The Ones Who Came Home
Many of these soldiers came home to find that their own country was struggling for its independence some of them joined the struggle and helped to train locals. There was no hero’s welcome or no marching bands for them. They certainly weren’t treated as heroes they got on with life as best they could and were not always treated as they should be.
One of these men was Ned Welsh. On March 25th 1912 at 22years of age Ned joined the Leinster regiment at Lady Cardin’s Bridge which is the railway bridge at the golf club where they had a recruiting office set up. For some unknown reason Ned was transferred to the Royal Irish Fusileers the time they had a depot in Portlaoise and Ned was taken there and from that to Armagh to be trained. He was sent from there to India and fought in battles at the Khyber Pass and Calcutta where as many men died of heat stroke as did in battle. When war broke out in Europe they were sent back, where they fought at the Somme and Ypres. At the battle to take Vimmney ridge in which hundreds of his comrades were slaughtered Ned was caught in machine gun fire and was shot in both legs he lay there in frost and snow for three days trying to staunch the blood before he was rescued. He was sent home and spent 12 months in hospital recuperating before being discharged in 1919.
A couple of years after Ned came home he was given one of the new houses being built in Legion Villas where he settled down with his wife to rear his family. He had a pension of £2 10 per week of which he had to pay 10 shillings rent a woman would arrive on the train every Saturday morning to collect it. A few years later when his wife died leaving Ned with a young family the British government reduced his pension by 10 shillings and when his eldest son was 16 it was reduced by a further 10 shillings. Then members of the British legion thought he would not be capable of rearing a family on his own due to his disability so along with the board of guardians they tried to take the children from him and put them in the workhouse. His sister stepped in and lived with Ned until he remarried again. Ned lived to a ripe old age and died at 85
Another of these Career soldiers was Michael Fletcher from Burgoo. At 20 years of age Michael enlisted in Crinkhill in Birr on June 2nd 1908 with the 1st Leinster regiment. Like Ned Welsh he spent some time in India. In January 1915 they were sent back to Europe and immediately sent to help conquer the mound at St Eloi. These men had arrived back to sub zero conditions in their lightweight tropical gear designed for the Punjab and had to march 25 miles during which some of their boots fell apart and had to walk in their socks , some were given footwear by locals along the way. The mound at St Eloi was 10 metres high and about the size of a tennis court but had already claimed numerous lives. The Leinsters along with Neds regiment the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Irish were sent in to take the mound, it took them over an hour to wade the last 50 yards to the trenches wading through mud and rotting corpses up to their armpits. Hundreds of men were killed in the attempt to take the mound including local man Captain George Whaley Robinson from Shinrone .
Michael went on to fight in the Somme where on his discharge papers it said he was gassed in the trenches and suffered bronchitis and emphysema. He was discharged on 28 June 1920 with the rank of sergeant. He was initially refused a war invalid pension, he pursued this and after 6 years of fighting eventually in February of 1926 he was awarded his pension. He died on January 27th 1955 and after his death his wife Christine was refused the war widows pension because she couldn’t prove that his death was caused by the injuries he received in the war.
The stories of these two men are typical of the stories of many of the men who came home. They came back, put their Tin chest under the bed, and got on with their lives many to go to their graves without ever speaking of what they saw again.