Galwegians remember relatives who fought in Great War

The 100th anniversary of the start of World War I has prompted many Galway people to explore the stories of their relatives who fought and died in that conflict. Two such individuals are Independent councillor Terry O’Flaherty and the Galway Advertiser’s Kernan Andrews.

A posthumous painting of An Spidéal’s George Morris by Irish-portrait artist William Orpen. Pictured with the painting are George Henry’s grandson Lord Killanin; his great-grandchildren Luke, George, and Hannah; and great-great grandchild Rita. Photo:- Marta Barcikowska.

A posthumous painting of An Spidéal’s George Morris by Irish-portrait artist William Orpen. Pictured with the painting are George Henry’s grandson Lord Killanin; his great-grandchildren Luke, George, and Hannah; and great-great grandchild Rita. Photo:- Marta Barcikowska.

Cllr Terry O’Flaherty’s relative Bernard Laffey was the uncle of the late Bridie O’Flaherty, the former mayor of Galway city. Bernard was born in Clooncah, Woodlawn, and at the age of 20 was serving in the first battalion of the Irish Guards.

The war was only a month old when, along with fellow Galwegian George Morris, Bernard was killed in action on Tuesday September 1 during the British retreat from Mons. He was later listed among the dead of the Irish regiments in the February 22 1915 edition of The Irish Times.

Cllr O’Flaherty’s family is in possession of the last letter Bernard wrote to his mother Catherine. He tells her that the army is “travelling by train now to Belgium” and will seek to “keep back the Germans from marching through” there.

In a poignant conclusion he says: “In case of my Death I have all that I will be worth at that time I left you. |I am not paid any money since the day we left.” In a postscript he tells his mother, “Don’t worry about me for I am getting on very well and in the best of health. Thank God.”

Bernard is remembered at the Guards Grave in the Villers-Cotterêts Forest, northern France. He was postumhously awarded medals for his service in the war.

Two of Kernan Andrews’s relatives fought in The Great War. His cousin Lt Col James Walker Andrews, from Belfast, a veteran of the 1878-1880 Afghan War, saw two of his sons follow him into military life.

Thomas Frederick Andrews (b 1887 ) fought with the Australian Forces in WWI and survived the conflict, passing away at 72 in 1960. His brother James Allfrey Andrews was not to be so lucky.

Like his father, Captain James Allfrey Andrews was born in Belfast. Also like his father he did not serve in an Irish regiment, but with the Devonshire Regiment and would go on to become one of thousands of Irishmen who fought at the Battle of the Somme.

On the first day of the battle July 1 1916, Cpt Andrews was killed in action while leading an attack as second in command on the village of Ovillers-la-Boiselle. He was only 26 and was one of the more than 19,000 killed on that first day of action - the greatest loss of life ever endured by the British Army. His father was later presented with medals awarded posthumously to his son.

Cpt Andrews is buried in Serre Road Cemetery No 2, Somme. He is commemorated on a plaque in the church of St Mary the Virgin, Salehurst, Sussex; on the roll of honour at St Mary’s Church, Salehurst; and in Ireland’s Memorial Records 1914 - 1918, which lists the Irish killed in the war. The work is illustrated by Harry Clarke.

Another Galwegian who died in the war, George Morris, from An Spidéal, is currently being commemorated in the Galway City Museum.

Born in 1872, Morris attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and afterwards served in India and South Africa. In July 1913, he became Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards. That same year he married Dora Maryan Hall. Their son Michael was born two days after WWI began and five days after Britain declared war on Germany.

Morris led his battalion to France but was killed in action on September 1 near Villers-Cotterêts. In the weeks that followed, Dora received differing views of her husband’s fate. This led Morris’ brother Martin to travel to France to investigate the report of a mass grave outside Villers-Cotterêts. Over days, the grave was dug up and the remains of 98 men were removed. George Morris was identified by a small gold watch bearing his name.

This exhibition will be incorporated into a larger exhibition about Galway and the Great War which will open in the Galway City Museum before the end of the year. The Irish Great War Society will also present a living history event at the museum on September 13. See www.irishgreatwarsociety.com

Your WWI stories

The Galway Advertiser is interested in hearing from readers who had relatives who fought in The Great War, with a view to compiling stories for a feature in the autumn. Share stories by emailing [email protected]. Please type Galwegians in WWI in the subject box.

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