Call for recruitment gets the Irish ayes

St Symphorien holds the remains of both German and British soldiers
St Symphorien holds the remains of both German and British soldiers

On August 4, 1914, at 11pm British time and midnight German time, the two countries commenced hostilities and the First World War officially began.

A precise analysis of Ulster’s statistics is difficult for a number of reasons such as a soldier’s actual place of birth (i.e. Irishmen born abroad), his stated nationality, and some records are unreliable or confusing or both!

So detailed numbers are hard to decipher, but from August 4 1914 to November 1918 it’s generally agreed that more than 200,000 Irish people served in armed forces engaged in WWI, including over 60,000 from this part of the country.

A tragic total of around 40,000 Irishmen died, about 10,000 of those from here.

Keith Jeffery, Professor of British History at Queen’s University Belfast, has very usefully compiled the three main categories of Irishmen who volunteered.

The first category was made up of men who were already in the British army – 28,000 Irish-born regular soldiers and 30,000 reservists.

Secondly, there were ‘Kitchener’s men’ who’d responded to the iconic ‘Your Country Needs You’ posters, bearing the moustached face, piercing eyes and pointing finger of Britain’s Secretary of State for War.

Lord Kitchener’s urgent beckoning between August 1914 and February 1916 enthused about 95,000 Irishmen to join up.

Professor Jeffrey’s third category includes “those who joined up during the rest of the war, after the initial recruiting ‘surge’, up to November 1918”. He puts this figure at about 45,000, “including nearly 10,000 recruits in the last three and a half months of the war alone”.

Due to gaps in available statistics Professor Jeffrey’s categorised figures don’t include officers from Ireland, nor all of the Irishmen in the Royal Navy or in armies outside the United Kingdom such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and the USA.