Jude Collins

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Irish army WW2: deserters or heroes?

I’m always impressed by the public mind’s ability to perform somersaults. The latest example of this is the ‘pardon’ issued to those soldiers in the Irish Army who deserted and joined the British Army during the Second World War.  At the time they were declared deserters and when they came home they had problems getting work.  Now Justice Minister Alan Shatter is sponsoring a Bill to right that wrong posthumously  “The Bill is being enacted in recognition of the courage and bravery of those individuals court martialed or dismissed from the Defence Forces who fought on the Allied side to protect decency and democracy during World War Two”.

I’m afraid I detect a case of having your cake and eating it here. No matter what Minister Shatter or anyone else says, these men were deserters. They’re on record as having gone AWOL and to pretend they somehow didn’t is daft. “Yes, but they did it for the highest of motives” you may say. Indeed. But if as Shatter says, they were fighting to protect “decency and democracy”, then by extension the Irish army which they deserted failed to help protect “decency and democracy”. So Dev’s whole neutrality thing was simply cowardice? A failure to stand side-by-side with Britain and the allies against Germany?

Well yes, they didn’t stand side-by-side with Britain. But surely that was their prerogative as a sovereign state. What’s the point in having an independent foreign policy if you’re not allowed to use it?  And what has happened that Mr Shatter and this generation see the courage and even heroism of these men, while the generation or two before them saw them saw deserters who rejected their own army and joined that of Britain?  

The case is similar to the rehabilitation of those Irishmen who fought in the British Army in the First World War. In both cases, the hurry to rehabilitate has more to do with publicly sucking up to Britain than it does with wanting to do the right thing. Despite the considerable number of irishmen who have joined the British army over the decades, there has always been a sense that they have gone over, for whatever reason, to the ‘other side’.

So here are two tips for you, Alan:  (i) Accept that the men were in fact deserters from the Irish Army. Regardless of motive, deserting is deserting and no apology changes that. (ii) Accept that while these men may have shown courage and even insight by joining Britain in fighting Germany, they were effectively telling their government it should have entered the war. No state and no society reacts well to being told a central policy is totally mistaken, especially when the critics come dressed in the uniform of the British Army. 

As to Alan’s hand-wringing over the men’s difficulties in finding work when they returned, he might want to turn his gaze and his influence northwards to consider the work problems encountered by former political prisoners here.  Or maybe not. It’s always easier to speak up for the safely dead. 


  1. Of course the Irish Army and the British Army are legitimate armies of their respective countries whatever you may think of the latter.Are you suggesting that the I R A was a "legitimate "army?

  2. I couldn't understand newspapers using inverted commas when saying deserters. That's exactly what they were.

  3. What a highly offensive article - even by your low standards! Make no mistake, the freedom and liberties that exist throughout the world would not be possible without the gallantry of these brave souls. Men who sacrificed their lives against tyranny and oppression so the odious little individuals can write such nonsense!

  4. Anonymous: 12:13

    Many see the IRA as a legitimate army. That you do not see them as such is only an opinion. The British negotiated with them - so they, at least, must have seen them as legitimate.

    Stephen: 21:57

    While I don't doubt the "gallantry of these brave souls" I have problems with your outlook.

    "Freedom and liberties that exist throughout the world" - that is laughable. I could give so many examples where this statement fails that I won't. Please - look at the news otherwise I would require a full blog of my own. Please, Stephen behave.

    "Men who sacrificed their lives against tyranny and oppression" - in France, Poland, Russia etc?...but never Britain. So they died in foreign fields for foreign countries. Britain was NEVER EVER gonna be invaded. The documents prove that now. You should keep up on this stuff. So no-one was realistically defending against a British invasion (you should check out your Churchill on this).

    If they wanted to die fighting against oppression - they only had to head north.

    Who are you (or me) to suggest what they died for. They died because they were part of a conflict. Like all the rest who died in any given conflict.

    You infer Jude wrote odious things - unlike the odious things done in war? By people you might hold up as heroes? So many places where odious things were done, not said. I just don't know where to start.

  5. Ceannaire
    "Many see the I R A as a legitimate army"That of course is your opinion but not necessarily one shared by the majority of people in Northern Ireland.I'm sure the British negotiate with many groups but I wouldn't say that always grants them legitimacy .