British Empire
The end of the British empire - Ireland
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Extracts from a British film showing Irish troops in the First World War
(By permission of the Imperial War Museum, London: 'With the North and South Irish At The Front)
  • This film was shot at various places on the Western Front in the years 1915-17 during the Great War. It was paid for by the British Topical Committee for War Films. This was a collection of film companies that worked together to make films for the government during the war.
  • Before war broke out in 1914 Ireland was on the verge of civil war. Unionists who opposed Home Rule for Ireland had formed their own private army called the Ulster Volunteer Force. Nationalists who wanted Home Rule for Ireland had responded by forming the Irish Volunteers. Both were armed and ready to fight.
  • When the Great War broke out in 1914 the Irish suspended their argument. The Unionist leader Sir Edward Carson urged UVF men to join the army and fight for Britain. He felt that if Ulster showed its loyalty to Britain it would be rewarded by not having Home Rule.
  • Nationalist leader John Redmond urged the Irish Volunteers to serve the British as well. He felt that loyal service from them would guarantee that Britain would give Home Rule to Ireland.
  • Very large numbers (over 200,000) from both sides joined the British army. They served with distinction on the Western Front and in the Middle East.
  • What is often forgotten is that these soldiers also served together. Nationalist and Unionist troops fought together at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and in many other battles.
  • The first section of film shows men from Ulster who served in the trenches in 1916-17. It is important to remember that, in the course of battles, units were often divided and separated from their regiments and re-formed to make up new units. This is possibly shown in this film.
  • The second section of film shows men from the National Volunteers who joined the British army. They fought with Willie Redmond, an Irish Parliamentary Party MP and younger brother of IPP leader John Redmond.
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