Last September I wrote a number of Diary entries on the wonderful reception that Galway extended to the survivors of the SS Athenia, torpedoed off the Donegal coast on September 3 1939, the very first day of the war. The ship was sunk by Fritz Julius Lemp, the commander of the U-30. The Athenia was obviously a passenger boat on its way with refugees from Europe to Canada. This wasn’t the start to the war that the German government wanted. Initially it denied that any of its submarines sank the Athenia, and suggested that it was sunk by the British on orders from Winston Churchill in the hope of getting America into the war.
Most people scoffed at such propaganda, but that awful man J Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, believed that Churchill did issue such an order. I was politely taken to task by a reader MC, and I have promised that I will try not to comment on the idiosyncrasies of the people who appear in the Diary in future, such as calling J Edgar Hoover ‘awful’.
(There was also some controversy about the death of the commander of the U-30, whose new submarine was successfully depth -charged on May 9 1941 in the North Atlantic. Commander Lemp was forced to surface, and his men ordered to swim to the waiting British destroyers, HMS Bulldog and Hunt. But halfway across Lemp suddenly turned and began to swim back to his ship which had failed to sink although he had opened the boat’s vents. The British navy had an opportunity to capture intact the submarine U-201, which they did. A German survivor testified that the British shot Lemp in the water, but the British navy said that he committed suicide. What was the true story? )
Here is MC’s letter:
I read your remarks about German propaganda and 'idiots who believe the ludicrous', and wish to comment on Propaganda - German and British.
For very obvious reasons, during the Tudor era, the intelligence services of the English court steadily increased in sophistication until they became the Mossad of their day. Elizabeth's spymasters time &and again, early on identified plotters, forged communications and often facilitated their endeavours until they - in some cases reached a point they might otherwise never have arrived at, and - were arrested. They abducted, poisoned and blackmailed more successfully than most other spy services. So the British facility for effective propaganda, is one of terrific ability and long-standing.
At the outset of WW1, the British mounted the 20th century's most successful black ops propaganda campaign over 'the rape of little Belgium' - a campaign that while it was based on one or two notorious documented incidents, has since been widely discredited as organised, vastly overblown and deliberate disinformation. Public disenchantment at the scale of this deception, has been convincingly cited as one of the reasons so many people were slow to believe rumours of the true nature of Hitler's treatment of the Jews in WW2 - an unforeseen consequence admittedly but a sobering reminder that in the world of espionage, we are all 'idiots,' unsure of what to believe. It was also, along with the casualty list, part of the reason why Americans were so reluctant to become involved in another European war against Germany.
The Lusitania - widely alleged to have been carrying arms when she was sunk - has been dynamited by the British navy more than once, ostensibly to facilitate shipping, fishing and diving on the wreck but the suspicion remains that it was to conceal evidence of such cargo. Will we ever know? Probably not.
More importantly, knowing what we now know about the final solution, who wouldn't have contemplated sinking an American ship, IF it would have guaranteed early American entry into the war - and we know, of course, that it wouldn't - and the saving of millions of lives? Who wouldn't have put a bullet into Lemp, if they suspected for half a moment that he was going back? Lemp would have done the same if the tables were turned and any soldier who didn't do so, would at the very least, have been guilty of dereliction of his duty.
I make these comments by way of highlighting my own enjoyment and engagement with your column - which friends & family often remark upon favourably too - and also hopefully, to gently persuade you of the merits of separating opinion from history.
On November 24 2011 Galway Diary commented on the 1952 proposal to erect a memorial arch to the men and women of Galway city and county who gave their life for Irish freedom during the years 1916 - 1923. I suggested that the archway was planned to link the canal walk at O’Brien’s Bridge, and with the centenary of 1916 approaching that it might be opportune to revive the plan. Ms Mary Silke sent me the following observation. I was surprised to hear that the memorial was already there.
I must correct you on the last sentence of your article on the above! The Archway is at the entrance/exit to the canal walkway at Newtownsmith and a VERY SMALL brass plaque contains the inscription. It is SO small that one would think we in Galway were ashamed of our war dead!!
This Memorial was first mooted in l951 and there was an original committee of 38 (I have list of names here ), In l975 moneys were collected and lodged in Prize Bonds and some in AIB Bank. The committee in l988 were Mary Byrne, Chairperson; Brendan Allen, Fund Trustee; Fursey Walsh, Brendan Holland, Jack Stewart, Dr Moya O Donnell, Pat McCambridge and J Francis King, Sec. Back as long as ago as 1951 John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara gave of their time to attend a Gala Concert in Seapoint on 3rd July, l951 to raise funds for the project. When O'Malley Constructions were building at Forster Court they were asked for stones from the Old Railway Bridge but the reply was 'there were none left over'.
My Father the late Larry Hynes who had a pub in Shop St., was determined that we in Galway should have a Memorial to our War Dead as have most cities world-wide. And he wrote and visited lots of businesses to get them to help. Some of these were Digital, Thermo King, Eircom, Smurfits, Guinness, Ben Dunne and AIB and B of I. Monies were lodged to Prize Bonds and the AIB.
The last letter my father wrote re this Memorial was on 28th November, l989 and he died suddenly next day 29th. A few years later I decided that I would continue his fight and contacted the Galway Corporation and Galway Civic Trust and Jackie Ni Cionnaith of the latter and former city manager Joe Gavin, who were most helpful.
The wording of the original inscription mentioning the Civil War dates was not acceptable and was changed to 'remembering all Irish men and women who gave their lives to promote freedom and democracy at home and abroad'. I hope this helps to clarify this matter and hope you don't have too much difficulty in finding and reading Galway's Memorial to their WAR DEAD!!!
Mary Hynes Silke (Cnoc na Greine, Furbo )
The Russell baby case
A piece in the Christmas Miscellany mentioning the death the previous April of Geoffrey Russell, fourth Lord Ampthill, brought back memories for Aileen McCormack- Glynn.
Geoffrey Russell’s mother, Christabel, Lady Ampthill, restored and lived in Kinvara Castle in the late 1930s, and hunted with the Galway Blazers into the 1960s. By all accounts she was a charming and beautiful woman, who lived quietly; but she was the centre of the notorious Russell baby case in the 1920s. As a young woman she agreed to marry her handsome beau John Hugo Russell, the third Lord Ampthill, on condition they did not have children or enjoy full conjugal rights in their early years. Her husband agreed, but soon, however, Christabel became pregnant. Her husband denied paternity and sued for a divorce. Despite her pregnancy, doctors testified that she still ‘ showed all signs of virginity’. She gave birth to a baby boy who for years sought recognition that he was John Hugo Russell’s heir. It wasn’t until 1973 that the House of Lords was satisfied with the legitimacy of his claims. The case, which kept the world-wide media/gossip columns on their toes for decades, has exercised adults as to how the whole pregnancy came about.
It also exercised the minds of the young Garda recruits in the early days of this State.
My late father, Thomas McCormack, (b 1902 d 1984 ) joined the Irish Civic Guards (latterly known as An Garda Siochana ) in Sept 1922, a mere month after the assassination of Michael Collins in August 1922. In January 1923, when all the formalities of admission had been finalised, Tom McCormack arrived at McKee Barracks Dublin to commence his training in the new fledgling Force. His Commissioner until 1933 was the famous Eoin O’Duffy, later of Blueshirt fame. Some of the new Civic Guard recruits had already served in the First World War. Quote (writings of late T McCormack ) : “they had the sand of the Sahara between their toes and the map of the world on the soles of their feet.”
Legal studies formed a major part of the curriculum in McKee. This was early days in post-Treaty Ireland, struggling to her unsteady feet, right in the middle of a bloody and bitter Civil War, and still squabbling about who and how this new nation would survive as a post-colonial entity of Britain.. thus there was not, as yet, a legal system established here. Colonial Britain had many cases to which recruits could be tutored on, BUT the one which dominated those classes was The Russell Divorce case. The young recruits became very au-fait with the factual aspects of the case, in all its glorious, aristocratic detail. Country lads from rural Ireland would not have ever heard some of the explicit descriptions which emerged in the Court case and House of Lords etc: no wonder it stuck in their minds thereafter!
Quote (from the writings of late T McCormack ): “The most brilliant legal minds in London chewed on the matter: Lord Dawson scratched his head: Lord Birkenhead nodded knowingly”! The notoriety, fallout (if you’ll pardon the pun! ) and legal wrangling of the Russell case rattled on right into the mid-1970’s.
The poem below would have surfaced among the recruits, gleaned from reports in the British newspapers and added to by the witty among them! For years afterwards, these lines would be quoted and added to in Barrack Day-Rooms up and down the country, according to how the case was progressing. Many who quoted the verses purported that the words came, in fact, from the Russell Baby boy’s own mouth!
Mrs. Russell’s Baby
I’m Mrs. Russell’s baby
I’m fat and fresh and fair...
I’m looking for me Daddy
All round Leicester Squahre...
If I don’t find me Daddy
I’ll go back to the Court
And tell Mr. Justice Darling
That... my mother’s not THAT SORT...!
Now, if Mr. Justice Darling says
Oh! yes, she IS that sort,
I’ll stomp and scream and stamp my feet,
”Hush up, young Geoff, they will retort...
SO, if an answer I can’t get
‘Bout my mother’s “plus d-affaires”!
I’ll still be looking out for Daddy
Up round Leicester Squahre.
(Note: I have spelt “Square” with an added ‘ h’ in it: This gives a sort of aristocratic tone to its pronunciation ). Aileen McCormack-Glynn, Seacrest, Galway.