Page last updated at 11:22 GMT, Thursday, 11 June 2009 12:22 UK

Roll of honour for Irish WWII dead

Roll of Honour
The roll of honour lists the names of 7,507 men and women

Men and women from the Irish Free State who fought in World War Two have not been given the respect they deserve, a historian has said.

A new study by the University of Edinburgh has found more than 3,600 soldiers from the south of Ireland died on active service during WWII.

Their names join those of almost 3,900 fallen combatants from Northern Ireland on a roll of honour being unveiled at Trinity College Dublin on Friday.

The study estimates that in the British army alone, as many as 100,000 people from the island of Ireland served in WWII, despite the Irish Free State's neutrality in the conflict.

The role of soldiers from Northern Ireland is well-acknowledged, but it was a different story for veterans in the south coming home to a country whose leader Eamon de Valera had paid his respects to the German representative in Dublin when news of Hitler's death emerged.

WWII broke out just 18 years after partition and the Irish War of Independence, and soldiers were seen as having fought for a foreign power.

Historian Yvonne McEwen said the ambitious project, which began in 2003, was inspired by stories of her grandfather's experience upon coming home after WWI where he fought as a Royal Irish Fusilier.

Between the north and south, almost equal numbers served in WWII
Yvonne McEwen

"Society was not very kind to returning men who fought in the First World War, and I wanted to look at that in terms of WWII particularly with a partitioned country," she said.

"I wanted to learn what happened to these men and women on both sides of the border - it turned out to be a staggering picture.

"I suppose it was like becoming a detective - the more I uncovered, the more I wanted to know. I've learned a lot about the sacrifice made on the island of Ireland."

After the war, Irishmen were cold-shouldered by a de Valera-led government that did not see why they should qualify for state welfare payments when they came home from fighting for a foreign power.

Ms McEwen said that even now, some veterans feel they can't talk freely about their role in the war.

"We have a WWII veteran who'd love to come to the unveiling, but he said he's not coming because he's fearful of reprisals," she said.

"That is why it is important people realise this document exists - it shows the contribution made by people in the south was considerable.

"In fact between the north and south, almost equal numbers served in WWII - there's only a difference of about 200.

"These men and women from the south need to be acknowledged - I think we've gone beyond politics now."

The roll of honour will be permanently housed in the Trinity College library, but Ms McEwen said some of the blanks in her research still needed to be filled.

"We would be delighted to hear from people who have a family member who served and died who feel they've never been recognised, or even to check that they're listed," she said.

"You can email me at yvonne.mcewen@ed.ac.uk"



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