Tony Lennox, editor of Warwickshire Life, shares a personal connection to a dark chapter in history.
While researching a completely different story, I came across a book by a Liverpool author, Robert Widders, called “Spitting on a Soldier’s Grave” – the story of 4,000 Irishmen who left the Irish Army on the eve of war, to join the Allies.
It was a shocking tale. These men, who decided to join the British Army to fight the Nazis, were, in their absence, court martialled by the Irish Government and branded deserters. Many of the children of these soldiers were taken into state institutions and given “special treatment”, which meant they had a tougher time than even the ordinary unfortunates condemned to live in these notoriously brutal places.
The men themselves, were they to return to Ireland, were to be given no state aid or welfare, and were forbidden to be given any jobs in local or national government. Their families suffered the shame of knowing that their sons were deemed traitors to Ireland. The “list” was still in use by Irish government departments well into the 1990s.
Donald Lennox was a name on this list. He’d enlisted in the Irish Army at the age of 16 (he lied about his age, like many others). At the outbreak of war, he left his unit in County Mayo, travelled to Belfast and joined the Irish Guards, a very famous British regiment. He fought in Germany, and was in the division which accepted the German surrender at Luneberg Heath in 1945. He later served in Palestine. He died in 1972 in Warwick.
My father went back to Ireland only once – for his mother’s funeral. He rarely spoke of his war, and we had no inkling of his court martial.
No-one blames the young Irish state for choosing neutrality in 1939. But this son of an Irishman does blame them for a spiteful and vindictive response to brave men whose personal decision to fight fascism caused them to be branded traitors.
Rob Widders is campaigning to have the soldiers’ names cleared. His book is available on Amazon, and you can learn more on www.robertwidders.co.uk