Remembering Boyle’s Band of Brother’s.

At 11 am on the 11th of November 2018 a memorial will be unveiled in King House in Boyle precisely 100 years to the hour and day the guns finally fell silent on the western front, the Great War had ended.  With the support and goodwill of Roscommon County Council the Connaught Ranger’s Association committee will realise its final aim and that is to unveil a memorial to the 127 men of Boyle and its environs who lost their lives in the Great War.  These men saw Boyle as their home and that is reflected on their enlistment papers which bar one name was the procedure the CRA pursued to come up with the many names on the memorial.  It is a fitting tribute that these soldiers, who came from all backgrounds and religions from the town and countryside around Boyle, will finally be remembered by name, along with the numerous units they served and died with. The unveiling will take place in the Connaught Rangers Association Room of Remembrance in King House where photographs of soldiers who were killed serving with the Connaught Ranger’s Regiment hang from the walls. It is also fitting that this memorial will be located in King House as many of the soldiers who are being remembered would have served in King house when it was a military barracks, or would have enlisted there before seeing active service abroad during the war. In one sense they have finally come home.

Amongst the many names on the memorial are four brothers, the Wynnes from Green street and later Eaton Terrace in Boyle. One can hardly begin to understand the tragic loss to one family, so many empty chairs round the kitchen table. It is hard to understand the feeling of loss their mother Mrs Ellen Wynne felt as she opened another “we regret to inform you”  telegram from the War Office informing her of the death of yet another son.

Thomas Wynne No 7779 on the 1911 census was living in Eaton Terrace, Boyle with his mother after serving seven years in the colours with the Connaught Rangers, his father Patrick had died at some stage after the 1901 census as he was named as head of house on that census. Tomas enlisted with the 2nd Battalion Connaught Rangers in March 1903 aged 21 and went to serve in India with a draft of troops in 1904. He returned to Ireland in 1910 and went on the army reserve list working as a carpenter according to the 1911 census and living with his mother.  In August 1914 he would have been nearly four years in the Reserve when he was called up at the outbreak of war on mobilisation of the army.  He joined the 2nd Battalion in Aldershot and went with them as part of the British Expeditionary Force landing in Boulogne on 14th August 1914.The song “It’s a long way to Tipperary” was first heard on the western front being sang by these Irish troops as they marched from Boulogne.  He was in reserve at Mons but took part in the rearguard action during the two week retreat to the Marne. He would have seen bitter fighting when the allied forces pushed the Germans back on the Marne and over the Aisne River in September, eventually ending up in Ypres for the terrible battle of 1st Ypres in late October/early November being lucky to survive.  By then the 2nd Battalion had lost most of their men and on 5th December were amalgamated with the 1st Battalion Connaught Ranger’s  who had lost equally.  The new 1st Battalion spent the next few months fighting around Kemmel and Messines south of Ypres before being moved up to La Brique just north east of the town at the start of 2nd Ypres in late April 1915.  On 26th April whilst attacking Mauser Ridge, the Germans loosed their second gas attack of the war followed by a huge artillery barrage.  The 1st Battalion lost over 350 men that day, Thomas aged 33 was one of these men, his body was never recovered but he is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ieper (Ypres) to the missing who have no known graves.  He is not on his own as they are over 54800 names on this one memorial for this small area of Belgium. His mother Ellen, who was a widow, must have been consumed with grief for the loss of her son and the realisation of what may happen to her surviving sons.

John William Wynne No 10996 emigrated to the north of England before the war. He enlisted in England in late 1914 and served with the 8th (Service) Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) which was part of Kitcheners K1 force which started recruiting in September 1914 and went to Gallipoli in July 1915 landing in Suvla on August 6th. John  found himself fighting the Turks and from a personal memory having visited the area the fighting positions were mere meters apart, arid hard soil was what had to be dug into for defence positions, razor sharp thorns would cut open any exposed skin, the soldiers were always at  risk of been overlooked and enfiladed with enemy fire. This campaign was truly Churchill’s folly which resulted in a shocking waste of life for no gain whatsoever, an embarrassing retreat off the Dardanelles was completed in early January 1916, and one soldier was overheard saying “I hope the dead don’t hear us sneaking away”. Ellen Wynne received her second telegram from the War Office in 1915. No 10996 Private John William Wynne died 07 August 1915 on his second day on the peninsula, his body was never recovered. He is remembered on the Helles Memorial to the missing who have no known graves.  Coincidentally, the 5th Bn Connaught Rangers (a new Battalion again mobilised after the war started) having just arrived on the peninsular on 6th August were utilised in clearing the dead from the battle field at Lone Pine after the big Anzac attack, what sights these young men faced fresh off the boat, in the summer heat bodies decomposed very quickly, millions of flies covered the dead, it was a terrible introduction to war for these young Irish soldiers.

Pte Francis “Frank” Wynne No 9900 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers was a pre war soldier enlisting in Boyle in 1910. Frank was serving in India when war broke out, he accompanied the 1st Battalion Connaught Rangers to France. He was wounded at some stage in mid 1915 and was invalided home to Ireland to recover. After recuperation he was recycled back to the 6th Battalion Connaught Ranger’s on the Western front. On the 21st of March 1918 after secret planning the German Kaiser and his senior generals launched a massive counter attack, it was their final throw of the dice to defeat the allies. The plan was to wear down the enemy and capture large areas of ground so creating a stronger bargaining position when peace negotiations commenced.  They knew the Americans were coming and were not strong enough to continue the war for much longer, especially with the fresh troops and materials from America arriving. At the end of this day the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers existed only in name. The Rangers were ordered to counter attack the Germans, it was to be supported by another unit, at the last minute the attack was cancelled, the unit supporting the Ranger’s were notified of the cancellation order, but no word was received by the Rangers who went forward as per the original order, unsupported. According to the regimental diaries the Rangers saw men moving up along their right, unbeknownst to the Rangers these were Germans and not the supporting unit as per the plan for the counter attack. No 9900 Private Frank Wynne age 27 died on the 21 March 1918 he is buried in Villiers-Faucon Communal Cemetery Extension . His cousin No 3117 Private Joseph Higgins (my Granduncle) age 26  died also on the 21st of March 1918, his body was never found and his name is on one of the panels dedicated to the missing at Pozieres cemetery, France. Two more telegrams would make their way to Boyle to two related families.

Michael Wynne No 3078 enlisted in the 6th Battalion Leinster Regiment in the early months of the war and joined the 6th (Service) Battalion another part of the Kitchener K2 force and went to Gallipoli in 1915 as part of the 10th Irish Division landing at Suvla in August and fighting alongside the Connaught Rangers 5th Battalion. The 6th Battalion moved to Salonika at the end of November 1915 serving in the mountains of present day Macedonia and in the malaria infected swamps of the Struma Valley, before moving to Palestine to serve under General Allenby in his push for Jerusalem in Christmas 1917.  In May 1918 after the Kaiser’s Spring Offensive the 6th Leinsters moved to the Western Front where they suffered severely in the last few months of the war eventually merging with the 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers.  Michael was only a few days with the 5th Battalion when he was killed in action aged 29 at Le Cateau in France, one month from the end of the war.  He was buried at Montay-Neuvilly Road Cemetery, Montay in France.  News of the Armistice was in the air at home and on the western front, soldiers may soon be coming home. Mrs Ellen Wynne received the fourth and final war office telegram informing her of the death of yet another son. No 15098 Private Michael Wynne, 5th Battalion Connaught Rangers died 10 October 1918. This telegram would not have been received immediately as one can imagine due to the confusion of war, it more than likely coincided with the armistice on the 11th of November. Did Ellen Wynne believe that her son had survived the war only to be devastated with this final news of Michael?

It has taken 100 years for something permanent in Boyle to be put in place in the right location to remember the men who did not come back from the Great War and who on their enlistment papers gave Boyle as their home address. As the 100th year anniversary of the Great War slowly passes away and into distant history the Connaught Rangers committee would like to thank everyone who supported us since our formation in 2002. We have achieved our goals and shone a light like other Irish Regimental Associations and ordinary individuals who wished to re-examine and correct the local and national Irish history books throughout the country on a forgotten generation of Irish people who were once airbrushed out of Irish history to suit a political aim. The Wynne brothers and their cousin Joseph Higgins and all the other Irish soldiers who sacrificed their lives from the four provinces of Ireland in the Great War for Peace and Freedom in a different time then we live in today, can now rest in peace. I honour my five relatives who died in the Great War.

William Beirne

Connaught Rangers Association Committee