As the eldest grandchild I was privileged to hear my grandfather tell of his early life in Dublin and the lives of his brothers, both of whom were killed serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers ("RDF") in World War One ("WW1").
With his accent still strong after 50 years away from Ireland (1) he recounted dramatic tales of the events at V Beach, Gallipoli, where his eldest brother died. This so enraged the next brother that he deserted the Royal Navy (in which he had served at the Battle of Jutland) and joined the RDF. He was also killed, but in France during the massive German offensive that shattered the Allied lines in the spring of 1918. I was entrusted with the family medals and a curious bronze Turkish gun mounting with Arabic lettering and pock marks where it had been hit by bullets (2). All glorious and tragic stuff for a young teenager and it led to my interest in military & family history and medal collecting that has remained ever since.
An impression of the landing from the River Clyde by Artist Charles Dixon. The original is hanging in St Mary's Parish Church Chepstow Gwent Wales. It was purchased by public subscription as a memorial to the town's Gallipoli Victoria Cross winner, Able Seaman, William Charles Williams, who was killed in action at the V beach landings 25th April 1915. The painting was unveiled on the 8th January 1922, by Captain Unwin VC, who commanded the River Clyde.
Over the years I have gradually researched these stories and remarkably, apart from one possible inconsistency, have confirmed their accuracy. The elder brother was Private Thomas Toohey who enlisted prior to WW1 (probably as a result of the general lock out of 1913 and lack of jobs). He was aged 23 and based in India at the outbreak of the war. The RDF made their way back to Europe to join the 29th division - the last formed from the regular regiments. They set out for Gallipoli and had their first experience of conflict on 25 April 1915 at V Beach. The facts are well documented (3) . of the River Clyde, an old collier packed with troops, being rammed on to the beach . of the troops spilling out of doors cut into the ship's sides only to be mowed down .. of the heroic efforts to keep the gangway to the beach in place .. of the storming of the village and successful capture of the brooding fort the next day (first in the fort was a private of the RDF) .. of the 9 Victoria Crosses won in those two days and of the two fine Irish regiments decimated. On the first day, 25 April 1915, the RDF, who had been in open tows, suffered the most casualties, one of them being Thomas Toohey.
When did the news of the tragic loss of life hit the streets in Dublin? Would it have been known 9 days later on the 4 May 1915 when Thomas' younger brother Joseph enlisted with the Royal Navy? In a rage to avenge the life of his brother?(4) In any event he joined the Yarmouth as a stoker. The Yarmouth was a light cruiser and was present at the greatest armoured battleship action of all time - Jutland. This took place over two days commencing 31 May 1916 and involved some 250 ships in total. The Yarmouth was very much in action and fired the second highest number of shots (160 6inch shells) by a light cruiser in the battle. However, being a stoker deep in the grimy bowels of a ship's boiler room, was probably not a satisfying way of engaging the Hun and avenging a brother's death. Furthermore, sea warfare was subsequently limited to a stalemate - one can only only imagine the frustration and disillusionment of Joseph - this is not what he had enlisted for! The naval records show that he spent 10 days in the cells in May 1917 and then on 6 June 1917 he deserted (simply noted as "run" in his service sheet) to join the RDF.
It is not known when Private Joseph Henry Toohey joined the 2nd RDF (I understand the service records were destroyed in WW2 bombing raids) however, it may well have been just as the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) began on 31 July 1917. This battle was to epitomise the suffering of trench warfare and the regiment suffered grievously. What is certain is that he was serving in the front line on March 21, 1918. If he had been frustrated with not seeing enough Germans during his two years with the Royal Navy this was now to be rectified with interest. On that misty morning some 62 German divisions, headed by carefully trained "storm troops", hurled themselves at the allied lines and fell on the exhausted 5th Army. They punched a hole deep into the Allied line and literally overran the regiments of the Irish 16th Division, which never recovered. This day is also well documented (5). On the first day, 21 March 1918, the 2nd RDF were to suffer more casualties than any other regiment in the 16th Division, one of them being Joseph Toohey.
The bodies of neither brother were identified and both have their names commemorated on memorials, Thomas at Cape Helles in Gallipoli and Joseph at Poziers in France.
1) In 1922, at the age of 17, he immigrated to South Africa and only visited Ireland twice thereafter.
2) I still don't know how this found its way back to their mother in Dublin.
3) Most general accounts of the campaign cover V Beach in detail but I recommend the accounts focusing on the Irish regiments, namely the regimental histories, "Orange, Green & Khaki" by T. Johnstone, and "Irish Voices from the Great War" by M. Dungan.
4) My grandfather's version had it that Joseph, seeking revenge, deserted the Royal Navy when he heard of his brothers death - however this was 2 years after he actually deserted. Did he in fact join the Royal Navy upon hearing of his brother's death but later desert to see real action?
5) See "Kaiser's Battle" by M. Middlebrook, "Irish Voices from the Great War" by M. Dungan and "Irelands Unknown Soldiers" by T. Denman.
For a direct link to the author of this article, e-mail Jon Toohey
Copyright © Jon Toohey, March, 2000.
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