The last of the ebb, May 1918
1918 was probably the most dramatic and decisive year of the war. British military deaths for 1918 were 223,659, only slightly less than 1917 (226,753 deaths) the worst year of the war. About 465,000 German soldiers died in the same period.
Ten Kildare men died in the month of May one hundred years ago. The only Kildare civilian casualty of WWI, William Edward Armes, an acting Inspector of Engine Fitters, Royal Fleet Auxiliary Reliance, died from injuries sustained in an explosion on 16 May 1918. The Reliance, a cargo ship converted into a Stores Support Ship spent a large part of the war at Mudros and in the Mediterranean. On 16 May William Armes and Plumber John Charles Bright were badly injured in an explosion onboard the Reliance. Both men subsequently died from their injuries and were buried in East Mudros Military Cemetery on the Greek Island of Limnos, in the Aegean Sea. William Ermes was born at the Curragh Camp, Co. Kildare, on 1 June 1881.
Three more Kildaremen died of illness that month, one in Naas, one in England and the other in a POW Camp in Germany. Private Patrick Brien, of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers died of illness, on 3 May 1918. He was discharged in late 1916 due to ill-health and had spent two years at the front, in France. Born at Rathasker Road, Naas, on 3 February 1897, he was the son of Frank Brien and Rose Ryder. He died at his residence Fair Green, Naas, and was buried at St. Corban’s Cemetery, Naas.
John Reilly, a driver in the Royal Field Artillery, died of illness, in the Military Hospital, Ripon, on 6 May 1918. Aged twenty-one he was born at Athy, the son of James and Bridget Reilly, Levitstown, Athy. He was buried at Ripon Cemetery, Yorkshire.
Private Michael Bowden, 2nd, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, died of tuberculosis (TB) in the POW Hospital, Giessen, Limburg POW Camp, Germany, on 23 May 1918. Age twenty-nine he was born at Athy in 1890, the son of Peter and Ellen Bowden, 2 Dry Dock, Athy, and the husband of Brigid Byrne, who he married on 3 June 1914. He was captured at Ligny, France, on 26 August 1914. Michael’s brother-in-law, John Byrne, also died as a POW, in Limburg Camp, on 27 September 1918.
In what the British military referred to as ‘wastage’ (men killed, wounded, missing, captured or sick outside of set-piece battles) Private Thomas O’Brien, 1st Irish Guards, died of wounds, in France, on 7 May 1918. He was born c. 1893, the son of Michael and Mary O’Brien, Athy and was buried at Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 2, France. The average normal wastage, of the British Army, usually caused by shelling, sniping, flare-ups, etc., in the line was 35,000 men per month. Celbridge-born Private John Doran, Northumberland Fusiliers, was killed in action, in France, on 22 May 1918, in one of those quiet periods before a major battle.
In the Third Battle of the Aisne (27 May-6 June) a small and tired British force, sent to the Chemin des Dames area in exchange for fresh French divisions that went north, was struck and virtually destroyed as part of another German offensive, Operation Bluecher. Three Kildaremen died in this battle. Private Thomas Behan, 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers, attached to the Royal Irish Regiment, died of wounds, at Armentieres, France, on 27 May 1918, aged twenty. He was born at Eadestown, the son of John and Elizabeth Behan, Rathmore, Naas.
Private John Swift, 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was killed in action, on 27 May 1918. Aged thirty-one he was born at Kilmeague, the son of John and Kate Swift. Two days later Private Edward Henry Gould died serving with the Australian Infantry Force, 46th Battalion. He was born in Naas RD, in 1896, the son of Edward Henry Christopher Marks Gould and Margaret Saisan Gould, who had prior to the war emigrated to Victoria, Australia. The 46th Battalion was raised in New South Wales and Western Australia and had entered service in France during the summer of 1916.
From the British point of view the Third Battle of the Aisne was, in the words of one officer who fought there, ‘the last of the ebb’. When the German offensive ran out of steam the stage was set for the magisterial return: the great flow of the tide the other way as the Allies went on the offensive.
Sadly, the ‘wastage’ of war continued and John Buggle, of the Mercantile Marine, died on 30 May 1918. He was a ‘greaser’ on board the SS Ausonia, a defensively-armed converted passenger steamer. The Ausonia, on a voyage from Montreal to Avonmouth with general cargo, was torpedoed without warning and sunk by gunfire from the German submarine U-62, 620 miles from Fastnet. Forty-four lives were lost, among them John Buggle. Age thirty-four he was the son of James and Margaret Buggle, Newtown, Donaghcumper, Celbridge. He was married to Ann Holly, of 5 Beatrice Street, Liverpool. John Buggle has no known grave and is remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial, London.