Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The eleventh hour of this eleventh day of the eleventh month saw the 90th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Great War pass by.

For (now somewhat irrelevant) historical reasons, it is not usual in Ireland to commemorate the Great War or to remember the fallen, even though around 140,000 Irishmen enlisted for service in the British armed forces between 1914 and 1918, at least 35,000 of whom lost their lives.

There is still no shortage of angry republicans who bitterly oppose the notion of honouring the dead of the World Wars in this country lest honour be inadvertently given to things or persons British—witness some of the savage and small-souled responses to this perfectly reasonable suggestion; alas that we must still deal with that mentality, the same irrational loathing of Britain which made Ireland a haven for fleeing axis henchmen in the aftermath of World War II and led then Taoiseach Éamonn De Valera to sign a book of condolences for the death of Adolf Hitler.

But I am not of that ilk, for every day this week I am proudly wearing a poppy in the breast pocket of my jacket.

Today I remember one young man in particular, for he was of my mother’s family, and is to my knowledge our only relation who was slain in the carnage of a World War.

My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Roche. She came from Wexford town in the south-east of Ireland and was born in December 1910. I never knew her, for she died in 1970, before I was born. In 1995 I was clearing out the basement of my parents’ family home in Greystones and in the process discovered several interesting artefacts, one of which was a prayer book once owned by my grandmother and which, after the custom of her time, was bursting at the seams with holy cards and prayer cards commemorating deceased friends and members of the family. Among these commemorations was a card for a Private William Roche, of the 2nd battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. He was killed in action in France on 24 May 1915. Pt. Roche was 26 years old when he fell. I succeeded in tracking him down on the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (certificate here), and I will not have his memory dishonoured by uncivilised, foul-mouthed, far-left, Republican Sinn Féin types. His name is on the Menin Gate memorial at Ypres; sadly, there is no cemetery information provided, hence I conclude the location of his grave must be unknown. He is probably buried under one of the many headstones inscribed with the tragic legend “A Soldier of the Great War / Known Unto God”.

May his soul, and the souls of all who fell in the carnage of two World Wars, find rest, consolation and peace at the right hand of almighty God.

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