Treasure trove from the trenches

Photos, diaries and artefacts of Royal Munster Fusiliers to go on display in Cork.

By Niall Murray, Irish Examiner

A soldier sleeping in a trench, one of Royal Munster Fusiliers Captain John Jordeson’s photos donated to Cork Public Museum. Pic: Eddie O’Hare

 

They read like a 1970s Munster back-line, but the men named Crowley, McCarthy, Lynch, and O’Connell in a treasure trove of century-old photos formed a much different defense line associated with the province.

 

The images are from a wealth of photos, diaries and other artefacts of the Royal Munster Fusiliers (RMF) who took part in the First World War, which are due to form the centre-piece of a major exhibition at Cork Public Museum.

 

While most are in a photo album documenting over half a century of work and play among the regiment — whose recruits mostly came from Cork, Limerick, Clare and Tipperary — the most poignant are the matchbox-sized trench photos. They arrived at the museum in a small envelope of palm-sized images depicting members of the RMF at various places along the Western Front.

 

The collection from Limerick-born RMF Captain John Jordeson has just been donated by his nephew to the museum, where it will be at the core of a space dedicated to the regiment.

 

Most of the pictures in the album kept in the RMF officers’ mess have the surnames of the men — like Cronin, Keane, Lucey, and O’Connor — turned out in finest uniform, or in football or tug-of-war attire. Some images date back to the Boer War at the turn of the last century, others to the mid-19th century when the regiment started life as the Bengal Fusiliers after service in India.

 

Capt Jordeson’s foresight to write the soldiers’ names on dozens of the smaller First World War trench images may help researchers and relatives identify their ancestors, many who never came home.

 

Also among the items donated this week by his uncle, Londoner and retired army colonel, Mike Dudding, are trophies and other silverware, diaries, sketches and other records of major encounters that Capt Jordeson or his comrades survived, including the 1916 Battle of the Somme where he was gassed.

 

Born around 1879 and raised in a Church of Ireland home on Limerick’s Cecil Street, he joined the army in 1900 and was a lance corporal by the time the Census of Ireland was taken at the Royal Munster Fusiliers’ depot in Tralee in 1901.

 

 

Between different periods on the Western Front, he served as a training officer at Aghada in East Cork, where he was presented in October 1915 with a silver hip-flask inscribed with good wishes from officers and others. He previously survived the very early battle at Etreux in August 1914, where the regiment suffered some of its worst casualties in the first weeks of fighting.

 

“I’m always impressed by the efficiency of the British Army, which entered the war in the beginning of August. Only 10 days later, the 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers was off to France,” said Colonel Dudding.

“At Etreux, around three-quarters of the battalion were killed or captured, missing or wounded and John Jordeson was one of just over 200 who got away,” he said.

Captain Jordeson’s second wife was Col Dudding’s aunt, who took up her husband’s role as secretary of the Royal Munster Fusiliers Old Comrades Association when he died in 1961.

 

“I heard quite a bit about the Munsters from her, and we inherited all these bits and pieces from Captain Jordeson’s daughter from his first marriage, when she died in 2000,” Col Dunning explained.

 

“All this material has spent a lot of time in the attic and I haven’t looked after it all terribly well over the years. So I’m really pleased to be giving them for safe keeping as a permanent reminder of the outstanding contribution of the men of Munster in the Great War,” he said.

 

The donation came about through a chance meeting at a 2014 centenary commemoration at Etreux between Mike Dudding and Adrian Foley, an officer of the Royal Munster Fusiliers Association (RMFA) who was already aware of Captain Jordeson from his own research.

 

“My great-grandfather was one of the men captured at Etreux, so I was interested in talking to others about their connections. I met Mike and he spoke about finding somewhere to leave the items,” explained Adrian.

 

This led to contact with Cork Public Museum’s acting curator Dan Breen, who gladly accepted the items for a permanent Royal Munster Fusiliers exhibition planned to open in about 18 months.

 

“Irish people are a lot more comfortable, particularly in the last three or four years, talking about their relatives’ involvement in the First World War.

 

“With this material at the core of our planned exhibition, the museum aims to be at the forefront of continuing the open discussion about British Army service and history,” Mr Breen said.


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