Call for healing ceremony for pardoned ‘deserters’

The family and supporters of Irish servicemen recently pardoned for deserting the Irish army to fight with Britain have called for a healing State ceremony to bring closure to their years of persecution.

The 4,500 solders branded deserters were told in June by Justice Minister Alan Shatter that they were to be pardoned.

In a new BBC radio documentary, Pardon for the Disowned Soldiers, the daughter of 92-year-old Dublin solider Philip Farrington, who helped liberate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, said her father was haunted all of his life by the fear of further reprisals after he spent six months in jail in Cork for desertion.

He said of his time in Cork prison: “They would throw the food at you and you would have to pick it up and eat it.”

His daughter Teresa Martin said he needs a public pardon: “Some of the men who are left could do with some kind of physical contact, a shake of the hand... I would love that, if he manages to survive that long.”

The surviving soldiers are expected to be told of State plans for their pardon in the autumn but Sen Mary Ann O’Brien, who campaigned for the long-awaited pardon said: “It would be lovely to have an all inclusive ceremony with the families there to give them that recognition... that this long overdue pardon will give them.”

There are now thought to be 100 left still alive.

They were formally dismissed from the Irish army, stripped of all pay and pension rights, and named on a “starvation list” which banned them for seven years from any employment paid for by state or government funds.

John Stout, who lives in Cork, served with the Irish Guards armoured division which raced to Arnhem to capture a key bridge and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge, ending the war as a commando.

But he said on his return home to Cork he was treated as a pariah. “What they did to us was wrong. I know that in my heart. We deserted them. They never took in why we done it.

“They cold-shouldered you. They didn’t speak to you.”

He said the pardon now finally confirmed to him that he did the right thing.

He said: “I done the right thing. The war was on and I wasn’t going to be down here doing nothing when I could be doing something. It just tells me I was right all along, I done the right thing.”

Face the Facts: Pardon for the Disowned Soldier will be aired on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow, Aug 12 at 9pm.


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