Tag Archives: World War I

An Irish-American’s most perilous summer, 1918

The veteran’s grave needed tending. Robust June grass encroached on all sides of the metal marker flush to the ground, where a small American flag placed at Memorial Day also designated his final resting place.  

The twin sharp points of the hand-clippers I used to trim grass around a nearby family tombstone helped perforate the overgrowth. Soon, I peeled away the creeping grass and rubbed away the dirt. The bronze, beveled edges of the marker gleamed again in the sun. I saluted:

JOHN WARE

Pvt. U.S. Army
World War I
1886 – 1982

He was among 4.7 million soldiers and sailors, including immigrants like himself, mobilized in America for the early 20th century battle of 19th century empires. It began with an assassination in 1914, and quickly escalated into a toxic mix of nationalism, imperialism and militarism. By the war’s end in November 1918, the casualty count was measured in millions, with nearly 117,000 U.S. fatalities and more than 200,000 U.S. wounded.

John Ware, in 1918 or 1919.

These were the dangers 31-year-old John Ware faced 100 summers ago as he joined the army and shipped off to the European front. Regretfully, I never asked him about his service before he died at age 96, when I was in my early 20s, a missed opportunity of long-ago Christmas dinners and other family gatherings.

My trip to Calvary Cemetery in Pittsburgh prompted me to take a closer look at some family documents and photos of John, with additional research. This is his story:

He was born in County Kerry, Ireland, near Ballylongford. He immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1910; worked as a streetcar conductor from the Frankstown Avenue car barn in the city’s Homewood district; and worshiped at Holy Rosary Catholic Church.

Two sisters followed him to Pittsburgh. One wed another Kerryman, who became John’s brother-in-law and my grandfather. The other sister, like her older brother, never married. All four of these Irish immigrants are buried within a few feet of each other at Calvary.

In June 1917, two months after America entered the war, John registered in the first round of the U.S. military draft. Men between the ages of 18 and 45 were required to sign up, both U.S. citizens and resident aliens who had filed a declaration of intent to become a citizen. John was already well into that process, and he was naturalized a month later.

Immigrants who had not filed a declaration of intent were exempt from the draft, but many of them volunteered for the military. The federal government soon offered fast-track citizenship to these soldiers and sailors.

John was drafted into the army on April 28, 1918. The surviving record notes his transformation from citizen to soldier occurred at 4:30 that Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh. That day, one of the city’s newspaper headlines declared:

Allies Halt German Drive At The Threshold of Ypres

Enemy’s Slight Gains Made At Cost of Staggering Losses

The next morning, John and his address at 7115 Kelly St. were listed in the Pittsburgh papers with other “Names of Those Who Go.” That afternoon, he and 287 other area draftees entrained to Camp Lee, Virginia, a year-old combat training base south of Richmond.

Irish soldiers

That spring, Irish immigrants and their supporters were making other headlines in Pittsburgh. On May 5, 1918, thousands gathered at the downtown Lyceum Theater to protest British conscription of their countrymen without the benefit of limited domestic political autonomy, called home rule. They passed a resolution calling on President Woodrow Wilson to demand freedom for Ireland.

Rev. Patrick O’Connor, pastor of nearby St. Mary of Mercy Church, an historically Irish immigrant parish since the Great Famine, reminded the Lyceum audience of “the glorious record of past generations of Irishmen in defense of this great country.”

It was not only blood the Irish were sacrificing, O’Connor said, but also treasure. He told the story of an Irish workman earning $80 a month who had purchased $500 worth of Liberty Bonds, or half his annual salary.

During the last week of June 1918, an Irish socialite known as the “Countess of Kingston” visited Pittsburgh to debut a traveling exhibit of war items: “German Uniforms, Helmets, Military Equipment, Hand Grenades, Propaganda Literature, Iron Cross, Lusitania medal, British Battleship Vindictive Souvenir, German Prison Bread, and a Wonderful Collection of British War Pictures,” according to newspaper promotions.

The exhibit, staged at Kaufmann’s 11th floor auditorium, was intended to raise money for the Shamrock Fund, a charity for wounded Irish soldiers in the British army. Pittsburgh was selected for the debut because of the generous reception Lady Kingston received during a previous fundraising stop.

Honest and faithful

As Pittsburghers visited the Irish war exhibit, John shipped off to Europe with the 145th Infantry Regiment of the 37th Division. The unit fought through the summer and fall. John’s record says he was in the Alsace Lorraine Sector, a disputed territory between northeast France and southwest Germany.

A few more details can be gleaned from John’s military record

Wounds received in service: “None.”

Character: “Very good.”

Remarks: “Service honest and faithful. No A.W.O.L., nor absence.”

John’s tour of duty ended Jan. 30, 1919, about 10 weeks after the armistice. He was released two weeks later, on Valentines Day, from Camp Dix, New Jersey. The Army issued him $53.54 in travel pay (about $500 today) for the 350 mile return to Pittsburgh. Perhaps he remembered a similar westbound train trip as the last leg of his journey from Ireland nine years earlier.

Like many soldiers, he sat for a photograph in his uniform. The image survives with his Honorable Discharge record.

John returned to his streetcar job. For the next few years he read newspaper accounts of Ireland’s war of independence from Britain, which resulted in the island’s partition, and a brutal civil war. The following decades brought World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

More death and injury.

John was luckier than tens of millions of soldiers and civilians in all those places. His 65 years after WWI was twice as long as the life he easily could have lost in France that perilous summer 100 years ago.

Tending his grave at this year’s centennial seemed the least I could do.

Grave of John Ware, Calvary Cemetery, Pittsburgh, June 2018.

Blogiversary: Six years, and a summer break

July marks the blog’s sixth anniversary.

Before publishing my next post, which will be my 600th, I want to thank my readers for their support. I appreciate those who subscribe to the blog via email, share the posts on social media, or just drop by from time-to-time. Special thanks to Angie Drobnic Holan, my lovely wife, who contributes to the effort as volunteer editor and webmaster.

The Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited project, which dominated my work the first half of this year with over 40 posts, was well received. January through June traffic on the site was 70 percent of the 2017 full-year total.

Over the next two months, I’ll be posting less frequently in order to enjoy the summer and work on several long-term projects. The latter includes:

  • Preparing for a 15 September presentation at the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, in Baltimore, based on my Prologue magazine story, Ireland’s Famine Children ‘Born at Sea’.
  • Additional research and editing of the Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited, project for an e-book version.
  • Planning for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I in November, and the following Irish War of Independence centenaries. I will attend the Newspaper & Periodical History Forum of Ireland‘s 10th Anniversary Conference, 9-10 November, in Galway. It will explore the 1918 British elections under the theme “The Press and the Vote”.

I will post a few history stories on the blog over the summer, including a new serialized version of my “Nora’s Sorrow” project, and keep up with contemporary events, such as Brexit and Pope Francis’ August visit to Ireland.

For now, however, thanks again for all of your support since 2012. Keep coming back!

Vintage presses displayed at the National Print Museum in Dublin, February 2018.

Shamrock Fund and the Irish War Exhibit of 1918

In the last week of June 1918, the “Countess of Kingston” visited Pittsburgh to debut a traveling exhibit of war items intended to raise money for the Shamrock Fund, a charity for wounded Irish soldiers. The collection included “German Uniforms, Helmets, Military Equipment, Hand Grenades, Propaganda Literature, Iron Cross, Lusitania medal, British Battleship Vindictive Souvenir, German Prison Bread, and a Wonderful Collection of British War Pictures,” according to newspaper promotions.

Ethel Lisette King-Tenison, nee Walker was the daughter of the late Sir Andrew Harclay Walker, a brewer and former Lord Mayor of Liverpool. In 1897, she married Henry Edwyn King-Tenison, 9th Earl of Kingston, a captain in the Irish Guards. He was wounded in September 1914 at the Marne, the first major battle of the Great War, and recovered at their home, Kilronan Castle, in County Roscommon.

Lady Kingston, then in her 40s, established the Shamrock Fund soon after. As she recalled after the war:

When our soldiers began returning from the western front in France and from the barren waste of Gallipoli the horrors that we had shrinkingly read about were to be met face to face on our streets in Ireland. Men without eyesight, legless, armless men, wrecks of men it seemed for whom a miracle must be worked if they were ever to be restored to usefulness in this world. They might be restored, but it required money, and where was it to come from? We could not find it in Ireland, we could not burden England, already carrying an awful weight, and it was then I said: ‘I shall go to the United States, where there is plenty of money and plenty of Irishmen.

She arrived 5 November 1916, in New York City, for her first visit to America. The United States’ entry into the fight in Europe was five months ahead, the Easter Rising in Ireland seven months past. The New York Times reported “the countess said that the trouble was quieting down and that the streets of Dublin had been cleared of debris preparatory to erecting new buildings in place of those destroyed in the rebellion.”

She disembarked the ocean liner St. Louis “with a large supply of shamrocks and the names of many people, patrons and patronesses of her society, among them many Americans now living on the other side who are aiding her work,” the Times told its readers. For small sums, donors received paper shamrocks with pins; those who gave $1 or more received finer pieces of enamel. As for herself, the countess frequently wore a wedding gift shamrock, “in green enamel, set with diamonds, a K for Kingston, L for Lisette, her own name, a solitaire diamond dewdrop in the center and a coronet surmounting the whole.”

Lady Kingston told the Times that about 800 men were being cared for by the Shamrock Fund, but the numbers were growing daily. Men who lost limbs in the war received pensions sufficient for their support, but soldiers with lesser injuries received only $1.25 to $2.50 per week, she said, which was “inadequate” for their civilian survival.

“Our chief object is to start a home for men who have been discharged for tuberculosis, which they contract through the exposure in the trenches,” the countess said. “After the war there will be thousands of Irish soldiers and sailors who will need assistance.”

She was right about that. Some 200,000 Irishmen enlisted in the British military from 1914 to 1918. Upwards of 49,000 were killed, and tens of thousands more were injured, both physically and psychologically. As with all wars, casualty figures are highly imprecise.

Money for Soldiers

The Shamrock Fund opened an office at 39 E. 58th St., New York. later moved to 14 E. 60th St. In Ireland, the effort was coordinated through an office at 30 Molesworth St, Dublin. In October 1917, the fund was listed among dozens of other “war relief charities rendering satisfactory financial accountings,” according to the U.S.-based Charity Organization Society.

From November 1916 until shortly after the November 1918 armistice, Lady Kingston crisscrossed the United States to enlist the financial and volunteer support of high society women and others in the cause helping disabled Irish soldiers. There were a few missteps along the way. Actor Charlie Chaplin failed to show for a New York concert, generating discontent among those who bought their tickets in advance. Some volunteers in Spokane, Washington state, were arrested for “aggressive fundraising” when they charged $4 for a sprig of shamrock.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Shamrock Fund also drew the attention of Parliament. In May 1918, Lieutenant-Colonel Robert McCalmont, an Antrim East M.P., raised questions about “the necessity for such an appeal to another country.” Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen, parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Pensions, told members the Shamrock Fund had donated £5,000 to the government’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Help Society (Irish Branch), which was providing its own training and help for disabled soldiers to secure employment.

The Irish War Exhibit was part of a new effort to raise $350,000. The Pittsburgh Daily Post reported that because of the assistance Lady Kingston received during her 1917 visit to the Pennsylvania city, then a major Irish immigrant hub, “and because of their interest, Pittsburgh was selected as the city in which the drive would be launched.” The display was free to the public 24-29 June, in the 11th floor auditorium of the Kaufmann’s department store. Someone donated a 200-year-old “Irish lace Limerick veil” for later auction, and at least $1,000 was raised in one day, according to newspaper reports.

From Pittsburgh, the countess and the war exhibit traveled west to Elgin, Illinois, and Des Moines, Iowa, during July; Butte, Montana, and Salt Lake City, Utah, in August; Seattle, Washington, in October; and Portland, Oregon, in November, among other stops, also typically at department stores. The war was ended by the time Lady Kingston and her collection of war curios reached the O’Connor, Moffat & Co., store in San Francisco, California, in early December.

As she prepared to return to Ireland in March 1919, Lady Kingston reported the fund had raised an audited sum of $71,400 and secured jobs for 2,630 men. A special hospital to help wounded soldiers also was established in Bray, County Wicklow. The countess said:

I have been everywhere and everywhere found friends and support. … While these broken men live their claim on Irish men and women is sacred, coming before every other claim. We Irish women (she reportedly was born in Scotland) realize what we owe them, and all we can do is pay something on account by showing them how to take up life again.

In the trenches of World War I.

NOTES:

Lady Kingston quotes and Dublin office address, New York Herald, March 23, 1919, page 58. … The New York Times, Nov. 6, 1916, page 11; Nov. 12, 1916, page 40; and Oct. 7, 1917, page 27. … Occasional fundraising troubles, from Little Book of Bray and Enniskerry, by Brian White, The History Press of Ireland, Dublin, 2016. No page numbers in online edition. … Parliamentary attention in May 1918, links to Hansard, the Official Report. … Pittsburgh details from Pittsburgh Daily Post, June 23, 1918, page 16; Pittsburgh Press, June 29, 1918, page 2. … Irish War Exhibit itinerary based on other local newspaper coverage, viewed via Newspapers.com.

1917: Year of shipwrecks off Irish coast

UPDATE:

The post below was published before the release of the National Monuments Service “Wreck Viewer” map and database. This more comprehensive sources lists 576 shipwrecks in 1917. It shows 191 wrecks in 1867, and 315 for 1852, compared to 64 for each year in the ISD. I believe the original post is still worthwhile in illustrating the dangers at sea in 1917 while Ireland was the western edge of the Great War. MH

ORIGINAL POST:

More than three dozen ships were sunk off the Irish coast in 1917, most in German attacks related to World War I. About 600 people, including merchant crews and civilian passengers, died in these episodes, but the toll likely was much higher. Some survived these ordeals.

The Irish Shipwrecks Database (ISD) lists 41 vessels as sent to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, Irish Sea and St. George’s Channel in 1917. Some of the wrecks were more than 100 miles off the coast, others within sight of shore. My review of other sources indicates the database is missing at least a few navy ships and cargo vessels sunk by German submarines, and also does not included a few of the U-boats destroyed in Irish waters by the U.S. and British navy.

About half the vessels listed in the ISD were torpedoed by German submarines. Others struck mines floating in the sea lanes. A few vessels were captured, stripped of food and other valuables, then scuttled. The wrecked watercraft included cargo ships under steam and sail, merchant cruisers, minesweepers and fishing trawlers.

The 41 shipwrecks in 1917 is the third highest total in the ISD behind 64 sunken vessels in 1867 and the same number in 1852. The ISD shows five shipwrecks in both 1918 and 1916, including the Aud.

Germany renewed its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 after restricting such activity in the wake of sinking the British liner Lusitania in May 1915. America entered the war in April 1917, and a month later the U.S. Navy arrived at Cork. The war continued through November 1918.

The deadliest episode of 1917 was the 25 January sinking of the Laurentic at Lough Swilly, County Donegal. The British steam ship, which had been converted into an armed merchant cruiser, hit a mine about 90 minutes after leaving the harbor. One hundred twenty one men were rescued from the crew of 475.

S.S. Laurentic

The Laurentic was carrying a valuable cargo of gold ingots. As of October 2017, 542 of the gold bars had been recovered from the original load of 3,211 as high-tech salvage crews continue searching the bottom for the rest of the treasure.

The second deadliest 1917 Irish shipwreck occurred two weeks after the Laurentic, on 7 February, when the passenger steamer California was torpedoed 38 miles from Fastnet Rock, off the Cork coast. A total of 43 people were killed–30 crew and 13 passengers–among the 205 aboard.

While these episodes were widely reported in Irish newspapers, other ship sinkings were not mentioned at all, or matter-of-factly. For example, on 24 April, this story appeared on page 5 of the Freemans Journal:

IRISH STEAMER SUNK

Another Irish ship, with a cargo of grain, flour and general merchandise, for an Irish port, has been sunk by a German submarine. It is understood that the crew was rescued.

The 1917 Irish shipwrecks are getting some contemporary media attention at this year’s centenary:

U.S. Navy steamed into Ireland 100 years ago

With vital sea lanes to protect from German U-boats, the U.S. Navy arrived in Ireland 100 years ago as America entered World War I. The first ships reached the harbour at Queenstown (now Cobh) on 4 May 1917, and included six destroyers from the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Division Eight, led by Commander Joseph K Taussig on board the USS Wadsworth.

“They braved rough waters, gale-force winds, and German U-boats to protect commercial ships around Great Britain and France,” Tim Forsyth, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Ireland said during a centennial  commemoration. “Unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans was a huge threat and the sinking of the Lusitania and several other U.S. merchant ships was on everyone’s minds.”

Other conferences, exhibits and articles about the American naval presence in Ireland include:

The U.S. Navy arrived in Queenstown in May 1917. Story and more photos at Visit Cobh. The church in left background is St. Coleman’s Cathedral.

Remembering the catch turned catastrophe

One hundred years ago, as the west of Ireland daylight neared its summer solstice peak, four Connemara fishermen made an extraordinary catch: a “barrel-shaped” object with “handles on each side” floating in Galway Bay.

The men tied off the object and began rowing to shore, the big black barrel bobbing behind their boat. The slap of water on the currach punctuated their excited talk (likely in Irish) about the haul, which they suspected was a barrel of oil, tallow or similar shipwreck treasure. They knew the stories of other fishermen making similar lucky finds.

They rolled the barrel on the beach and began to manipulate some screws and pulled out a piece of cord. That’s when the marine mine exploded, killing the four fishermen and five others gathered on the shore. There was “not a trace of the mine or men … only a great hole in the beach,” said a report published a few weeks later in several American newspapers.

The tragedy was quickly blamed on a German munition, “without evidence to back that up,” according to a centennial remembrance in The Irish Times. The determination kept the surviving families from making a compensation claim with the British government, then in the third year of the Great War.

Fifty years later, a plaque with the names of the nine victims was secured to the face of a boulder in the remote location. But the tragedy was mostly forgotten. Now, the plaque has been restored as part of an enhanced memorial, to be rededicated in centennial ceremonies 15-18 June, as the west of Ireland daylight nears its summer solstice peak.

The restored memorial to the nine victims of the 1917 barrel mine explosion near Galway. Image by Joe O’Shaughnessy, part of a photo gallery and short video in The Irish Times.