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The Disowned Army

Duration:
27 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 04 January 2012

John Waite reports on the campaign to recognise 5,000 Irish soldiers who deserted their own country's army to fight Nazism alongside the British in World War 2. When they returned home their names were placed on "The List" and they were denied jobs and treated as outcasts. Many in Ireland now see their treatment as inhumane and unjustified and there is a campaign underway to have the Irish Government officially erase the stain on their names.

  • TRANSCRIPT

    THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.



    FACE THE FACTS

    The Disowned Army

    TX: 04.01.12 1230-1300

    PRESENTER: JOHN WAITE



    Waite
    This week we're in Ireland to investigate the plight of a group of Second World War heroes who here in their own country have been treated more like villains. They fought on the DDay beaches and in the jungles of Burma, in the Arctic Convoys and the African desert but on their return here they were vilified and severely punished because they had deserted their own army to fight with the British. In 1945 an official government list was drawn up of 5,000 of them and what was called a starvation order imposed. Banned from most employment some even had their children taken away.

    Drums

    Vox Pops
    Well I think it is high time that the Irish government showed the sort of maturity that we should expect in this day and age and deal with the matter of the list. I think it's a stain on Irish history, I think it is something that nobody in Ireland can be in any way proud of and it needs to be addressed.

    He had problem sleeping sometimes because of the nightmares of what happened, you know, and yet those men never got the benefits of their efforts.

    Farrington
    Oh they didn't care in the end.

    Neil Farrington's daughter
    And you were always nervous about people coming to look for you.

    Farrington
    Yeah we were going looking for work.

    Waite
    Ninety one year old Phil Farrington lives in fear of the list - the slim phone book size directory marked confidential - of disgraced Irish soldiers who deserted their own army to join up with the allies. He's frail now and hoarse of voice but chatting with me and his daughter it's clear that nearly 70 years later he's still haunted by the fear of official reprisals.

    Neil Farrington's daughter
    Because I remember if you were talking or I was telling someone you'd say don't say anything because you were afraid the authorities would still be looking for you - isn't that true?

    Farrington
    Oh god yeah.

    Waite
    What's been the effect on you and your life of being called a deserter?

    Farrington
    It was really bad.

    Waite
    I understand that you worry even today.

    Farrington
    Always do yeah.

    Waite
    That you're a deserter and the army may come for you.

    Farrington
    That's correct, yeah.

    Waite
    Do you still believe you might be arrested as a deserter?

    Farrington
    Oh you would, oh god yeah, oh yeah, yes.

    Waite
    In 1940 after the disaster of Dunkirk and even though it had declared itself neutral Ireland could, like Britain, have been invaded by the German forces lined up on the French coast. But when it wasn't, according to Professor Gerald Morgan of Trinity College Dublin, many in Ireland's sizeable army, like Phil Farrington, became restive.

    Morgan
    The danger of invasion really receded with the Battle of Britain, so those who joined up then in June 1940 and so on and were prepared to fight here in the expectation that there would be an invasion here saw by, let's say, by October that there wasn't going to be an invasion so then you had something like 40,000 mobilised people trained to fight and eager to fight and nothing to fight.

    Nash
    I think a lot of Irish defence forces members found themselves to be under-employed.

    Waite
    Irish Member of Parliament Gerald Nash.

    Nash
    They joined an army to fight, they joined an army to defend the things that they believed in and many people believed that what was going on in Europe and across the world in terms of Nazism and Fascism was wrong and they wanted to stand up and be counted.

    Waite
    A view confirmed by Paddy Reid, whose late father and uncle were underage when they deserted to fight the Nazis. In the ranks, he says, disaffection was rife with Ireland's wartime policy of neutrality.

    Reid
    He was one of the first to join up the Irish Army - IDF - in 1939, he was one of the first to desert. I spoke to a fellow soldier who knew him when he signed up and he said when Paddy and Sergeant Flanagan left it started a whole wave of desertions.

    Music - Wish me luck when you wave me goodbye

    Waite
    And why did they desert?

    Reid
    Well conditions were poor, pay was poor, morale was poor, there was a war going on, these were young men, my father lied about his age to get into the British Army.

    Archive - Churchill
    There before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. Where before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering, you ask what is our policy, I will say it is to wage war by sea, land and air....

    Reid
    He wanted to be involved so he deserted in Kilkenny and I met a man who was with him and still feels resentful that he did that because he said it started a whole snowball effect of men deserting the Irish Army.

    Waite
    Many Irishmen deserted their own shores to fight Fascism, some to have adventure. For teenager John Stout from Cork though the reason was more basic.

    Stout
    Because we were hungry, they'd give us no rations, so we got fed up, I got fed up and then they said we're having ..went up the road to Belfast and I joined up there and I could smell the food up the road, I could smell the food as I was going up the road, it was that good up there. I was 17 that time so I was well underage and I was glad to get out of where I was.

    Waite
    Paddy Reid ended up fighting the Japanese with the Royal Artillery in the jungles of Burma, including taking part in one of the bloodiest battles of the war at Kohima Ridge. His son, Paddy, has shown me photos of him wearing his bush hat and leaning grinning on one of the big guns.

    Reid
    He just was so glad that he went because he felt that he had done his bit.

    Music - Bless 'em all

    This picture has five soldiers in probably 1944, thereabouts, my dad is there.

    Waite
    Which one is he?

    Reid
    This is him here. He signed up in '39, he was 16 when he joined the British Army.

    Music - Bless 'em all


    And I like this one, this is kind of all the guys together, the old leather football, kind of just memories that these guys all did the same thing, helped each other, served together.

    Waite
    Looking at photos with 88 year old John Stout his war was very different.

    Archive - news clip from war

    A member of the Irish Guards his tank battalion had fought its way up from the Normandy beaches to Holland to play a leading part in Operation Market Garden, the ill-fated mission to capture a bridge too far, which only resulted in calamitous allied losses.

    Archive - news clip from war

    Stout
    There's a picture there, I think, a couple of pictures there of it all.

    Waite
    That was a terrible action, wasn't it, so many people were killed, particularly paratroopers by the thousands. What did you think at the time?

    Stout
    I kind of thought remorse of it, like, I suppose I said to the Lord don't at my age and my mother saying prayers at home and that's what kept me alive - kept me alive.

    Waite
    You believed that did you?

    Stout
    I did I believed that, that's what kept me alive yeah.

    Waite
    His mother's prayers may have helped John through the war where he ended up as a commando but they couldn't prevent him, on his return home, being placed on the list of deserters, part of the government's emergency powers or starvation order. Punitive measures in the extreme. But then according to historian, Professor Gerald Morgan, while Ireland might have been supposedly neutral the majority of its citizens were decidedly not.

    Morgan
    The partition of Ireland and the disasters in Ireland here in 1940, not only the war but of the Black and Tans, the war of independence, the civil war and the continuing troubles - these affected every single person on the island and formed their views. I think many people here of course thought that Germany were going to win the war, there was a lot of sympathy I think for the Vichy government and so on and relations with that. I would say that probably there were 60% anti-British feeling here. And of course the Irish had to watch the deserters, 5,000 of them, leaving their own army and their own native land, as it were, to go and fight in a foreign army which is technically the case but they didn't like it and they hated it.

    Waite
    Sitting today in the Dail in Dublin where the legislation was passed with representative Gerald Nash it's now not the men but the measures taken against them that are infamous.

    Nash
    The starvation order or the list, as it has become known, it was probably one of the most vindictive measures introduced by any Irish government in fact during the early years of the state. Effectively what it meant and what it resulted in is the treatment of those who effectively deserted the Irish Army to fight Nazism - they treated them like pariahs as opposed to heroes. If I can use the example - only a handful of miles up the road across the border in Northern Ireland those who served in Europe, who served in the Far East and elsewhere were treated like heroes and only 20 miles down the road they were treated in a less than satisfactory way.

    Waite
    Do you know what this is John? It's called the list.

    Stout
    Of personnel of defence forces - dismissed from.

    Waite
    Dismissed for desertion. Now this is a list of all those people who did what you did, which was to desert the Irish Army, are you on that list?

    Stout
    I dunno whether I am.

    Nash
    Did you used to live in Cork before the war?

    Stout
    I did yeah, yeah, yeah.

    Nash
    Did you live in Blackpool....?

    Waite
    The list was officially confidential so perhaps it's not surprising that until we showed it to him ex-Irish Guardsman John Stout didn't know of its existence but he certainly felt its effects. On his return home he was cold shouldered by the community and couldn't get a job, however hard he tried. To the majority of his fellow countrymen it was clear that John and the thousands of his comrades were very much persona non grata.

    Nash
    Well you are on the list and here's your entry, if you see over there there's your Irish Army number E416005.

    Stout
    Oh gosh yeah, yeah.

    Nash
    And there's your name and your address - 39 Spring Lane - and the date that they dismissed you.

    Daughter
    You had a tough time getting a job? Yeah but yeah I think you more so. But this is very interesting now because there are Shields here - there's Shields - it was my grandmother's - on the other side - her name.

    Waite
    There's about 5,000 names on that - 5,000.

    Nash
    What they did is to check - if someone applied for a job they check the names against that list and if your name was on the list you were banned.

    Daughter
    Geekers!

    Nash
    So you automatically you didn't get the job.

    Stout
    Well what they done to us was wrong and I know that in my heart, what they done - what they done to us was wrong.

    Waite
    And how do you feel about being - I mean you had this amazing war, you showed great bravery, you come back to Ireland and you're just a dirty deserter - how do you feel about that?

    Stout
    I mean I was a deserter and that's it, they didn't - they never talk to you about why we done it like.

    Nash
    You couldn't get a job with the electricity supply board, you couldn't get a job with the local authority, with the health board - you were excluded from such positions which would have given relative comfort to a lot of families. Looking at the Dail debates - the Irish Parliament debates - at the time in many respects it fell along party lines - the Fine Gael Party and I think some of the Labour Party - my own party - didn't support the list and effectively tried to get it revoked, whereas de Valera's Fianna Fail government, which were a much more nationalist and insular bent, where the people who were responsible.

    Stout
    They wanted Germany to win - a lot of people here wanted Germany to win the war.

    Waite
    A lot of Irish people wanted Germany?

    Stout
    Yeah oh yeah, oh yeah they were dead against the British.

    Waite
    And when you say people looked down at you, did they cold shoulder you, did they insult you, I mean what was life like?

    Stout
    Yeah, well you know cold shouldered mostly.

    Waite
    Wouldn't speak to you?

    Stout
    Yeah, yeah, yeah, I had trouble finding work alright.

    Waite
    People turned you away?

    Stout
    Yeah, yeah, and people didn't take kindly to me being in the British Army like you know.

    Waite
    The impact of the starvation order was harsh and immediate for returning servicemen and their families like that of Paddy Reid.

    Reid
    The things that kind of for me is interesting is the psychological effects on the family because for seven years we rarely saw him, he couldn't find work so he had to scour the countryside working - black - you know the black economy for farmers - picking turnips or whatever it was. And the money was absolute crap, you know, not enough to feed a family. We simply couldn't afford to live in the - anything that was halfway decent, we couldn't afford it, you know, so we ended up moving from one slum area to another. I can remember crying because there was - my mother would try but particularly this day there would be enough - maybe a slice of bread or something and that would be it you know. No proper clothing, no proper heating. It was tough, it was really, really - yeah I was hurt, I was - I even, now I think about it, it's just too painful. And I think for my dad and certainly for my mother there was a feeling that these men had fought bravely and should come back to be hurt continually and that's how I'd describe it - a continuous hurt.

    Waite
    These things were referred to as starvation orders could that have ever have literally been a reality?

    Reid
    Yes, yes I - well I can only speak from my own experience that there was no food in the house for days on end so we had to go down to what they call the penny dinners, which were food kitchens. The overall impression I get from the Irish government's treatment was we're going to make these guys pay in as cruel a way as possible and psychologically we're going to mess with their heads.

    Waite
    Phil Farrington had already experienced official cruelty right at the beginning of the war when he was caught coming home on leave from Britain and thrown into jail full of fellow deserters.

    Phil Farrington's daughter
    And you were talking to me about the camp in the prison in Cork where you were put for desertion when you were only about 17 or 18, isn't that right?

    Farrington
    Yeah I'd be more like - 19 maybe.

    Phil Farrington's daughter
    And the food that they gave you, when I was a small kid you told me, you used to end up eating egg shells you were so hungry.

    Farrington
    Oh you'd be hungry they'd shove you into the cell.

    Waite
    Phil Farrington spent his time here in a military prison in Cork in one of its bleak Victorian jail cells. Deserters were regularly beaten if they didn't work hard enough and some men committed suicide. Fed on starvation rations and treated with contempt by their guards.

    Farrington
    They’d throw it at you.... eat that.

    Waite
    They'd throw the food on the floor?

    Farrington
    That was right and you had to pick it up and eat it.

    Waite
    You were so - so starved you had to pick it up off the floor?

    Farrington
    Yeah. Young men - so that was it.

    Waite
    Immediately he was released Phil Farrington skipped the country and signed up again with the British Army, this time joining the pioneer corps. Seeing action on the Normandy beaches and in the push towards Nazi Germany helping liberate the first of the death camps.

    Archive - News clip
    Beyond the barrier was a whirling cloud of dust, the dust of thousands of slowly moving people, laden in itself with the deadly typhus germ. And with the dust was a smell, sickly and thick, the smell of death and decay, of corruption and filth. I passed through the barrier and found myself in the world of a nightmare.

    Waite
    When the war was over, however, Phil Farrington also found work virtually impossible to find and so his family too duly suffered. And in all the years since the war his fears of the list have never gone away.

    Phil Farrington's daughter
    You couldn't explore these issues because they were not to be talked about. So when I grew up my father would say to me shhh don't talk. You know there's certain aspects of life....

    Waite
    He was still worried was he?

    Phil Farrington's daughter
    Yeah always. But I'd say but dad they're not looking for you at 90. But the fear was still there you know. I think it's held him back but I think it goes - it transcends through families and I think if your father's held back by issues then it's brought into the children - we were all stigmatised.

    Waite
    Despite his desertion at least Phil Farrington got to keep his children because, according to Irish senator Mary Ann O'Brien, a far worse fate was to befall the offspring of all too many Irishmen who served with the British.

    O'Brien
    Those indeed that were killed and weren't lucky enough to return home appallingly enough - their children - they found themselves in such dire times that let's say these mummies of these children just didn't - were destitute, had nothing left to support themselves or their children, so the children ended up in specialised industrial schools like Golden Bridge and they had a special little code added to the end of their names which means they received specially cruel treatment, I mean my God can you believe - I mean this is not so long ago.

    Waite
    This is Golden Bridge Industrial School, it's about six miles out of central Dublin, and it's to schools like this, all over Ireland, that hundreds of the sons and daughters of deserters were sent. They would appear in court, a magistrates court, they would be sentenced to be detained here and they could be detained in places like this for several years. It's a grim looking Victorian building even today, attached to a church. With me is Robert Widders, author of a book about the Irish deserters called Spitting on a Soldier’s Grave. What would life be like for the children when they arrived here Robert?

    Widders
    This is one of the saddest aspects of the whole grim story. Beatings with rubber truncheons were common place within the industrial school system. I still find it distressing when I talk to survivors of this system, for instance, that treatment for skin diseases - and of course skin diseases were very common because these children were malnourished and denied hygienic facilities - so the nuns would take a stiff brush, hold the child down and scrub the skin until the skin was removed.

    Waite
    What would they do in here all those days, all those months, all those years that they were detained?

    Widders
    In the more isolated and rural areas in some cases the children were actually hired out to work in the fields for farmers. In more urban areas then they might be employed, for instance in this place they would have employed after what limited education they got during the day, they'd be employed making rosary beads. The conditions in these schools for all of the unfortunate children who were incarcerated in them was abysmal, however, for the children of British soldiers it was especially bad and I've a school register and looking back at this at the beautiful copperplate writing of the children's names - Sinead D and Mary so on - and alongside two of the names are the initials SS which indicates child of a British soldier and it also indicates that that child is to be singled out for special abuse. It's quite awful to contemplate how within a system where physical and sexual abuse was the norm anyway how it could be any worse, I can't imagine how badly those poor infants were treated.

    Waite
    One of those whose childhood from aged 8 was spent at perhaps the most notorious of the industrial schools - Artane in Dublin - was Thomas Bonner. His father was with the RAF. Housing a thousand boys and run by the Christian Brothers, he says beatings and sexual abuse was a daily occurrence.

    Bonner
    They had straps about 12 inches long with about three strips of leather and sometimes in that leather they'd have keys and then they would box you round the ears and then perhaps put you over a table and beat you across the backside.

    Waite
    And what did you have to do to deserve this?

    Bonner
    Well you only had to get something wrong or been inattentive at school and if you wasn't on cue he'd find you and he would systematically beat you. You were always frightened that something was round the corner. Every Saturday we had a shower and you queued up, you went in there, you had to take all your clothes off and a brother would come round, he might beat you in the shower and abuse you and that went on all the time. If they took a shine to one of the boys that was it, they'd abuse them.

    Waite
    And could the boys do nothing?

    Bonner
    Who could they talk to? They couldn't talk to anybody, they were there for the duration.

    Waite
    It's unbelievable and no one knew or no one said anything about this?

    Bonner
    No because you couldn't speak out against the Catholic Church at that time. They took away the spirit, they took away the adventure, they took away their outlook on life and left them traumatised forever more.

    O'Brien
    And it's so ironic that their fathers had fought so hard to enter in one of the most atrocious wars in the history of the human race and had freed all those poor people from the concentration camps in Belsen and yet their own children were subjected to a similar type of concentration camp back at home in Ireland, just because their fathers had (in inverted commas) "deserted" the Irish Army.

    Waite
    One of the most iconic buildings anywhere in Ireland is the old GPO building here in O'Connell Street. Bullet holes from British soldiers firing on Irish rebels can still be seen in its walls, it's almost a sacred spot for Irish Republicanism and yet it's here every week that Peter Mulvany stands behind his table of leaflets and petition sheets telling passers-by about the list of Irishmen who fought and suffered with the British.

    Mulvany
    Emergency powers order in relation to this was introduced for political expediency.

    Passer-by
    I'll sign yeah.

    Waite
    You're going to sign the petition?

    Passer-by
    Yeah I'll sign it.

    Waite
    What do you make of it?

    Passer-by
    Yeah I think it's very valid.

    Passer-by
    There were some of them didn't come back, they stayed in England. I've got an aunt of mine - she stayed in England. I don't think they felt they fitted in, you know.

    Waite
    Well they couldn't get work if they did come back.

    Passer-by
    No, and a lot of my mother's friends now they were killed in Dunkirk and they just - anybody else that survived they came back but they went back again because they just felt the hostility I think here you know.

    Waite
    Because they'd fought for the British.

    Passer-by
    Exactly, exactly. It's about time we buried everything and just remembered those people.

    Mulvany
    This is meant not to be a petition - a petition in a strict sense. People have come along to be visible. The pardoning process that we're after really it's about removing the stigma of that list because that list can actually be bought on the internet and there are people that I know, the names - very familiar names on that list, and people want to leave things behind them. So a pardoning process would not change the history of it but leave the blame at the politicians and let the old fellows, the survivors that are left open their wheelchairs with their medals on with their heads hanging high.

    Waite
    Whether that happens depends on the Irish minister of defence - Alan Shatter - who says he is giving active consideration to the matters raised in this programme. According to Senator Mary Ann O'Brien, however, it's not debate but action that's needed because for the small band of Irish war heroes still living, all in their late 80s and 90s, time is fast running out.

    O'Brien
    Well some of the stories we've heard today I mean they just shock you to your very core and we think we're in tough times now but my gosh I feel stronger than I ever did that we must take action for these people. I would like to see their situation brought to justice and I would like to see a full pardon granted both to them and to their families to give them the comfort they deserve and the peace they deserve.

    Waite
    Families like DDay hero Phil Farrington's, whose grandson Patrick says the stigma and the fear that the legislation engendered should finally be consigned to history.

    Patrick
    A simple pardon, yeah, we've had the Queen over, we've had people of the North, the peace, and yet we still can't get the Irish lads that fought for the war, we can't get them a thank you or a pardon, it's shocking, shocking that someone comes back from the war, could have given their life, I know many did, that are still blacklisted and then to be treated the way he was. They didn't run away for a holiday, they weren't making fortunes and gallivanting around Europe they were running towards guns.

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