Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916

Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916
The Signatories of the Proclamation

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Witness Statement of the Rising - Michael J. Kehoe (an excerpt)

Michael J. Kehoe,
1 Ardee Road,
Lieutenant (Brigade Adjutant)
Germany, 1914-1919.
The Irish Brigade,
Conditions, if any, Stipulated by Witness.
File No S.1447
Form B.

Count Von Wedel told Casement that in view of messages which had been received from the Irish leaders in America and from Irish Headquarters, Dublin, Casement should remain in Germany to carry on in behalf of the Irish Republican Movement as heretofore, and that the Irish Brigade Machine-Gun Company with the twenty-five attached German machine-gunners would be sent On the "Aud" gun-running ship. That ship had been specially constructed so as to conceal the machine-gun's contingent en route to Ireland. Von Wedel then said "I will now transfer the whole matter to the Military Attáché at the Foreign Office who will no doubt give you full details of the military preparations for the transport of the Irish contingent in the "Aud'. The Attachés were Captain Madonly, Captain Huelson and Major Haugwitz. A conference was arranged with those officers on the following day.

They, "the German Foreign Office 'Holy Trinity'", opened the conference by saying to Casement: "You are already aware that you must remain here, and the Irish Brigade Machine-Gun Company will accompany the "Aud" to Ireland". Casement very much resented being left behind in Germany and he informed the Military Attachés. that they should take no further action regarding him until he would discuss the position with members of his Brigade and find out what their feelings in the matter were. We returned to Count Von Wedel at the Foreign Office and informed him that we were proceeding immediately to Zossen Military Training Camp to discuss with the men the new position which had arisen. Casement also told Von Wedel that he resented the remarks of the Attaché, Captain Madonly, when he said "that the men of the Brigade could be forced under martial law to leave Germany for Ireland without Casement, and Casement could be forcibly retained".

Von Wedel pointed out that the Foreign Office were always agreeable to whatever Casement wished but appreciated how Casement felt about these remarks made by Captain Madonly. This ended the Foreign Office conversation and we proceeded to Zossen. On the way, we fully discussed the conference and Casement said to me in his usual confidential manner, "It is quite possible that the Brigade may be got at by intrigue to get them to disobey my orders and to act directly on the orders of the German Military Authorities. But let them dare try it", he added, in his usual fighting demeanour. I agreed to inform the Brigade of the position and ascertain their wishes. I felt I owed this to Casement. Then we put the question to the men at Zossen they were in general agreement with whatever Casement thought best. They were willing to abide by his decision. We asked them to appoint a small committee to act on behalf of the men. Casement drew up an agreement.

Two NCOs and two men signed this declaration on behalf of the Brigade. On the following day, the 9th April, Roger Casement said he would leave me in complete charge of the Irish Brigade Machine-Gun Company in Zossen and he would take Monteith with him to Berlin for further negotiations. I felt relieved of all further responsibility in the matter and determined to carry out Casement's instructions and see that the men were at least satisfied that everything was being done correctly.

(We always addressed Captain Monteith as Captain although the Germans only recognised him as Lieutenant in view of the small number of men which comprised his Company 'B', and in fact, on account of the small strength of Irish Volunteers under arms in the Brigade).

Casement said that he would like to take an NC0 with him to Berlin. After due deliberation, they decided to take Sergeant Bailey. Casement told me that Bailey was chosen by Monteith. The choice was influenced by the fact that Bailey was an expert in Morse and Signalling, although I had recommended Sergeant Joe Dowling or Sergeant Seán Kavanagh as best to go with Roger Casement.

They proceeded to Berlin on the 9th Apil, 1916. On the 11th April, Casement sent for me and in a last private conversation he told me the following: "I have succeeded in securing that I will be sent on a submarine to Ireland and I am taking Captain Monteith with me and Sergeant Bailey also on the submarine."

He thanked me for all I had done to help him to recruit the Irish Brigade and for the help I had given him. We asked me to look after the Irish Brigade during the remainder of our sojourn in Germany in the meantime in case they would be sent for after the successful landing of the "Aud" expedition and himself in Ireland.

He wrote a farewell letter to the Irishmen of the Brigade and asked me to read it to them. This letter reads as follows and dated: Berlin. 11th April, 1916:
"Comrades of the Irish Brigade, we are going to-night on a very perilous journey and have been forced to leave you without a word of farewell or further explanation. It was not possible to tell you or to explain a few days ago or even now fully why we did not bring you. One reason, perhaps the chief one, why you are not accompanying us to-day is to keep you out of the very grave danger we have to face. We are sure that all of you would have faced those dangers, too, seeing that it is in the cause of Ireland's Independence we go, but we have decided it was unfair to you to appeal to your courage in a matter where all the elements of danger are very apparent and those of hope entirely wanting. You must, therefore, forgive us for going in silence from you and, leaving you to the continued in activities that have already been so harmful to you and contrary to your hopes when you volunteered for service of Irish Freedom. Should we live, you will know and understand all. If we do not return or you hear no more of us, you will know we have gone to do our part in our country's cause according to what we deemed was right.

Adjutant-Lieutenant M. S. Boyle Kehoe is commissioned to look after the wants of the Irishmen, Volunteers of the Irish Brigade, during their stay in Germany. Then the war is over your many friends at home in Ireland and in U. S. A. will certainly have you in their care and affection; meantime you may have many hard and unhappy days to face, many trials and temptations too, and perhaps harsh things to endure. Bear all with brave stout Irish hearts, remembering that in what you did, you sought to serve your country, and that no Irishman could give to that cause more than you gave. You gave yourselves. Having given yourselves so freely, keep yourselves bravely. Be obedient, disciplined, and patient, and rest assured that whatever happens to us who are going from you to-day, you will find many friends in the world and your names will be honoured in Irish story".
 This farewell letter was signed:
Roger Casement, Chief, Robert Monteith, Captain.

He told me they were proceeding immediately to Kiel Harbour Naval Station, and leaving Germany by submarine that night. The "Aud" was on its way since the day before. 

On 1Oth April, 1916, I returned to Zossen and before he departed from Kiel he wrote me a further letter and he said: 

"A Chara,
Were I not to go, and I would be simply justified in stamping out the whole project of allowing a handful of Irishmen and machine-guns to proceed alone - and were I then to skulk here in safety in a matter where the entire hope of success was wanting, I would incur the contempt of all men and be branded a coward for all time. 

If the boys at home are to be in the fighting line then my place is with them, were I to perish in the attempt. Keep the gun practices going in case you may be sent for later on. Show a united front remembering that we who are leaving you behind do what we think right in the cause of our beloved country.

If you do not hear from us again or that we are no more, having given yourselves so freely, keep yourselves proudly and your names shall be honoured still in Irish story".
Signed: Roger."

It would be well for all Irish historians to study closely the soldierly actions of Casement throughout his militant mission in Germany. 

I assembled the men and read Casement's farewell letter to them on the 12th April, 1916. We heard no more until Tuesday of Easter Week, 25th April, 1916, and second day actually of the Easter Week hostilities in Dublin, Galway and Wexford.

In the German Daily Press, 25th April, 1916, a short account was given in all the German papers of the insurrection in Ireland. Also included in the news was an account of the landing of three men on the coast of Kerry from a German submarine. It said that two had been arrested and one was still at large. The men of the Brigade were most anxious to know who the man was who was still at large. They were hoping it was Casement.

On the following day news came through that Casement had been arrested a day after landing from submarine, and that the "Aud" had been sunk after being time-bombed by her crew, near Queenstown. All through Easter Week the German papers published what information they had regarding fighting in Dublin and rest of hostilities in Erin.

Captain Boehm told me that the Germans had dropped leaflets to the Irish Regiments on the Western Front giving full information as to what was taking place at home. Also there were newspaper reports of the German Naval attacks on East coast of England and towns of Hartlepool and Scarborough shelled by German Navy.

The 1916 insurrection met with general appreciation in Germany, both from the civilian and military point of view. The Germans were filled with admiration at a small nation like Ireland rising against such a powerful enemy as Britain, and being able to carry on for a whole week of warfare notwithstanding the fact that the German aid had not succeeded in landing. The arms and ammunition could not reach them because of the sinking, of the "Aud" by its own crew after waiting at Fenit Pier, Tralee Bay, for over twelve hours for the unloading assistance which never came.

The interests of the Irish Brigade in Germany were well looked after in Zossen Training Camp by the Camp Adjutant, Major Malzahn. He sent for me and told me to continue with the training programme and keep the men intact – give them no Easter holidays week-end passes to Berlin in case they would be needed to proceed to Ireland in the immediate future.

The Irishmen then seemed to fully appreciate Casement's decision hot to have them sent to Ireland on the "Aud", because they now understood that if they had one they would have been trapped by the British without getting a chance to fight. Roger Casement had proven himself a worthy son of his father - Young Irelander and Rebel Leader in 1847 - Colonel Roger Casement, a true friend of John Mitchell.

On Sunday, 30th April, Captain Boehm reported to me from Berlin and told me that information had come through that the fight in Dublin had ceased and that the Irish Brigade should now await further developments.

The Brigade continued to train with the German soldiers for about two months following the Easter Week surrender. During that time, there were several approaches made by me to ascertain what would be the future of the Brigade to Captain Boehm of the German Army General Staff, "Our Mediator'. He suggested that there was very little reason now for continuing with active service military training, and that it would be better to have the Brigade performing the duties of ordinary garrison guards, or if any of them wished they might transfer to civilian life and carry on in trades best suited to them. Arrangements to this effect could be made and they would be given sufficient protection..

I put these proposals to the men. The majority of them wished to transfer to civilian life as they felt that for them there was no further object in continuing as active soldiers. About twenty of them wished, to transfer to the German Army.

When the news came through that Casement's trial was over and he was executed on 3rd August, 1916, the Brigade as a whole was transferred to the 2nd Schlawe Battalion, 16th Army Corps, Danzig, and then the German Authorities began negotiations with the various factories around Danzig, city on Baltic coast, and with the farmers around who wished to employ men. Practically every day one or two men of the Brigade, left to take up civilian employment. They were given permission to wear their Irish Brigade uniforms whenever they wished, but wore civilian clothing while working. The twenty men who wished to join the German Army were allotted German soldiers' duties around the German Barracks in various capacities. Sergeant Dowling and two NCOs remained in the Camp with the men. I was transferred with five machine-gunners to the Stolp German Air Corp Aerodrome in Province Pomerania on the Baltic Sea.

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