Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

The Irish Uprising

Below is an article from "The Salopian", the magazine of Shrewsbury School dated May 1916. It is believed to be by Nevil Norway, as he was a boy at the school that year, and he would have visited his parents in Dublin (where his father was the head of the post office) at the time.

Before setting out to comply with the request of the editors to send them an article on the rebellion in Ireland it is essential to say a few introductory words. Such an article is in the circumstances bound to be based largely on personal experiences and it is an extraordinarily difficult and endless task to decide which of the thousands of different and, in a great many cases contradictory, rumours are to contribute to the material of such an essay.

The class of the rebels varied between poets and corner-boys, but the vast majority of the men were men who were in government pay or other good positions. This may perhaps make it easier to understand why the rebellion was so formidable while it lasted. It was not numbers, which could not have exceeded 4,000 men, that produced the stubborn resistance but the fact that all the principal buildings throughout the town were betrayed by their own inmates into the hands of the rebels. To some it may seem extraordinary that the insurrection was so formidable for a week and then came to a sudden collapse. The reason for this was that against the rebels in their strongholds rifles were no use, and even machine guns were very little use. It naturally took some days to get artillery over from Liverpool or up from Athlone, and this only arrived towards the end of the week. It was after a short taste of big guns that the rebel leaders realised that all was up and that they had been out-trumped.

During the first few days, life in Dublin was one of the most striking sights I have ever seen. Up till the middle of the first week the population were allowed about without passports and the oblivion which seemed to reign in one street when men were being picked off every five minutes in the next street was extraordinary. A great many people were sucked as it were by a whirl-pool into places of extreme danger by an indomitable spirit of curiosity arid excitement. Except for the fact that they had to convey their own food home in baskets or other receptacles, house-keepers were behaving as though nothing had happened. Old ladies were exercising. their dogs in the squares on which they lived, blind men were being led about for their daily walks, street arabs were playing marbles on the pavements, steam- rollers were still to be seen at work. The only uncommon sight was that there were no wheeled vehicles about; the familiar sound of the electric trams was conspicuous by its absence. It is perhaps slightly incorrect to say no wheeled vehicles ; there were motor ambulances, milk carts and bread carts but no others, barring a few bicycles. It almost transformed the city streets into suburban terraces to see one's neighbours all on their doorsteps in deck-chairs doing needlework, smoking and interchanging rumours. Some of these rumours were of course true, but It is beyond doubt that a very great many were false. For example it was believed in a country town, about II miles south of Dublin, that a whale had escaped from the Dublin Zoological Gardens, had swum down the River Liffey and was devouring the inhabitants of the city.

During the first half of Easter week one might see bread-carts and milk-carts, standing in the road with a crowd of hungry urchins and mothers all round them waving pennies and sixpences at the miserable drivers. I once saw no less than 8 bread- carts and 3 milk-carts at the same time in one street barely 150 yards long. After the barricades had been put up however the poor could no longer do this and excellent photo graphs were afforded of crowds of poor people behind barricades waving jugs and money at the soldiers who had commandeered the carts and were serving the sufferers across an excellent counter of sandbags and kitchen tables and sofas.

Such as these were the common sights in the quieter side of civil life, but it must not be forgotten that all this time there was the danger of being hit by a stray bullet or a ricochet, though only in some cases by a direct hit. It is with this subject that the remainder of this article must deal.

Two remarks I should like to make before starting this second half of my narrative. Firstly, I am writing everything exactly as I saw it or heard of it and I am giving the editor a free hand with anything that may be too morbid, so that with him the blame for such must lie. Secondly if such experiences seem tame or pointless it will be because they have been censored as giving too much information. They are mainly a disconnected collection which I am not attempting to make into a continuous whole.

On Monday afternoon I saw a great friend of my father's drive up to his hall-door in a motor-car. His two sons got out and went indoors and he was about to drive off again when a man came up to him and putting a revolver to his head and said, “ I must ask you to step out; we want your car." “And who are you, might I ask ? " “I am an officer in the Irish Republican Army." My friend refused, and the mall pulled the trigger. It was a miss-fire and my friend laid him flat on his back in the road and drove off. The revolver fell open and he had forgotten to load it.

I was going out to buy a sack of flour for a hospital, one morning and as I was passing a bridge, I saw a postman being stopped and asked for his passport. He had none. He was suspected and searched. The military found the whole of his coat and waistcoat and other clothes simply padded with ammunition of all sorts. He was shot on the spot.

A friend of mine at another bridge saw a similar scene. A milk-cart driven by two women was driving along towards one of the rebel strongholds. A Sergeant-Major signalled to it to stop, whereupon the driver stood up and whipped up the horses into a gallop. She whipped the Sergeant-Major also but he was too late to do anything. An officer then jumped forward and caught the horse by the reins and stopped the cart in spite of a hail of blows from the whip. The men then came to the rescue but not in time to save the officer being stunned. They took clown the women who turned out to be men and found the cart full of ammunition. The two were shot there and then.

I witnessed another instance of. men disguised as women in a different spot. There was a barricade under fire at the top of one of the streets joining Mount Street, a name that may be familiar. Three women wanted to pass this barricade and were told to do so at the double. They were not so good at disguising themselves as to be able to remember that they were women at a moment of danger. They scuttled past the lane at an unmistakeably manly run and their men's clothes underneath were sadly betrayed by the raising of their skirts when they were in a hurry .

A friend of mine was riding his motor-bicycle along one day when it got clogged somewhere. He got off and started settling it and while doing so started to smoke; he also gave a cigarette to a passing Tommy, who was sympathetic. He was then accosted by a man in mufti who asked for a cigarette. He replied that he had not one. Upon this the other man put his hand into his breast pocket and my friend saw a knife appear. When he saw the handle he did not wait for the blade but hopped on his bicycle and rode off. He looked back to see the man holding the dagger open, which had so nearly been the end of him. This story is told more as an example of the way in which the rough element in the city took advantage of the rebellion, (as the police were confined to barracks), than in connection with the actual Sinn Feiners. (Incidentally this name is pronounced Shin Faners, as a good many do not seem to realise).

So far these incidents have been such as are exclusive of bloodshed other than blood- shed in execution. There are many more like them which might be told were it not for lack of space. Similarly the following are only a selection from the many instances that might be told of wounded and dead men.

I was standing in a window of our house dressing one morning, and I was looking towards a military barricade at the corner of the square. There were several soldiers passing along behind it, and the word was being passed from one to another to keep low as the barricade was under fire. One poor fellow was. just beginning to speak to the man behind when he dropped. A doctor from a house at the corner ran out barefooted with nothing but his trousers and medical coat on and picked the fellow up in his arms, and carried him single handed to the hospital that was next door. On examination he was found to have been hit between his left eye and the bone just to the left of that. The bullet had gone on in underneath the bone and had come out at his ear which was in ribbons. It was one of the closest shaves I have seen but he is doing well.

A friend of mine was walking along and saw an old man walk out of a lane with a barrow. He had gone very few yards when he was hit in the knee. He sank to the ground and my friend was just endeavouring to pick him up when another bullet went clean through his heart and took off the top of my friend's little finger on the other side.

Another civilian was walking along and came to a military barricade. He was halted but lost his head. He started to turn and run away and, was naturally fired on. He dropped. The stretcher bearers went out and got him in and we took him into the theatre of the hospital. There was only one surgeon present and he was unfortunately not a general practitioner but a nose, throat and ear specialist. He found the man had been hit in three places in the abdomen. It was a horrible sight. As he lay on his back he spouted. blood like a fountain. It was an impossible case and the poor fellow died very shortly. Up till the very last he was in agony, calling for his sister and asking to be shot. With the. exception of men who had been shot dead this was the, most grisly case I saw.

Another poor fellow that we carried in was shot by a sniper. He was walking quietly along ill a street hitherto quiet under the impression that there was no danger. A muzzle however pointed out from some area railings and shot him in the ankle. He had to have his foot amputated.

One poor servant girl that had to be seen to, had just opened a top storey window and had barely put her head out when the whole top of her head was taken almost off by what must have been a machine gun or more probably a Lewis gun as the military had more of them and were using them more in the neighbourhood. She was found exactly where she was standing, leaning on the window with the top half of her head hanging off and the window sash besmattered with her brains. Death must have been instantaneous.

Several men were shot dead, and of course had to be brought in whenever an opportunity occurred, but, in as much as the soldiers were sitting on our door-step to fire and to be fired at, it was foolhardy to look after any but the wounded men till after dark, when things grew calmer. And indeed it is only too easy to distinguish between the dead , and the wounded. Having once seen death, one would almost prefer to feel it than ever to see it again.