Posts Tagged ‘World War One’

Yesterday, 27th July 2018, I was a speaker representing the Irish Air Corps at the unveiling of a stone plaque memorial at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin to commemorate an Irish pilot of the Royal Air Force Major Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock, who perished during the Great War. I was asked to write and deliver a poem and some historical context to that period of history and the connections of Irish military aviation to it and afterwards.  This was an event forming part of the RAF100 anniversary and I am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to contribute to the remembering of Ireland’s role during the conflict and beyond, but especially the commemorating of the Irish who were part of those sizemic events. The poem was included in the Glasnevin Trust’s event programme (shown in images), for which I am also grateful to the manager, historians and staff.


‘WHEN WE FLEW; Death of an Irish Airman in the Great War’ by Michael J. Whelan – published in THE Glasnevin Cemetery event programme for commemoration of Irish WWI pilot Major Mick Mannock VC  – 27TH July 2018




 (Death of an Irish Airman during the Great War)



O how I witnessed worlds amongst the clouds,

that peace, the freedom, those futures and the past,

to patrol a morning’s sun to its final spark,

spilling out a day’s horizons.


Remember, I alone, chose this path,

to roam the skies above the autumnal Earth,

short lived but truly spent.


And, when that moment came

to fall from heaven’s breaths,

only the fields of France embraced me.

Yes, I am of Ireland, do not blame the enemy,

for as brothers, in that same ground, we rest.


But think of us,

in all the years to come,

when you contemplate our war,

that when we flew

we were part of the few

who gave for you our all.


Written and recited by Corporal Michael J. Whelan at the RAF commemoration in Glasnevin Cemetery on 27th July 2018


‘WHEN WE FLEW; Death of an Irish Airman in the Great War’ by Michael J. Whelan


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Soldiers  - Michael J. Whelan

Soldiers – Michael J. Whelan



                    The Great War



Lost, and full of fear,

the mud covered trooper

escapes from hell,

tumbles in the depths of the underworld,

while floundering in the shell scarred bowels

of No-Man’s Land.


He climbs towards life through broken Earth,

where splintered stained glass windows

tell him he’s beneath the ruins of a church.


He creeps between dappled portals of light,

over alabaster icons in the shadow crypt

laid out on the floor many months before.


He hears scratching nearby,

fears his enemies close,

raises his sights to the sole rotted boots of a soldier

hanging out from a blood stained altar.


He cannot see the face,

imagines a crown of thorns upon the head.

He cocks his rifle, sends a bullet to the breech,

crawls forward expecting to fight

and trips on the cord-wood corpses

of others dressed as he.


Suddenly he sees a monstrous rat

like a ravenous dog gnawing wildly

at the nose cartilage of this altered crucifixion.


He shoots and the white dust rises.

War finds him again

but all are already dead.


Michael J. Whelan


Published in ‘Tallaght Soundings 3; A Collection of New Work from The Virginia House Writers -Edited by Maria Wallace,’ November 2015



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Nothing of Importance by Bernard Adams

Nothing of Importance by Bernard Adams

I have just finished reading a wonderful book titled ‘NOTHING OF IMPORTANCE: A Record of Eight Months at the Front With a Welsh Battalion, October, 1915, to June 1916,’ by Bernard Adams (part of the Classic Reprint Series -Forgotten Books – originally published in 1917). The book, a personal memoir written by Adams while on convalescent leave after being wounded on the Western Front during the Great War in 1916, was given to me as a Christmas present by my son. The book is a truthful record of Adams’ service in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, at times it is quite graphic but never pretentious or attempting to glorify the war, rather it is an almost day by day account of his service in the trenches moving from his sense of forthcoming adventure to his attempts at trying to understand what he was seeing and what he was part of, and what war is, his sense of compassion and loss at the deaths of his men and of his close friends is very moving. He tries to show the reader what the experience was, provided drawings of trench layouts and maps with vivid descriptions of the peaceful French countryside in comparison to his fears and the destruction in the front line. Even now almost a hundred years later his words speak profoundly. I think that this is most likely the best memoir I have read of the First World War.

Adams was the first of three very remarkable authors who served simultaneously in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The second to join was the poet Siegfried Sassoon and a few days later the poet Robert Graves. Although he is now relatively forgotten – Adams was the first of the three to publish his memoirs of service with the RWF in the war.  Thanks to his sister, although he did not live to see it,  Adams’ memoir was the only record to be published whilst the war was still being fought, he was killed in action less than a month after returning to the front in February 1917.

My original interest in Adams memoir was the fact that Siegfried Sassoon had kept a personal copy with him while in England after his return from his first tour in the trenches. He had annotated the inside cover with a list of all the officers of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers who had initially sailed to France at the opening of the war and those who had replaced them (including Adams). The list also recorded the dates these officers, many of them his friends, became casualties.

Upset at the news that his friend and fellow poet Wilfred Owen, who he had met in Craiglockhart Military Hospital in Scotland, had received word that he would soon be returning to France, Sassoon gifted him his annotated copy of ‘NOTHING OF IMPORTANCE,’ the irony of the title most likely not being lost on both men. Sassoon survived the war, his friend Wilfred Owen was killed in action almost a week to the day before the ending of the fighting in November 1918. Owen is regarded as the greatest of the war poets and the book, which Sassoon gave to him, still survives as part of his collection in UK archives.


The BOOK, in my humble opinion, is very IMPORTANT!

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The celtic cross memorial to the 16th (Irish) Division, situated appropriately enough next to Wytschaete Military Cemetery, one of several on the Messines Ridge where the Division attacked on 7 June 1917. Photo: Michael J. Whelan

The celtic cross memorial to the 16th (Irish) Division, situated next to Wytschaete Military Cemetery,  Messines Ridge. Photo: Michael J. Whelan




It wasn’t a dream his mother said,

the soldier stood at the end of her bed,

dark shadow in uniform – dead,

near the time we know he fell

in faraway battle,

shot from his saddle,

the boy came to say farewell!


 Michael J. Whelan


On Hurting Ground; Poetic Silhouettes on Soldiers, history, love and tragedy by Michael J. Whelan(2009)

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Michael J. Whelan at the memorial to Alan Seeger - poet killed in action 4 July 1916, Somme, France - WW1

Michael J. Whelan at the memorial to Alan Seeger – poet, killed in action 4 July 1916, Somme, France – WW1





On Tuesday 1st July 2014, while touring the Western Front area of the Great War 1914-1918 with the help of some wonderful friends, I managed to realise another long time dream to visit the grave of the American poet Alan Seeger who was killed in action on this day 4th July 1916, (Independence Day) while fighting with the French Foreign Legion during the opening days of the Battle of the Somme. I placed a copy of his collected poems, which my son bought me for Christmas, on his memorial and grave. I also visited the place where he was killed and the memorials given by his family to the town Belloy – En – Santerre, which he helped liberate, dying in the process. His most famous poem ‘I have a rendezvous with Death’ was uppermost in my mind and I read the words over the ossuary where his remains are resting with hundreds of his comrades in Lihons National Necropolis.

Michael J. Whelan

For more images visit https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.736868039688530.1073741857.172886376086702&type=1

All photo’s (c) Michael J. Whelan 2014

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