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War’s end brings little joy to flu-ravaged Kildare

The end of World War 1 in November 1918 brought a close to four years of industrial scale slaughter. While every generation going back since mankind evolved had seen conflict of one kind or another the war that erupted in 1914 and continued for four blood-soaked years was one of the greatest abominations on the record of human history. No wonder then that the Editor of the Kildare Observer newspaper found it hard to restrain himself in his condemnation of the man whose self-aggrandising ambition he believed to be responsible for the war. In the first editorial after the armistice on 11 November 1918, the Observer’s editor wrote ‘On Monday last, there came to an end the bloodiest and most brutal war the world has ever known. … the abdication of the Kaiser ended the mad career of the greatest bully’ who, he went on to describe, was ‘the greatest tyrant which an age of civilisation and education has produced.’
The Observer editor continues his condemnation of the Kaiser with a language that was to be echoed in our modern era by commentators speaking about the deaths of 21st century warlords such as Colonel Gadaffi of Libya and Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan: ‘ What can be more pitiable than the spectacle of the powerful king of a few days ago flying in fear from the frenzied populace – the people who he lectured, controlled and treated with sneering contempt …?’
The fury of condemnation from the Editor’s desk at the Observer office in Naas did not translate to the wider public as reports indicate a low key reaction in the county to the news of the armistice. Under a heading ‘The Peace news in Naas’ the Observer reported that apart from the Union Jack being hoisted over the Courthouse there was ‘ little outward manifestation of jubilation.’ Groups of soldiers from the local barracks in the county congregated for noisy celebrations ‘ In Kildare and Newbridge the military celebrated the occasion by flag-waving, cheering and other demonstrations of joy.’
The only public body quoted in the issue of 16 November 1918 as responding to the news of the armistice was Newbridge Town Commission chaired by Mr. Thomas O’Rourke which passed ‘a resolution of congratulation to the Allies and of satisfaction at the splendid triumph which had been gained.’
Perhaps the realisation that the end of the war would bring its own set of problems for those on the home front tempered any sense of jubilation among the public. In the same issue the Observer carries a report from the House of Commons in Westminster where Dr. Addison, Minister for Reconstruction, set out the huge scale of unemployment that was likely when the soldiers returned to be demobilised and the civilian workers in the armament factories were made laid off. He said: ‘There would be about one million people (in Britain and Ireland) who would have to change their occupation on the cessation of war manufacture.’  The Government in Whitehall was proposing a a dole scheme which would see men laid off from war production getting 24 shillings a week and women were to receive 20 shillings a week.
Compounding the problem of post-war unemployment was the prevalence of sickness among the population and none more merciless than the flu epidemic which was cutting gaps through the towns of Kildare in the month of November 1918. The Observer reported that in the Athy area four children from the same family had perished within a matter of days and that more than a hundred people were being supplied with hot soup, gruel and milk at the Athy Technical School which had been pressed into service as a communal kitchen. 
Modern day historians who point to political reasons as to why the soldiers returning from the war were not given a celebratory welcome might bear in mind that people living in towns throughout the county were preoccupied with staying alive themselves in the face of sickness and scarcity. The casualties of war were to found everywhere and not just on the battlefields. A poignant note under the heading ‘Soldiers’s children neglected’ brings home the kind of dysfunction being experienced on the home front: ‘ The six children of Mary D., Celbridge, who receives a separation allowance of 35 shillings a week were found lying on the bare irons of a bed, there being no mattress or bed clothes. The magistrates made an order that the children, who are all under 11, should be sent to a certified home until they will be 10 years or age.’
The armistice of November 1918 may have deposed a tyrant but it was clear that the tyranny of deprivation would not so easily be conquered. Series no: 253.

Liam Kenny writes that the end of the war in 1918 brought little comfort to Kildare then in the grip of the Great Flu, article 253 from the Lookin Back series. Our thanks to Liam

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