independent

Wednesday 23 October 2019

He lied to join. Later he received the Victoria Cross

Wexford and World War I - Sunday November 11 was the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Here, we remember one of the many Wexfordmen who died in what became known as 'The War to end all wars'

Martin Doyle
Martin Doyle

David Looby

Martin Doyle, from New Ross, was one of the most decorated Irish soldiers in World War I, with a Victoria Cross and a War of Independence medal to his name,

Doyle was born in Gusserane on October 25, 1894, and lied about his age to join the British army on St Stephen's Day 1909, when he was barely 15. His father Larry is said to have sold a cow to buy him out but Martin re-enlisted.

Doyle successfully led a bayonet charge on a German machine-gun post in a derelict barn in no-man's-land. He was a company sergeant-major in the Royal Munster Fusiliers when his bravery earned him the Military Medal on March 24, 1918.

On September 2 of that fateful year at Riencourt in France, Doyle demonstrated the 'conspicuous bravery' for which he would be awarded the Victoria Cross. All senior officers being wounded, command had fallen to Doyle, who extricated a party of his men who were surrounded by the enemy, and carried back, under heavy fire, a wounded officer. Later he went forward under intense fire to the assistance of a tank and when an enemy machine-gun opened fire, he captured it single-handedly and took three prisoners. He repelled a counter-attack, taking many more prisoners.

The official announcement concluded: 'Throughout the whole of these operations, Doyle set the very highest example to all ranks by his courage and total disregard of danger.'

When the awarding of his VC was confirmed, he wrote to his parents: 'I am all in a whirl of joy.'

Doyle, in whose name a plaque will soon be erected in New Ross, received a hero's welcome in his native New Ross in March 1919 when a large crowd gathered to cheer him on. This newspaper reported: 'The meeting between the young hero and his aged parents was very touching: going straight to his mother and father he embraced them. He was escorted to his home in Mary Street amidst a scene of great enthusiasm. As they approached the Royal Hotel a trumpeter standing on the steps sounded a stirring bugle call which evoked ringing cheers. There was a profusion of decorations in the town along with scrolls bearing words of welcome to the New Ross hero.'

Doyle went to Buckingham Palace to receive his Victoria Cross from the king, leaving the army that July. In 1920 he joined the IRA and became an intelligence officer for the mid-Clare brigade in Ennis in the War of Independence. During the Civil War he served with the Free State Army in Waterford, Kilkenny and south Tipperary and was wounded in the left arm in Limerick in early 1923.

He served in the Irish Army until 1937. Doyle's Army record described him as 'an excellent NCO, a very good Vickers machine gun and rifle instructor, and someone who could not be replaced without serious inconvenience to the service'.

He spent a further year and a half in the Army Reserve. Having spent nine years and five months in the British army, two years in the Old IRA and 15 years and five months in the regular Irish Army, he hung up his uniform on January 25, 1939.

Now married with three daughters, he had joined Guinness as a security guard but on November 20, 1940, he died of polio in Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital, aged only 46.

Even though Doyle had fought against the British and spent most of his career in the Irish Army, his gravestone, erected by former comrades in Grangegorman military cemetery, Dublin, records only his British military rank and honours.

The Times of London reported that Doyle was part of an honour guard of Victoria Cross holders at the interment of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey on November 11, 1920, by which stage he had already joined the IRA. He also attended a Victoria Cross reunion dinner in 1929 in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords.

Doyle is one of 24 Irish holders of the Victoria Cross.

 

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