The Horror of War

Today I want to praise a couple of heroes, one famous, the other not.  The latter was Eddie Lenihan, who came to Manchester as a i6 yearold with his brother, Michael, in about 1896.  They were two sons of a family of 21 children from Ballyduff, not far from Lismore, in west Waterford.  They settled in Miles Platting in Manchester, Michael only stayed for a few years, but Eddie liked the place, stayed in work where he could, courted and eventually married, Mary Burke,  a cousin of my grandmother, Mary Creevy, in 1904 at St. Anne’s Church in Ancoats in Manchester.  Over the next ten years they had five children, work was hard found and with six mouths to feed Eddie joined the British Army in February 1915 as part of Kitchener’s New Army, along with 200,000 other Irishmen and enlisted in the Irish Guards.  With the financial future of his family settled and his soldier’s wages paid to his wife, he went off to Warley Barracks, near Brentwood, to do his basic training with the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion.  In July 1915 when this Battalion was renamed the 3rd (Reserve) he was posted to the newly formed 2nd Battalion at Waverly Barracks, who were immediately transferred back to Warley and from there they were shipped to France on 16th August 1915 to form part of the new 2nd Guards Brigade along with the 1st Battalion on a fresh front that Generals French and Haig were squabbling about.  This new front went on to be called the Battle of Loos.

Eddie’s commanding officer in the 5th Platoon, 2nd Company was 2nd Lt. John Kipling, who followed his men out  to France, two days later as the rules were that you had to be 18 before being posted abroad.  John had been desperate to  fight for his country being fed his father’s jingoistic tales since birth.  Rudyard Kipling was at the height of his fame at this time, England’s greatest living writer, friend of generals and politicians alike.  Initially John was turned down by the military because of poor eyesight and he pleaded with his father to use his influence to get him a commission in the Army.  Rudyard persuaded his good friend Field Marshall Earl Roberts to find him a commission in the Irish Guards of which regiment he was Commander in Chief.  This Roberts did only weeks before he died and John became the youngest commissioned officer in the Army.  After five weeks hard training at Etaples  Camp near Boulogne, the 2nd Irish Guards were thrust into line on the 25th September after a 16 mile route march, in a very unprepared state because of the antics of the two aforementioned generals. Their objective was Chalk Pit Wood and beyond to Hill 70.  John was shot through the mouth and died that day on the same day as is promotion to Lieutenant .  Eddie lasted longer and was blown apart by a German 200mm shell as they were filtering back through reserve trenches after being relieved from five days in the line.  Because that ground was fought for over and again Eddies body was never recovered.  John ‘s body layout in the open for two years undiscovered because of the confusion and it was not until 1917 that this un-named body of a Lieutenant in the Irish Guards was found but unfortunately the spot was given a wrong map reference.  Rudyard Kipling did everything in his power to find his son including contacting the German High Command for any information.  So overcome with grief, his writing suffered and he lived on for another 20 years and his only work of note after this event was the regimental histories of the 1st and 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards which have been judged to be the best regimental histories ever.  A labour of love, they say.  He died in 1936 a broken man, still searching for his son.  It was only in 1992 did an astute military researcher notice the mistake in the map referencing and realized that the only Irish Guards officer who was reported  killed in the true position was John Kipling, 56 years too late for Rudyard.  This story forms one part of the anguish of the older generation to the massacre of their sons in this war.  As Kipling wrote some time after, on the thoughts of these young men,

If any question why we died

Tell them, because our fathers lied.

As for Eddie, who lay splattered over a good few yards of trench, his name Edward Lenihan Reg No 6820, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards was remembered on a tablet of stone at the Loos Memorial in Dud Corner Cemetery on the Bethune/Lens road.  On the 19th June 1916 his wife Mary was granted a pension of 22/6d per week, some eight and a half months after he was killed.  Of his three sons, Eddie Jnr was captured by the English army in 1919, aged 15 and imprisoned in Lismore Castle for his IRA activity in the Knockmealdown Mountains and released because of his age on condition that he returned to England to be with his family, where he continued his republican skulduggery under cover for the rest of his life, dying in the early 1960s.  His brother Daniel joined the Grenadier Guards Reg. No. 2/011584 in 1929 was posted over to Alexandria, in Egypt, contracted cerebro-spinal meningitis and died in 1931.  The third brother John, a sergeant in the Royal Artillery volunteered for the commandos under Lord Lovatt and was killed like his father, by shellfire in late 1942 attached to an American force outside of Tripoli, having already been one of the few who returned from that desperate raid on Ste-Nazaire in 1941.  So ended one Irish family’s service for king and country and in Kipling’s own words:-


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