IRA Volunteer with Victoria Cross

#1
Whilst browsing some articles related to the 1916 Easter Uprising, I came across the following article which I think is typically Irish. I particularly like the fact that "he was an active member of the IRA when he journeyed to London in November 1920 to join an honour guard of Victoria Cross holders at the interment of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey."

My own grandfather went the other way serving as a 'volunteer' in the early 20s but then being forced out of the south having ended up on the wrong side of the civil war. He subsequently served in the British Army during WW2!

It is hard to believe that it is just a few months short of half-a-century since my late father led me by the hand to Cavan Courthouse to watch actor TP McKenna theatrically read the 1916 Proclamation of an Irish Republic. It was the 50th anniversary of the Rising.

Then it seemed a simple process of commemorating the blood sacrifice of Patrick Pearse in Dublin at Easter
In 1966, the northern Troubles hadn't erupted and it was easy for the government and the Defence Forces to officially portray the participants in the Rising as heroes and martyrs. Now it is different. As Yeats said: "All is changed changed utterly."

With the centenary looming, Enda Kenny and the rest of the Establishment face a dilemma. How to celebrate/commemorate the anniversary of the uprising against British rule in Ireland?
Even today, a century later, there are mixed feelings about an event that ultimately led to Irish independence from Britain. Some want jingoistic jubilation, others a more subdued marking of a pivotal event in modern Irish history.

No individual encapsulates the schizophrenia of the divided loyalties in modern Ireland more than a figure from that era. Martin Doyle was a sergeant major in the Munster Fusillers regiment in World War One. His astonishing feats of bravery in a British Army uniform earned him both the Military Medal and the Victoria Cross as one of only 24 Irishmen to win the supreme accolade for bravery.
Yet Martin then left the British army to join the IRA and fight against his former comrades during the War of Independence. He got a medal for that too. His now-forgotten story neatly embraces the Irish dilemma.

Even by the epic standards of bravery displayed in the carnage of World War One, Martin's behaviour under fire was truly heroic, particularly at the second battle of Bullecourt in the dying months of the war in September 1918.

Martin was acting company sergeant-major of the beleaguered Munster Fusilliers. Murderous German machine gun fire had wiped out all the regiment's officers in the field. Martin, from New Ross, Co Wexford, assumed command.

Spotting a cluster of British soldiers in no man's land surrounded by Germans, he ordered his surviving able-bodied comrades to follow him through the maze of trenches and across no man's land. In a hail of enemy machine gun fire, he rescued the stranded soldiers, carrying back under heavy fire a wounded officer.

But the plucky Doyle wasn't finished yet. According to regimental citation, he spotted a British tank bogged down in the mud with German troops attempting to clamber inside.
He rushed forward under intense fire, routed the enemy who were attempting to get into the tank and prevented the advance of another enemy party collecting for a further attack on the tank.
An enemy machine gun now opened up on the tank at close range, rendering it impossible to get the wounded away, whereupon Company Sergeant-Major Doyle, with great gallantry, rushed forward, and, single-handed, silenced the machine gun, capturing it with three prisoners.

He then carried a wounded man to safety under very heavy fire. Later in the day, when the enemy counter-attacked his position, he showed great power of command, driving back the enemy and capturing many prisoners.

As a result of this fearless, reckless and exceedingly brave activity, Doyle won the Victoria Cross. His citation stated: "Throughout the whole of these operations, Company Sergeant-Major Doyle set the very highest example to all ranks by his courage and total disregard of danger."

Astonishingly, only six months earlier, Doyle had been awarded the Military Medal after successfully leading a bayonet charge on a German machine-gun post in a derelict barn in no man's land. He received the following letter from the 24th Divisional Commander, Major-General A. L. Daly.
"I am very pleased to see that your gallant conduct has been rewarded by the award of the Military Medal and I offer you my personal congratulations." And between winning the Military Medal for "exceptional bravery" under fire and earning the ultimate accolade of the Victoria Cross, he was captured by the Germans and badly treated. A counter-attack by his regiment resulted in his liberation and his eager return to the fray.

Yet the amiable Irishman, regimental boxing champion and talented runner wasn't just an exceptional hero in the khaki of the British Army.
Uniquely, after receiving his Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace from the Queen's grandfather, George V, he returned home to Ireland and enlisted in the infant IRA. From 1920 to 1922, he was engaged in a lethal campaign, killing British soldiers to achieve independence from the Crown.

He became an intelligence officer for the mid-Clare brigade in Ennis in the War of Independence. During the Civil War, he served with the Free State Army in Waterford, Kilkenny and south Tipperary and was wounded in the left arm in Limerick in early 1923.

Surely no other story so crystallises the complexities and conflicting, yet sometimes overlapping, loyalties of that period. Perhaps the apparent contradictions of his military career, which literally followed him to his grave, made him too awkward to fit comfortably into either the British or Irish national narrative.

The official record of the Munster Fusillers regiment states: "He is unlikely to be remembered with total pride in British military annals. After returning as a hero from the Great War in France, where he also won the Military Medal, he threw in his lot with the Irish national struggle for freedom in 1920 and spent the next few years fighting the Crown forces."

Doyle was born in New Ross, Co Wexford on October 25, 1894.He lied about his age to join the British army on St Stephen's Day, 1909, when he was barely 15. His father, Larry, is said to have sold a cow to buy him out but Martin merely re-enlisted. In 1914, he was shipped to France with his regiment to fight in World War One.

When the awarding of his VC was confirmed, he wrote to his parents: "I am all in a whirl of joy."

Doyle was welcomed home to New Ross in March 1919 by a large crowd. The local newspaper reported: "The meeting between the young hero and his aged parents was very touching: going straight to his mother and father, he embraced them. He was escorted to his home in Mary Street amidst a scene of great enthusiasm. As they approached the Royal Hotel, a trumpeter standing on the steps sounded a stirring bugle call, which evoked ringing cheers. There was a profusion of decorations in the town, along with scrolls bearing words of welcome to the New Ross hero."

He went to Buckingham Palace to receive his VC from the king but left the army that July. In 1920, he joined the IRA.

In the ensuing Civil War he served with the Free State Army, serving until 1937. His army record described him as "an excellent NCO, a very good Vickers machine gun and rifle instructor and someone who could not be replaced without serious inconvenience to the service".

He spent a further year and a half in the Army Reserve.

Having spent nine years and five months in the British army, two years in the IRA and 15 years and five months in the regular Irish Army, he hung up his uniform on January 25, 1939.

Now married with three daughters, he joined Guinness as a security guard but on November 20, 1940, he died of polio in Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital, aged only 46.

Even though Doyle had fought the British and spent most of his career in the Irish Army, at his death he chose to be buried in his British First World War uniform and his gravestone, erected by former comrades in Grangegorman military cemetery, Dublin, records only his British military rank and honours.

Bizarrely, Doyle was an active member of the IRA when he journeyed to London in November 1920 to join an honour guard of Victoria Cross holders at the interment of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.

He also attended a VC reunion dinner in 1929 in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords. Doyle's Times obituary ignored his role in the War of Independence. It was not just the Irish who edited history to suit themselves.
Source: Story of British army hero turned IRA man shows divided loyalties - Independent.ie
 
#2
I cannot remember the book title but I read a memoir of one of the IRA men who fought the British and in it was a photograph of the IRA volunteers who were provided to the British High Command as a bodyguard 'against those mad Fenian b#stards' during the first world war.
 

Mr_Fingerz

LE
Book Reviewer
#3
An astonishing story. And one that I was wholly unaware of.

I would hope that this year An t'Airm will do something to mark his passing.
 
#4
Those two letters VC mean a lot, I suppose. If memory serves, one of the British Kings after Queen Victoria said if a man had earned that decoration, he could walk to the gallows wearing it if he cared to. I know obiter dicta from royalty isn't exactly the law of the land, but I'm thinking that's partly why the man mentioned in the article "Got away with it," so to speak. And so he should have. That sort of courage transcends sectarian issues.
 
#5
An astonishing story. And one that I was wholly unaware of.

I would hope that this year An t'Airm will do something to mark his passing.
I'm aghast. In fact I'm several ghasts.

Today in British History

Another article from the Irish Times

An Irishman’s Diary on Martin Doyle, the Victoria Cross winner who joined the IRA

Those two letters VC mean a lot, I suppose. If memory serves, one of the British Kings after Queen Victoria said if a man had earned that decoration, he could walk to the gallows wearing it if he cared to. I know obiter dicta from royalty isn't exactly the law of the land, but I'm thinking that's partly why the man mentioned in the article "Got away with it," so to speak. And so he should have. That sort of courage transcends sectarian issues.
From Wikipedia

The original Royal Warrant involved an expulsion clause that allowed for a recipient's name to be erased from the official register in certain wholly discreditable circumstances and his pension cancelled.[70] King George V felt very strongly that the decoration should never be forfeited and in a letter from his Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, on 26 July 1920, his views are forcefully expressed:

The King feels so strongly that, no matter the crime committed by anyone on whom the VC has been conferred, the decoration should not be forfeited. Even were a VC to be sentenced to be hanged for murder, he should be allowed to wear his VC on the scaffold.[31]

The power to cancel and restore awards is still included in the Victoria Cross warrant but none has been forfeited since 1908.[31]

Victoria Cross - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
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DaManBugs

LE
Book Reviewer
#6
The medal your man there got for fighting in the Irish War of Independence would be the "Black-and-Tan" medal, the same as my Granda got - with a "Cormac" clasp too, I'll bet!

MsG
 
#7
The medal your man there got for fighting in the Irish War of Independence would be the "Black-and-Tan" medal, the same as my Granda got - with a "Cormac" clasp too, I'll bet!

MsG
Was he wearing it when he was hanged, or did we have to kill him along with the rest of your family?
 
#8
The medal your man there got for fighting in the Irish War of Independence would be the "Black-and-Tan" medal, the same as my Granda got - with a "Cormac" clasp too, I'll bet!

MsG
Your grandad's name was Cormac? :)

 
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Cutaway

LE
Kit Reviewer
#9

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