Men and Women
the Second World War
Doherty's account of the Irish men and women who contributed to the
war effort, by and large as part of the British Armed Forces, is long
overdue. It draws heavily on primary material, diaries, letters, memoirs,
and interviews, allowing many of the voices of those who served to come
to the fore. In his introduction Doherty informs his readers of the
difficulties in marking 'a country's part in a war in which that country
had on official part'.
opens this book with an account of the political situation prior to
the outbreak of war. And although this is an account told in other
places, Doherty's recounting of it is timely: the 1938 handover of
the Irish ports by the British government and the agreement to end
the economic war with Britain, and Ireland's neutrality which we now
know interred downed German airmen for the duration of the war while
quietly returning the British airmen across the border.
biased neutrality sets the scene for the stories of the men and women
from the Republic who chose to serve in the British army. How many
served? Like the figures for the First World War, it is a matter of
informed speculation depending of the version of events the interpreter
of the numbers wishes to tell. In August 1944 General Sir Hubert Gough
indicated that there were 165,000 next-of-kin addresses in Ireland
for British servicemen and women. In early 1945 the War Office and
Air ministry indicated that 42,665 men and women from Eire were serving
in the British forces. Contemporary accounts in newspapers gave figures
ranging from 300,000 (The Manchester Guardian), to 250,000 (the New
Yorker), to 150,000 (The Daily Telegraph).
we may never know exactly how many men and women enlisted from the
Republic, we do have a legacy of their participation. Some of the
stories Doherty recounts are fascinating, such as those who deserted
the Irish Army to join the British Army. William Shorten from Dundrum
was one such deserter. He had joined the Irish Army for two years
intending aferwards to join the British Army as a career soldier.
The outbreak of war meant that he would be retained indefinitely in
the British Army, so he just left: took a train to Belfast and enlisted.
There is anecdotal evidence that up to 7,000 Irish men deserted to
join the British Army, but just as we may never know the true numbers
of those who served, this figure is open to speculation.
group whose participation is rarely commented upon is women. And although
Doherty devotes an entire chapter to 'Experiences of Irishwomen at
home and abroad', it is his last chapter, coming after chapters on
'Irish chaplains at war', Irish doctors at war', and 'Minelaying,
convoys and midget submarines'. Many women from Eire joined the war
effort for the same reasons as many of its men: adventure. As Brenda
Graham recounted: 'I wanted to get away. There was a sense of adventure
and of being able to do something positive, which you couldn't do
in Ireland.' Adding, 'We all wanted to join the Wrens [the Royal Navy's
women's branch]. Their uniform was so attractive, unlike the other
are many, many personal accounts of service in this book, which is
both its strength and its weakness. It is its strength in that it
provides a wealth of information about individual experiences of war
in which many stories combine, not to create a unified expression,
but to create a diversity which must not be lost due to the way the
political winds blow. On the other hand, Doherty's anecdotal approach
leaves one wishing for a bit more analysis of the primary materials,
a bit more reflection on the wealth of experience recounted in this
book' Susan Schreibman, Local Ireland.ie.
many people in Britain Ireland is synonymous with the trouble that have
plagued that country for too many years. That is a political viewpoint.
To those of use who served in the Forces during the Second World War
many Irishmen and women were comrades in arms.In the event we should
forget the thousands upon thousands of Irish people who volunteered
to fight on England’s side, Richard Doherty has written a superlative
book: Irish Men and Women in the Second World War. In the introduction
he shows the extent of Ireland’s selfless commitment to the principle
of liberty throughout the Second World War. The names of so many
Irish heroes and heroines who fought for that concept are still familiar
to those of us who have reached a certain age: Paddy Finuncane, Fogerty-Fegan
and Magennis, to name but three. But included among those familiar
names are others who are less well known to the general public and whose
deeds have been hitherto unrecognised. Richard Doherty has included
many of these in his work.
in the sense of this book is undivided. The men and women came
from both sides of the border but served loyally and devotedly.
There is no doubt that of all the famous fighting Divisions of the
British Army, the record of 78th Infantry Division is unsurpassed.
On the War Establishment of the 78th was the Irish Brigade whose leaders
and men were the stuff of legend. That men from the Republic
and from Ulster could live harmoniously together, I know from my own
experience. I spent some time in a tented convalescent Depot
to the north of Rome and many evenings were spent listening to republican
songs being sung and then responded to by Orangemen singing the songs
of Ulster. There was never any fighting among the men in the
tent : they were all soldiers fighting for a Cause. The spirit
which animated them is illustrated in many of the accounts in Richard
is a marvellous read, beautifully written and covers all the Services
as well as civilians I hope that Irish Men and Women will be
only the first of a series of works on Ireland’s contribution to England’s
wars. Certainly such a series is badly needed.
photographs are well chosen and well captioned and the typeface very
legible. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look
forward to the next. Inevitably, in such a work there are some
chapters that are more enjoyable than others. I liked the Infantry
section – I served in two infantry battalions – but enjoyed even more
the Experiences of Irishwomen at home and abroad and particularly
the account by Elizabeth Beresford-Jones which ends with the comment
that “… all through the war you were meeting Irish people in uniform,
in train corridors, streets, everywhere you went, there were Irish
people there.’’ Her comment was absolutely true and I, for one, am
grateful to the Irish that they were there' James Lucas, Blackthorn.
one who spent many hours visiting commonwealth cemeteries on the continent
of Europe, paying special attention to the graves of young Irishmen,
I found this volume very interesting. The author set our to chronicle
the often neglected and misunderstood story of those Irish people who
participated in the Second World War. He has done so in a meticulous
fashion – so much so that his labour of love will demand a second volume
to complete the task.
first of all seeks to establish how many Irish fought in that war
and investigates their motives. He comments on the sensitivities of
Northern Unionists when faced with the massive participation and fighting
quality of their Southern volunteer neighbours. He devotes two chapters
to Irish infantrymen who fought from Narvik to Tobruk, and Abyssinia
to Cassino. The narrative is highly personalised, with detailed extracts
from individual soldiers, bringing us into the action …’ Books
his book remains a very fine addition to our knowledge of the war,
as moving as any account will always be when it lets unassuming survivors
speak to us' Ian S. Wood, January 2001.
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