This ANZAC Day, we’d like to remember the fate of some of the Irish members of the ANZAC forces. ANZAC stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, who first came into existence when Britain declared its entry into the First World War in 1914. There was no conscription in Australia, but many citizens were keen to sign up to the Australian Imperial Force (as the Australian Army was then known) to support the Empire and protect Australian interests in the Pacific from German interference. ANZAC forces are commemorated on the 25th April each year, the day they first landed at Gallipoli in Turkey.(Above: ANZAC forces on their way to Gallipoli)
The ANZAC forces fought alongside many other Allied nations at Gallipoli, including Britain, France, India and French Africa. Many Irish-based regiments as part of British Army were also deployed to Gallipoli. Historian Dr. Jeff Kildea estimates that around 6,600 Irish born men and women enlisted in the AIF.
So who were the men and women who enlisted? Kildea’s research has unearthed a wealth of fascinating stories, including that of Martin O’Meara of Tipperary, one of only 64 Australians to receive the Victoria Cross. At the Battle of Somme, he repeatedly rescued wounded men from No Man’s Land and was described by a Lieutenant Lynas as ‘the most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen.’
He also mentions Father John Fahey, originally from Tipperary, and the longest serving frontline chaplain in the First World War, who was awarded a Distinguished Service Order. He wrote dispatches on his time at Gallipoli which were published by the Australian papers.
Other soldiers include Everard Digges LaTouche from County Down and Private Patrick Morgan from County Antrim. Though the former was an opponent of Home Rule and the latter from a family with a history of involvement in the struggle for Irish independence, both died at the battle of Lone Pine at Gallipoli in 1915.
Although the ANZAC casualties at Gallipoli are counted at 26,000 and the death toll is 8,141, many Australians see the ANZAC experience at Gallipoli as a formative moment in the birth of an Australian nation; the first time Australian forces fought together against a common foe. The Irish men and women who served in the ANZAC forces can claim a proud place in that history.
You can read a more detailed account of the history of the Irish ANZAC soldiers by Dr. Jeff Kildea here.