Forgotten non-combatants of World War One remembered

IRISH soldiers in World War One don’t always get the recognition they deserve. However, spare a thought for the “almost forgotten” non-combatants involved in the humanitarian effort on these shores, according to a local historian.

Over 20 auxiliary hospitals and 80 sub-depots were set up in Ireland to take pressure off the main medical hubs, with hospital ships frequently ferrying in wounded soldiers during the course of the Great War (1914-18).

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Examining records unearthed a collection of over 3,000 photos dating back to 1880

Padraig Allen, from Cherry Orchard, is curator of an exhibition shining a light on this topic – ‘World War One: Ireland’s Humanitarian Effort’, which comes to Ballyfermot Library on August 22.

“It has been on a nationwide tour since last September,” said Allen, who calls it “the largest exhibition ever created on this subject with unseen before photographs, letters and records.”

A volunteer with St John’s Ambulance Ballyfermot division since he was 10 years old, Allen started work in a new position at St John’s headquarters in 2015 to focus on the Decade of Centenaries.

Discovering a treasure trove of artifacts in the basement, he subsequently established St John’s Archive.

“Examining records unearthed a collection of over 3,000 photos and records dating back to when the organisation began in Ireland in 1880.

“Since then it has been my goal to shine a light on the work of members who set up many foundations such as the Welfare Department, Laura Lynn, Irish Blood Transfusion Service and MS Ireland.”

The exhibition highlights the crisis management operation by volunteers during the war.

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St John’s woman member

Allen continued: “During the war, 23 auxiliary hospitals were established in Ireland which saw over 20,000 come through their doors. 85 sub-depots were established. People from local communities volunteered for over 500,000 hours alone in the Merrion Square depot.”

“We know they volunteered in local depots making bandages, cutting linen, measuring, collecting moss from the bogs which was used as a substitute for cotton and then they standardising everything. This ensured consistency for when it reached the surgeon’s hand in the hospitals across the front when it could be easily applied. The men also opened work houses to make hospital requisites and artificial limbs.”

“The organisation (St John’s) in Ireland had over 3,000 members during the war but their work could not have been done if it was not for the people of Ireland. While Ireland is slow to remember its combatants in World War 1, it has in some areas completely forgotten the non-combatants who voluntarily devoted much of their lives to assist the humanitarian effort in Ireland.”

The exhibition will launch on Thursday, August 22, in Ballyfermot Library at 6.30pm and remain on display up to early September.

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