mahon) was ‘a member of the Club’. Sir Bryan Mahon’s first action on reinstatement was to endorse the execution of a Pte Downey as ‘it would be good for discipline’. Downey, an Irishman like Mahon, had been court-martialled for failing to wear his cap!

The article fails to mention that Sir Bryan Mahon was promoted to commander-in-chief of the British Army in Ireland from 1916 until 1922 and that on retirement he was appointed to the first Irish Senate by W.T. Cosgrave and reappointed for a second term. He died in his bed in 1930. We are told near the end of the article that an ‘Irish’ journalist, Michael MacDonagh, said that Gallipoli would ‘Ever be to the Irish Race a place of glorious pride and sorrow’. What is not revealed is that MacDonagh was an Irish journalist with the London Times and that the above opinion was aired in his book The Irish at the Front, which has a fourteen-page introduction by recruiter-in-chief for the British Army John Redmond. The latter’s introduction is studded with gems:

‘No people can be said to have rightly proved their nationhood and their power to maintain it until they have demonstrated their military prowess; and though Irish Blood has reddened the earth of every continent, never until now have we as a people set a national army in the field.’

The London Times journalist devotes three chapters to the landing of the 10th (Irish) Division and their departure in January 1916 from Suvla Bay. Not once does he mention the desertion of Sir Bryan Mahon, en-gaging instead in banalities such as:

‘The Irish hungered for the wild exultation of the bayonet charge … August 15th, the day of the great Irish feast of Our Lady’s Day, the men were able to reinforce themselves with the sustaining power of the Mass … as they left Suvla Bay and looked at the hills between Suvla Bay and Sari Bair they felt that the wailing cry of the Banshee be ever heard there.’

We should remember that Mr Churchill, desperate for ‘any victory’ at that stage in the war, said in a cable to Vice-Admiral Sackville Carden, commander of the British squadron off the Dardanelles, ‘… that the importance of a result would justify severe losses’.

Sadly, your Gallipoli piece reminded me of Ronan Fanning’s introduction to The Fatal Path, in which he wrote that ‘few historians would dispute that we are all revisionists now’. He also quoted the description by Bernard Lewis, eminent historian of the Middle East, of those who ‘would rewrite history not as it was, or as they have been taught it was, but as they would prefer it to be’.—Yours etc.,

Co. Galway


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