When the First World War was declared, a surge of euphoria swept across Britain and Ireland. In Britain, most men joined the army "For King and Country". In Ireland, an intense campaign of recruitment got under way to entice men into the British Army.These recruiters used a carrot and stick technique ....on the one hand offering a career package, a good pension, a generous allowance in the event of injury, and if one was killed, the promise to look after one's dependents. On the other hand they were warning that the Kaiser and his generals were studying maps of County Galway to see how they could divide the farms. They threatened conscription which would have totally depleted Ireland of all men of military age. In order to avoid this fate, Ireland would have to produce another 50,000 recruits immediately and in addition to this, between two and three thousand a month would be required to support those already in the field.
John Redmond and his party were thundering on that it was every Irishman's duty to join up because it would hasten Home Rule and Irish Independence. "You must join an Irish Regiment and learn to sing "God Save Ireland" with a gun in your hand".
It is estimated some 10,000 men enlisted from County Galway, and while some did so for patriotic reasons, for most it was simply a well paid job during bad economic times.
The effects of this war on Galway are now documented in a remarkable new book by Willy Henry simply titled "Galway and the Great War".It describes the recruiting and mobilisation that took place in the County ; rumours of German troops landing on the west coast ;How Galway became one of the 6 Royal Naval bases in Ireland ; the development of allotments to provide food for the needy in the days ahead ; warnings to fishermen of submarine attacks ; the development of war industries such as the Galway Woolen Mills who made khaki uniforms, the munitions factory on Earl's Island and the Galway Branch of the Irish War Hospital Supply Depot which produced emergency field dressings ; How the women of Galway organised fundraisers to send food & clothes to the troops.
Part of the book deals with many of the major battles of the war as described by various Galway troops who sent letters home from the front. These vividly tell of the conditions they fought in, the dreadful injuries, the terrible slaughter and the horrors of war. While they were away, there were still British troops stationed here as we can see from this picture taken on July 17th, 1917 at Daingean, Newcastle. It shows members of The Highland Light Infantry taking a break from manoeuvres.
Willy Henry's book is an important addition to every Galway library as it explores for the first time an episode in Irish history that was never really discussed before. His exhaustive research and his knowledge of Galway give an immediacy to his lively account of the many ways Galway responded to the war, as well as to the changing political climate in Ireland. Very highly recommended. In good bookshops @ €20.00.
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