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The story of my great grandfather who died in WWI: Patrick Carroll, Gunner 100938

Patrick, from Dún Laoghaire, was one of the 49,000 Irish men that was killed in World War I.

The letter my great grandmother received informing her that her husband had been killed.
The letter my great grandmother received informing her that her husband had been killed.

MY FAMILY IS like a lot of other Irish families who lost loved ones in World War One.

Some 49,000 Irish soldiers died in the Great War and my great grandfather was one of them, but it is only in recent years that they have got the recognition they deserve.

Patrick Carroll was born in Kill of the Grange, Dún Laoghaire (Kingstown at the time) in Dublin 1883.

He married Mary Carroll, my great grandmother, and set up home in Lower Mounttown Cottages in Dún Laoghaire, where they had five children, Patsy, Peter, Molly, ‘Nan’ (Anne) and my grandmother, Elizabeth.

Irishmen 

With the breakout of World War One in 1914, over 140,000 Irishmen enlisted to fight for many different reasons. My great grandfather was a 32-year-old Catholic man who needed money to support his wife and five children.

On 7 November 1915, he enlisted with the British Army in Athlone.

My grandmother, the youngest in the family, was just three-years-old when he left for war.

He was assigned to the 42nd Trench Mortar Battery of the Royal Field Artillery Z.

Little is known about his time away, but his unit was attached to 42nd (East Lancashire) Division and was one of the three medium trench mortar batteries of the Royal Field Artillery attached to that division.

In the trenches

Patrick was a ‘gunner’ in the Trench Mortar Battery. This was a whole new form of artillery developed to meet the unusual conditions of war on the Western Front.

The “gunner” rank of soldiers operated in the artillery, usually handling weapons such as the Newton 6 inch Mortar. Their role was to provide close support to other arms in combat or to attack targets. He was part of the largest arm of the British Army’s artillery and deployed close to the front line.

3rdAustralianMediumTrenchMortarBatteryMorlancourt29May1918 Medium Trench Mortor. Source: Wikicommons

The story goes that my great grandfather fought in some of World War One’s most famous battles. His division took part in Gallipoli until they were evacuated in January 1916, but it is unclear whether he took part in this campaign.

His records state that he fought in the Western Front in France. He fought in the Battle of the Somme in battles known as Battle of Delville Wood and the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in 1916.

Over 2,000 men were killed in the Battle of Delville.

800px-Delville_Wood_Battle_July_1916 Battle of Delville Wood Source: Wikicommons

imageMenin Road, FranceSource: Wikicommons

Battle of Menin Road Ridge

It is also believed he fought in the Battle of Scarpe before fighting in the Third Battle of Ypres, where it is believed he was killed during the Battle of Menin Road Ridge.

On 14 September, his division edged toward the area of Winnipeg, but that evening there was a German counter-attack.

Patrick was killed that day from wounds he received in action. He was just 34 years old.

He was one of 500 men from the Dún Laoghaire area alone that were killed in World War One.

For his service, Patrick was awarded three medals, including the Victory Medal and the British War Medal.

medal 1 The Victory Medal Source: Screengrab/forces-war-records.co.uk

medal 2 British War Medal Source: Screengrab/forces-war-records.co.uk

22698 (1)Patrick Carroll’s medal cardSource: lijssenthoek.be

The Victory Medal was awarded to all who received the 1914-1915 Star and often times to those who were awarded the British War Medal, which was automatically awarded in the event of death in active service.

Family history

My mother is a fanatic about old photographs and documents. We have boxes full of them at home. As a child, I always loved looking through them, asking who the people were.

Long before any of these genealogy programmes came along, I was always fascinated by my family history. Not that it was particularly interesting, we never had kings or queens or interesting stories, just normal folk, who worked hard to look after their families.

Once when I was sick and off school, I decided to do a family tree (yes, I was a child that could not sit still) I gathered all the family photos and decided to call all my grand aunts to get the low down on my family.

My grand aunt Hannah, who has since passed, filled me in on a lot. It was when I was doing this project that I came across two old documents relating to my great grandfather Patrick.

Killed in action 

The first was the letter informing his wife Mary that he had been killed in action. The other was a telegram informing her where her husband, who she had five children with, was buried in Belgium.

letter 5 The letter my great grandmother received telling her her husband had been killed at war.

(Can’t see the letter? Click here)

letter 7 The follow-up letter informing my great grandmother where her husband has been buried in Belgium.

(Can’t see the letter, click here)

Looking back, even at a young age, I knew these were special documents telling a sad part of my family history.

Today, however, I understand with even more depth, the sadness attached to these letters. Holding the letter that informed my great grandmother that her husband had been killed gives me chills.

To know that she held this piece of paper, that it was delivered in an envelope, either by post or messenger, and she tore open the envelope to read those words.

It is my painful duty to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office notifying the death of Patrick Carroll … the report is to the effect that he died from wounds received in action.

Another sad fact is that no one has ever visited Patrick’s grave in Belgium, although one day we would like to.

Researching into my great grandfather’s time at war I came across the cemetery website where he is buried. To my surprise, they have a photo of his grave.

9198 (1) Source: lijssenthoek.be

It surprised me how moving it was to see it. I never knew Patrick and I was never told much about him, but seeing his tombstone in a land far away from his humble beginnings in Dún Laoghaire, it did strike a chord with me.

Every town and village in Ireland has a story similar to mine and with this year, marking the hundredth anniversary of the start of World War I, it is only right that we remember these men – our grandfathers, great grandfathers and great grand uncles. 

This article was first published in August 2014. Since the publication of this article, distant relatives in the UK have got in touch to tell me they went to visit Patrick’s grave in Belgium a number of years ago. His name is marked on the monument at the entrance to the memorial.

A  two minute silence will be held at 11.00am to mark Armistice Day.

Column: Remember those who fought in WWI – they were as diverse, and Irish, as any of us

Read: This gif shows the spread of WWI into a global conflict>

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