With Official Ireland’s new found interest in The Great War has come much talk of the sacrifice and heroism of the Irish soldiers who fought in the trenches between 1914-1918.
However such talk can often mask the terrible conditions soldiers had to endure in the trenches; the constant presence of death, and the fact that, of the 210,000 Irishmen who fought, more than 30,000 were killed, including more than 750 Galwegians.
Behind these statistics are thousands of personal and local tragedies, and one such personal story is being explored in a new exhibition at Galway City Museum which explores the wartime experience of George Morris, from An Spidéal, and his family, through the letters they wrote to each other and the objects they left behind.
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 during the British retreat from Mons. In the weeks that followed, Morris’ widow received differing views of her husband's whereabouts and condition.
Eventually, Morris’ brother Martin travelled to France to investigate the report of a mass grave outside the village of Villers-Cotterêts. Over a number of 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.
The tragic story of George Morris forms the first phase of the museum's exhibitions commemorating Galway and The Great War. A living history event featuring the Great War Society will take place in September and a second exhibition will be opened before the end of the year.