Lest We Forget

My great-grandfather William Frederick Cawley or Freddy as he was known to his friends was born and raised in Ballina workhouse along with his nine siblings in County Mayo, Ireland. Doubtless the family had a tough life and at the grand age of seventeen wanting to escape the grim poverty to which he had become accustomed he stole a horse and rode it to Dublin and when captured was given the choice of joining the Queen’s army or passage to Australia as a settler. As the mortality rate on the ships was fairly high he chose what he thought was the lesser of the two evils by opting for the military life and enlisting in the Connaught Rangers.

William's Birth Certificate

William’s Birth Certificate in Gaelic & English

After basic training my great-grandfather along with the rest of his regiment who were also little more than boys, travelled from Ireland to Devonport where they sailed to Gallipoli, in Turkey to take part in the Battle of Çanakkale which would be a military campaign lasting eight long and fierce months, fighting youths not much older than themselves with huge casualties on both sides. The Turkish suffered an estimated 87,000 casualties, the British army 21,000 and the Anzacs 11421. Most of his comrades had never ventured further than their own villages and embraced this bold adventure singing “It’s a long way to Tipperary” throughout the voyage little knowing the hell that awaited them once they landed on Turkish soil.

Freddy was one of the “lucky” ones and when the young farm boy returned home he was a very different and irrevocably damaged man with a bad case of malaria which dogged him throughout his life and which he eventually succumbed to leaving a wife and eight children behind. In the years after the war he seldom spoke of his war years apart to recount the size of the Turkish bayonets. No doubt he along with many others was probably suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but it would be several decades before it would be widely diagnosed and treatments made readily available.

So last night when I extinguished the lights, lit a candle and joined the rest of the nation in remembering the fallen on the occasion of the centenary of World War 1 in the #lightsout event, my thoughts wandered to Freddy and the thousands like him who had also made their own sacrifice returning to their homes in some cases altered beyond recognition and leaving them struggling to pick up the broken pieces of their lives.

Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore, rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours,
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

William Frederick Cawley -my Great Grandfather

William Frederick Cawley -my Great Grandfather

25 thoughts on “Lest We Forget

    • We do indeed, its always been a bit of a joke in the family that the old fella ended up fighting in the army instead of Australia but I don’t think that should detract from the contribution he and his comrades made

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  1. I loved the fact that as a nation you all came together and extinguished the lights and remembered all that fought for all of our freedoms, when I read it on Yahoo it really brought tears to my eyes…My grandfather was born in Exeter and at 15 yrs old joined the British Royal Navy and fought in WW1 , I have all his medals in my possession… and here I am, his granddaughter living in the USA…life is sure funny…

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    • Exeter’s not far from where we live. Ironic how lives turn out, my great grandad who’d never left the farm, ended up travelling to Devonport in Plymouth (where we now live) and sailing to Gallipoli in Turkey (where I also lived) maybe life really does rotate 360 degrees

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  2. Oh wow, imagine if your ancestor had ended up in Australia, you could have been Australian!

    You should be proud of your ancestor, he must not have had an easy time after the war. It’s amazing the resources soldiers suffering from PTSD have at their resources today.

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  3. So important that we remember those that fought for our freedom. Two of my Great Great Uncles lost their lives in the Battle of Loos – both from East Sussex. I’ll be eternally grateful for the sacrifices so many ordinary men and women made for us. That photo – so young and full of hope for the future…

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  4. And yet… I can’t help but think of how senseless all these wars are. You might think that after all these centuries, we might have worked out a better way to settle disputes. Not to take away from the sacrifice your great grandfather and others made, of course.

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  5. I agree with Gunta. Why is war necessary? What is it in the human soul that creates conflict? Your kin looks no more than 16 in this photo, too young to be scarred for life. But, lucky that he lived to produce children and grandchildren to tell his tale. Lovely tribute, dear Dallas! – Kaye

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  6. We have no idea of the sacrifice of those that went, nor the ones who waited in vain at home. I have been away for a few weeks going through my dads notes, library and papers. When I see the photos of him as a young man, barely 18, in his military uniform, my hearts stops for a minute. He was a farm boy, with skinny legs, and a trusting face.

    We must remember, always….

    “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
    We will remember them.”

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing that story and for honoring your great-grandfather and all the other service men who sacrificed so much. We tend to forget these amazing people and all they did for us as they just get shuffled into history books or old folks homes.

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