Irish civilian dead of WW2 to be recognised as Commonwealth casualties

Concentration camp victim among 52 people to be remembered in Westminster Abbey

Irish civilians who were killed during the second World War will be recognised as Commonwealth casualties and included on a roll of honour.

Fifty-two civilians will be included both online and later in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission civilian roll of honour held in Westminster Abbey.

They will join the names of 67,852 civilians who were killed during the war, most of them during German bombing raids in Britain. The dead are recorded in 10 leather-bound volumes. A new page is opened on it every day.

The 52 Irish civilians comprise of three who were killed when a lone German bomber dropped bombs on a co-op in the County Wexford village of Campile on August 26th, 1940.

The 28 people who were killed when the Germans accidentally bombed the North Strand of Dublin on the night of May 31st, 1941 are remembered along with the 19 who died at Ballymanus Strand, Co Donegal on May 10th, 1943 when a sea mine that was being dragged ashore exploded.

Two other men are being remembered. Patrick Scanlon died on December 3rd off Tuskar Rock in Co Wicklow on December 3rd, 1941 when a sea mine exploded.

Robert Armstrong is the only Irish civilian of the 52 on the roll of honour who died outside Ireland.

A first World War veteran, he joined the Imperial War Graves Commission (later the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) in the 1920s. He used his status as a gardener from a neutral country to join the French Resistance where he helped smuggle Allied airmen out of France and Belgium. He was captured by the Germans, sentenced to death.

The original death sentence was commuted to 15 years imprisonment, and he was deported to Germany, dying at Waldheim concentration camp, Saxony, in December, 1944.

For his help to Allied escapees he was posthumously awarded the Médaille de la Résistance française, and a tablet in his honoured was erected in the French town of Valenciennes.

The names will be included on the roll because Éire, as it was known then, was part of the British Commonwealth until 1949.

The inclusion of the 52 names following lobbying by the In From the Cold prorject, a UK organisation which seeks to remember mostly Commonwealth servicemen, but also civilians who died in the two world wars and are not memorialised anywhere.

To date they have found the names of 7,000 individuals whose deaths went unrecorded in the official records.

In From the Cold Project co-founder Terry Denham said it had never been the intention of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to deliberately exclude Irish civilians on its roll of honour. It had been an oversight.

“The commission looked at our submission and agreed with it very quickly. There will be a whole section now under the heading Ireland,” he said.

“All our submissions will be accepted and included. Any future civilian name IFCP submits will be treated under the same criteria as all other Commonwealth individuals as Ireland was still in the Commonwealth until 1949.”

Those included on the roll of honour must be Commonwealth citizens who died between the qualifying war dates between September 3rd, 1939 and December December 31st, 1947.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times