Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Irish Soldier in World War One

On the 9th December 1916, Thomas Kettle was killed at the battle of the Somme in Belgium at the age of 36. He was extraordinarily gifted, here’s a piece from The Work of T.M. Kettle, published by Robert  Lynd in 1919:

To have written books and to have died in battle has been a common enough fate in the last few years. But not many of the young men who have fallen in the war have left us with such a sense of perished genius as Lieutenant T. M. Kettle, who was killed at Ginchy. He was one of those men who have almost too many gifts to succeed. He had the gift of letters and the gift of politics : he was a mathematician, an economist, a barrister, and a philosopher : he was a Bohemian as well as a scholar : as one listened to him, one suspected at times that he must be one of the most brilliant conversationalists of the age. He lived in a blaze of adoration as a student, and, though this adoration was tempered by the abuse of opponents in his later years, he still had a way of going about as a conqueror with his charm. Had he only had a little ordinariness in his composition to harden him, he would almost certainly have ended as the leading Irish statesman of his day.  (from  XXIII. ‘The Work of T.M. Kettle’ in ‘Old and New Masters’, Robert Lynd, 1919)

A  quotation included in this article gives a sense of Kettle’s eloquence:  Meditating on life as " a sustained good-bye," he writes : Life is a cheap table d'hote in a rather dirty restaurant, with Time changing the plates before you have had enough of anything.

Kettle, though a staunch and very active Irish nationalist, (member of the Irish Volunteers and the United Irish League, Irish Parliamentary Party MP), still found it incumbent on him to join the British forces:

For my part, I am fighting for Ireland. Against what are we fighting? The philosophy to which modern Germany has committed herself can be adequately described only as the gospel of the devil. It is a creed in which domination is the one dogma and cruelty the one sacrament.

This quotation encapsulates in just three lines why it is right that, at last, we are giving honour to the patriotism of so many Irishmen who died under a British flag in World War 1.

This view and the spirit in which he fought is beautifully caught his poem To My Daughter Betty, The Gift  Of God

 To My Daughter Betty, The Gift Of God

 In wiser days, my darling rosebud, blown

To beauty proud as was your Mother’s prime.

In that desired, delayed, incredible time,

You’ll ask why I abandoned you, my own,

And the dear heart that was your baby throne,

To die with death. And oh! they’ll give you rhyme

And reason: some will call the thing sublime,

And some decry it in a knowing tone.

So here, while the mad guns curse overhead,

And tired men sigh with mud for couch and floor,

Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,

Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,

But for a dream, born in a herdsmen shed,

And for the secret Scripture of the poor.  





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