Thousands come to show and tell at World War One Roadshow

The hugely successful event was a day of excitement, emotion and revelation

Victor Edmonds with a Christmas card sent home by his grandfather Samuel Edmonds during the World War I Roadshow in Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

Victor Edmonds with a Christmas card sent home by his grandfather Samuel Edmonds during the World War I Roadshow in Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne.

Mon, Jul 14, 2014, 01:00

Charles Eastment from Somerset was 19 and a private in the 11th Hussars when he was posted to Dublin in 1907. There he met seamstress Rosanna Ward, and they were married in 1912.  

When the first World War broke out Charles was sent to Ypres where he soldiered for two years and, amazingly, survived – unlike his two brothers, John who died in Ypres in 1915, and William who was killed in Arras in 1917.

When he went to Ypres, Charles left behind in Dublin a son named Tommy, and not long after his departure, Rosanna bore him another son, Bob. From the trenches, Charles wrote often to Rosanna, fretting over her and the children, and telling her as much about life at war as military restrictions allowed.

One hundred years later Charles’ grandchildren Mary McDermott from Donabate, her sister Stella O’Neill from Finglas and their cousin Anne Carroll from Ashbourne were in the august surroundings of Trinity College’s Examination Hall on Saturday. A sample of the 170 postcards, plus four pieces of shrapnel, they brought along were examined by experts and photographed for the growing archive of family memorabilia from the Great War.

The 170 postcards were kept in a metal hat box by Anne’s mother Polly, one of Charles and Rosanna’s other children born after the war. To Polly, the cards were a treasure and source of pride – evidence of the love between her parents during an exceptionally difficult time in their lives.

‘You’ll never guess what’

Stella and Mary knew nothing of the cards but a few years ago, after Mary read Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks’s novel set during the war, and spoke about it, Anne said to her: “Well, you’ll never guess what . . .”

“The cards are just amazing,” Mary said on Saturday as PhD students interviewed her, and archivists logged and copied the sample brought to Trinity. “He didn’t know it at the time but when he was away in Ypres, Bob the little baby died, and he kept asking after him and he wasn’t getting an answer. ‘How is Bob doing? Is he better?’ he writes, and you can tell he was upset.”

Some weeks after Bob died, Charles was told and wrote to Rosanna, desperately worried for her and seeking to reassure her that the baby’s death wasn’t her fault. “So he had to deal with that,” says Mary. “1915 his first brother died, 1916 his baby died, 1917 his second brother died. To think that he was up there in the firing line trying to keep his own life intact and grieving at the same time . . .”

Mary, Stella and Anne were among thousands who thronged into Trinity on Saturday for RTÉ’s World War 1 Roadshow, organised jointly by the broadcaster, the university and the National Library. Between 8,000 and 10,000 came, according to Yeti Redmond, producer of RTÉ Radio 1’s The History Show.

They came from all over Ireland, including Northern Ireland, and from varying social classes. The stories were not just those from Anglo Irish backgrounds but also from people whose grandparents hailed from inner city Dublin.