herald

Monday 23 October 2017

Centenary of WW1 brings back memories of my father

LAST Saturday marked the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

The shooting led, of course, to World War i, a conflict which drew in millions of people around the world.

Among them was a young man from Listowel, Co Kerry, named James O'Carroll. He was my father.

He was one of thousands of young Irishmen who answered John Redmond's call to join the British Army and fight for the freedom of small nations.

My dad was just 16 when he left north Kerry for London in 1916. There he joined the Royal Engineers and, after four months of basic training, was sent to the Western Front.

He fought in France and later in Belgium. Like thousands of his fellow countrymen he endured the horrors and hardships of the Great War - the mud, the blood, the daily terror and struggle for survival.

In early 1918, having survived two years of that living hell, he was seriously wounded during an over-the-top attack in Ypres.

He was shot through the shoulder and, following a mustard gas attack, lay blinded and choking in a shell-hole for ten hours before he was rescued.

My father was taken to hospital and recovered from the wound. Alas he suffered lifelong effects to his lungs from the gas attack.

James O'Carroll remained in France with his regiment until the Armistice in 1918 and was demobbed the following year, after which he returned to Listowel.

My dad's experiences in France and Belgium left him a changed man. In later years he became a committed pacifist.

veterans

He also went on to raise a family of 15, living in the soldiers' houses in Listowel, a terrace built by a trust for wounded veterans of the War.

Growing up In the staunchly Republican heartland of north Kerry I always had the feeling that the houses were looked on by many people as a curious anomaly.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this was that our family would sell the poppy each November, not a common practice in the town.

Sadly my dad, like many other veterans, was seen by many not as a person who fought for freedom, but instead as someone tainted by treason, for taking 'the King's shilling'.

Likewise no monuments were erected to my dad's many Irish pals who never came home.

Only now, at last, are they being properly recognised. It's taken a century but I'm glad to see it.

I'm sure my dear departed father would be too.

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