"The officer class of the British Army needlessly killed more fine young Englishmen in the fields of the Somme than the IRA could have killed in a Thousand years". These words were spoken by my Grandfather (my mothers father), a Dubliner in 1944. He was a small Irishman, who had been conscripted into the British army in during the first world war. he'd ended up in the Somme and other great battles. Sadly most of the story has been lost as our older generation passed away. You may wonder what prompted him to say this?
He was having a beer with my father. At the time, my father was an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, flying Wellington bombers. My grandfather had taken my father out to get to know him, as he was planning to marry my mother. My grandfather had gone to the bar to buy a drink and was about to get served, when an officer in the British army walked in pushed passed him and signalled to the barman to serve him. My grandfather chided him, in his thick Dublin accent "Mind your manners young man and wait your turn". The officer replied "Go back to Ireland and join the IRA if you don't like it". My father, who had been sitting down was just about to get up and intervene (he was a scary sod when he was riled), when my Grandfather issued the rebuke above. He then listed his service record in the first world war before asking "and how many times have you been gassed by the Germans?".
Like many Dubliners, my Grandfather was an extremely eloquent and well read man, despite his working class roots. He knew Winston Churchill, when he was the Liberal MP for Oldham. He could never forgive him for defecting to the Tories, after all the hard work put in by the local Liberals on his behalf. My Grandfather had moved the family from Oldham to London in the 1930's. He'd originally left Dublin due to the stress and pressure of being part of a large republican family. His cousin was Kevin Barry the republican martyr. The family were subject to continual raids and harassment as known republican sympathisers. My Grandfather was of the opinion that such repression was counter productive and just politicised people who would not normally have been involved. For his sins, when he moved to the mainland, he was conscripted.
Like many of Londons Irish, my Grandfather ended up in the City looking for work. He was an engineer.My mothers family had long periods of poverty due to his unemployment. He knew fairly and squarely where the blame lay and hated the Conservative party. He had seen things which were awful beyond comprehension in the killing fields of the first world war. A generation of men returned, expecting to be treated like heroes and all they got was unemployment, a great depression and poverty. In short, he felt he'd been conned. He was bitter. If you are not from an Irish background, you probably cannot understand what living with such bitterness is like.
He was also incredibly funny and wise. On my Uncle George's 18th Birthday, he told him to wear his finest clothes as he was taking him out. They walked to the top of Primrose Hill, George was awaiting a birthday surprise. At the top, my Grandfather announced "Son, I have the best birthday present in the world for you. See all this (there is a stunning panoramic view of London), it is all yours". George was furious. It was years later when he understood what my Grandfather was saying. The world is there for us to make of it what we will.
Like many of his generation (and many other generations), my grandfather liked a drink. My mother resented the fact that he'd see the family go hungry, so long as he could have his beer. My grandmother excused this. She said "He's seen terrible things and he needs his drink".
I never met my Grandfather. He died in 1948, prematurely aged by his experiences, his lungs slowly destroyed by the effects of mustard gas in the trenches.
What we forget is that the reason that all immigrant communities in London arrived here, is because things were worse in the country of their birth. People move to London because it offers them a better life. For many, it offered the chance of life against the option of death. I'm proud of my Irish ancestry and I will be celerating St Patricks night with a few pints of Guinness at Boz Boorers Paddy night party at the Alliance in Mill Lane West Hampstead.
Just as I was about to post this, I noticed Mrs Angry also posted a Paddys day post. We both attended the same Primary school, although she was in my sisters year. She muses whether it is any co-incidence that both of us ended up stroppy bloggers I'll let you decide. If you enjoyed this post, I recommend hers - http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/st-patricks-day-kiss-me-im-partly-irish.html