Thursday, 23 April 2015

1916: Generals Maxwell & Wilson Two of a Kind

Generals Maxwell & Wilson
Two of a Kind

Oh! you would bring me to your Queen, low at her feet to kneel,
Crave mercy from her stony heart, and urge some mean appeal!
I answer No! my knees will bend and prayers of mine arise
To but one Queen, the Queen of Heaven, high-throned above the skies.


When I am finished, there will not be a whisper of sedition in Ireland for another 100 years.”


Such, this latter, was the proud boast of Lieutenant General Sir John Grenfell Maxwell KCB, KCMG, CVO, DSO, when he arrived in Dublin on the Friday of Easter Week, 1916.

Such, this former, was the firm answer and commitment of all right-thinking Irish men, women and children; priest, prelate and pauper alike; and put into words in O’Ruairc’s Request by T.D.Sullivan long before this contemptible excuse for an English gentleman and soldier ever set foot on Irish soil.

This was the man whose ignominious service record prior to his arrival on what was never John Bull’s other island mentioned both Egypt and South Africa. In Lions Led by Donkeys”, John Bourne, Director of the Centre for First World War Studies of the University of Birmingham, described his life up to his Irish sojourn as “a career of great distinction”. That distinction involved, in North Africa, atrocities against both civilians and prisoners of war as an aid to Lord Kitchener, the “Butcher of Khartoum”. In South Africa, as a senior general himself now, he was aware of, and, indeed, had ultimate responsibility for the Concentration Camps and the unforgivably inhumane treatment therein of old and infirm Boer men and women, of younger Boer women and their children, and of native Africans. In appalling circumstances, these all were held prisoner with little or no food and with access to neither medicine nor medical treatment. Into these hands which would most certainly “the multitudinous seas incarnadine” did His Britannic Majesty’s Imperial Government commend for mercy those taken prisoner during the Easter Uprising.

His Britannic Majesty and His Imperial Government must have had some sense of humour!

Mind you, so must have the General.

After he had had the leaders of the Uprising extra-judicially murdered, he had the effrontery to write to the Catholic Bishops of Ireland directing them to remove various, to him, suspect priests from active ministry. In his letter to Bishop O’Dwyer he named two priests, Frs Hall and Bayes. These good men, like the others, had preached against conscription and were thus deemed by Maxwell dangerous menaces to all that he held dear. In directing one of his epistles to the Most Reverend Dr Edward Thomas O’Dwyer, Bishop of Limerick, he was singularly ill-advised. Dr O’Dwyer replied by means of an open letter written from Kilmallock and published, first, in the County newspaper:

Sir
I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 12th instant which has been forwarded to me here.

I have read carefully your allegations against Rev. Hall and Rev. Bayes but do not see in them any justification for disciplinary action on my part. They are both excellent priests, who hold strong national views, but I do not know that they have violated any law, civil or ecclesiastical.

In your (previous) letter of the 6th instant you appealed to me to help you in the furtherance of your work as a military dictator of Ireland. Even if action of that kind was not outside my province, the events of the past few weeks would make it impossible for me to have any part in proceedings which I regard as wantonly cruel and oppressive.

You remember the Jameson raid1, when a number of buccaneers invaded a friendly state and fought the forces of the lawful government. If ever men deserved the supreme punishment it was they, but officially and unofficially, the influence of the British government was used to save them and it succeeded. You took care that no plea for mercy should interpose on behalf of the poor young fellows who surrendered to you in Dublin. The first information which we got of their fate was the announcement that they had been shot in cold blood.

Personally, I regard your action with horror, and I believe that it has outraged the conscience of the country. Then the deporting of hundreds and even thousands of poor fellows without a trial of any kind seems to me an abuse of power as fatuous as it is arbitrary and your regime has been one of the worst and blackest chapters in the history of misgovernment of the country.

I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant.

Edward Thomas, Bishop of Limerick

To General Sir J.G Maxwell, Commander-in-Chief, the forces in Ireland
(Courtesy of the Limerick Leader)

On September 14, 1916, the good bishop, who the novelist Kate O’Brien described as “brilliant and difficult”, was presented with the Freedom of the City of Limerick. During his acceptance speech — a famous speech during which he commented favourably upon the national spirit of resistance and which was accredited by many as having a decisive effect upon the outcome of the bye-election in East Clare — he posed a very pertinent question; a question which was to be quoted later to great effect by, amongst others, Eamon de Valera during the General Election to the Imperial Parliament at Westminster of December 1918. The Most Reverend gentleman asked: “When Lord Wimborne and Mr Devlin and Mr Redmond called on our young Irishmen to go to Flanders and give their lives for Home Rule in Belgium, was it not natural that in view of the state of their own country they should ask themselves if it was not all British cant and hypocrisy, and in their indignation break out in rebellion?”

It is perhaps worth noting that Maxwell was not the only British General of that time to hate the Irish Catholic Nationalists. On Monday, October 21, 1918, Earl Haig noted in his diary2:

“Trafalgar Day. At the request of the Navy League, I sent a message to the President of the League (the Duke of Buccleuch) for publication today. It seems to have given great satisfaction both to Mercantile Marine as well as to the Royal Navy.
Doris (Lady Haig) and I motored to London about 10am and I visited the War Office. General Davidson met me. I also saw General Macdonagh A.G. (Adjutant General). I showed him my note on proposals for an armistice. He agreed with me entirely. As regards manpower, he stated that our latest figures showed that we are not able to maintain more than 36 Divisions next year. At present we have 61 Divisions. I then saw the C.I.G.S. (Chief of Intelligence to General Staff) General (Henry) Wilson. We discussed the situation. I gathered that the main reason why he was in favour of a “complete surrender” for terms of an armistice is on account of Ireland. He is most keen that conscription should be applied to Ireland at once in order to get us more men. And as a means of pacifying Ireland.”


Gerard J de Groot wrote of General Wilson: “After a discussion on 21 October (1918), Haig concluded that Wilson wanted to continue the War so that conscription could be enforced in Ireland, and that country be pacified in the process.”3 Of course, it need hardly be wondered at by which methods Wilson, supporter in chief of the Curragh mutineers, seek to pacify Ireland!
But Ireland was not to be pacified. For the poem ends:

And now you ask my dying wish? My last and sole request
Is that the scaffold built for me be fronted to the West,
Of my dear country far away one glimpse I cannot see
Whenever and however high you raise the gallow tree;
Yet would I wish my last fond look should seek that distant shore;
So turn my face to Ireland Sirs, of you I ask no more.
Notes

(1) The Jameson Raid was an ineffective attempt to overthrow President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic. It took place over the New Year weekend of 1895/96. It has been said that it helped to precipitate both the Second Boer War and the Second Matabele War.

(2) Private Papers of Douglas Haig, 1914-1919, “Being selections from the private diary and correspondence of Field Marshall the Earl Haig of Bermersyde KT GCB CMG, Edited by Robert Blake, published by Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1952, @p334.

(3) Douglas Haig 1861-1928, Gerad J de Groot, Unwin Hyman, London 1988. At p392.)

O’Rourke’s Request
(Brian O’Ruairc - Prince of Breffni, AD1589)

You ask me what defence is mine?
Here! midst your armed bands,
You only mock the prisoner, who is helpless in your hands!
What would defence avail of me,
Though good it be and true,
Here in the heart of London town, with judges such as you?
You gravely talk about my “crime”!
I own no crime at all;
The deeds you blame I’d do again should such a chance befall.
You say I’ve helped the foreign foes,
Who war against our Queen —
Well, challenged so, I’ll proudly show what has my helping been:
On that wild day, when near our coast
the stately ships of Spain,
Caught in a fierce and sudden storm for shelter sought in vain;
When, wrenched and torn 'midst mountain waves
some foundered in the deep,
And others broke on sunken reefs and headlands rough and steep —
I heard the cry that off my land
where breakers rise and roar
The sailors from a wrecking ship were striving for the shore.
I hurried to the frightful scene,
my generous people too,
Men, women, and children came, with kindly deed to do.
We saw them clutching spars and planks,
that soon were washed away,
Saw some bleeding on the rocks, low moaning where they lay;
Some cast ashore, and back again dragged by the refluant wave,
When one grip from a friendly hand would have sufficed to save.
We rushed into the raging surf, watched every chance; and when
They rose and rolled within our reach, we grasped the drowning men.
We took them to our hearths and homes, and bade them there remain
’Till they might leave with hope to reach their native land again.
This is the “treason” you have charged! Well, treason let it be,
One word of sorrow for this fault, you'll never hear from me.
I'll only say, although you hate my race and creed and name,
Were your folk in that dreadful plight I would have done the same.
Oh, you would bring me to your Queen, low at her foot to kneel,
Crave mercy from her stony heart, and urge some mean appeal!.
I answer No! my knees will bend and prayers of mine arise
To but one Queen, the Queen of Heaven, high throned above the skies.
And now you ask my dying wish? My last and sole request
Is that the scaffold built for me be fronted to the West,
Of my dear country far away one glimpse I cannot see
Whenever and however high you raise the gallow tree;
Yet would I wish my last fond look should seek that distant shore;
So turn my face to Ireland Sirs, of you I ask no more.

(Timothy Daniel Sullivan 1827 – 1914)

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