Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Trials of the 1916 Press Pack - Part Two

(c) Eddie Bohan 2016


‘Almost impossible’ he said but to the two determined journalist’s eager to get their story nothing was impossible. They had already negotiated a tricky journey and survived a bombing raid so crossing the Irish Sea would just be another surmountable objective. They dragged themselves and their luggage back up the pier towards the railway station and went into the telegraph office. They both sent messages to their respective London offices imploring them to intercede on their behalf. As they did so they spotted the smoke from the funnels of the destroyer leaving the harbour into the Irish Sea.

They also telegrammed Captain Reginald Hall the head of Naval Military Intelligence with who both were well acquainted with. Forrest and Berry then set about the task of booking into a hotel, informing the telegraph operator where they could be contacted when a reply arrived. For Forrest his first problem in Holyhead was the fact as an American born in Illinois he was an alien in a wartime British naval port and his editor had to convince the Foreign Office to allow him to stay in Holyhead pending a decision from the War Office whether or not to allow him to travel to Dublin. The Foreign Office coordinated with the Home Office and he was allowed to wait on the War Office decision.

A telegram was delivered that put the two men out of their misery in that Wednesday evening.
‘Train leaving Euston tonight carries Foreign Office credentials enabling you to take boat leaving Holyhead Thursday’
The two men were told to meet the train personally to collect their documents. They discovered that the train would arrive just after two in the morning. They also ascertained that a light Naval craft was leaving for Dublin soon after and not only would it get them across the Irish Sea but rather than landing them in Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) on the outskirts of the city this Naval vessel would take them up the River Liffey into the heart of the action. Berry remarked that they would be heading towards
            ‘A beautiful and exclusive word picture of a genuine revolution’
As the first and only reporters heading to Dublin it would be ‘their’ war. They were very pleased with themselves and their efforts thus far.

In their hotel they headed into the dining room to dine in celebration on the most expensive food available, washing it down with expensive red burgundy wine and a couple of Napoleon cognac’s to toast their success and all on their expense accounts.

They left the hotel to take a leisurely walk around the small Welsh harbour town killing time until the clock struck two. Occasionally they checked the harbour to make sure their gray hulled sea transport was still tied up. They discussed what they knew about the Irish situation, how best to file their stories and how to by pass the British censors. They were also happy in the knowledge that no civilian or military ships were departing anytime soon except the one they would be on confirming to them that they would have no competition in their well engineered plan to reach the Irish battlefield. They were extremely satisfied with their good fortune and their fine meal.

The clock struck two, Forrest and Berry made their way to the station platform to await the London train. As the train halted at the buffers they spotted a familiar face of Captain Ralph Butler from the Foreign Office alighting from one of the carriages. Butler had been born in Harrow in 1883 and educated at Rugby before graduating from Corpus Christi College at Cambridge. He had been a journalist covering the war in the Balkans before being attached to the Foreign Office with the task of looking after front line journalists. He would be travelling with the men to Dublin.

As the reached the officer, who greeted them warmly, a blow was about to be delivered that would rock the two men.

(c) Eddie Bohan 2016


Within seconds a large group of fellow American and British journalists gathered around the trio on the platform. It was an absolute disaster from a journalistic exclusive point of view and a real blow to Forrest and Berry. Their enquiries to the Admiralty for permission to board the Naval vessel to Dublin had given the Admiralty and the War Office press office a golden opportunity to have their spin put on events in Dublin for the American public and if two American reporters were able to go why not more with a number of British journalists who would not be sympathetic to these ‘Sinn Feiners’ who dared rise up against the King as so many men (including thousands of Irishmen) were sacrificing their lives on the Western Front.

The British Government naturally hoped to convince America and their populace of the justice of its handling of the rebellion. The Foreign Office initially opposed the introduction of American opinion into discussion of Irish affairs. The head of the Foreign Office news department Lord Newton wanted to counteract ‘a network of German lies’.

They also realised that not only would the members of the Fourth Estate be transported to Dublin but also on board was an ashen faced Chief Secretary to Ireland Augustine Birrell MP. He had been severely criticised in the Houses of Parliament by the opposition for not being in Dublin when the Rising broke out on Easter Monday.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday Wilfred Ashley MP asked Prime Minister Herbert Asquith if English journalists would be accompanying American journalists who were going over that day.
            ‘I think so’ replied the Birrell who added that he was
‘anxious that news should not reach neutral countries which would be calculated to give a false impression of the importance of what had taken place, important as they were.’

HMS Dove

Birrell and his party of seven had travelled first class from Euston to Holyhead picking up another reporter at Chester for the final leg of the journey to the Welsh Port. (*see invoice for voyage) An officer from the vessel tied up in the harbour greeted the party on the platform as Forrest and Berry took possession of their permissions. He announced that his ship would be underway as soon as the party of a dozen men were aboard HMS Dove. Within forty five minutes the grey naval vessel was heading out into the choppy and dangerous waters of the Irish Sea heading westwards.

Along with Forrest, Berry and Birrell was forty seven year old James Tuohy, the London correspondent of the New York World. Cork born Tuohy was well known in Ireland as over the years had garnered the confidence of Charles Stewart Parnell, John Dillon and John Redmond. He was also at the time the Freeman’s Journal correspondent in London. Arthur Stimson Draper was the London Correspondent of the New York Tribune whose articles also appeared in the Daily Chronicle. Percival Gibbons from the Daily Express who was Welsh born and German educated and his colleague Percival Phillips who had left the British GHQ in France on the Western Front to make his way to Dublin, a reporter from the Manchester Guardian and their official photographer Walter Doughty. Also on board was Henry Whigham a forty seven year old reporter who had finished sixth at the US golf open on 1896 before turning to writing for a living and Sidney Cave who was from the International News Service.  Sidney B. Cave was born in Northampton on 4th September 1879, son of Edwin & Ruth Cave, who named him Sydney Brambley Cave. By 1901 Cave was employed as a journalist residing in Northampton. By 1909, he had moved to Dulwich, living just a few doors away from his elder brother, Albert. He became staff correspondent with the International News Service in 1915.

Manchester Guardian reporter George Leach arrived in Kingstown with another journalist J C Radcliffe travelling across the Irish Sea with British reinforcements. Leach grabbed a taxi from the port to the Northside of the city and the suburb of Drumcondra and from there he made it on foot into O’Connell Street, the heart of the new Irish Republic.

The journalists were now all on board HMS Dove under the captaincy of Cyril Edwards. HMS Dove was a fast light patrol boat. At just under two hundred and fifteen feet long, it had a top speed on twenty nine knots. Its four boilers fed steam to its two four cylinder steam engines. It was armed with a machine gun mounted on the ships bridge, five six pounder guns and two torpedo tubes. HMS Dove was launched from Hull Shipyards in March 1898 and went into British Naval service in July 1901. It was the ideal vessel to cross the Irish Sea in April 1916 with such a valuable cargo. It was fast and armed against the threat of German submarine activity in the Irish Sea. This was the same U Boats activity that the rebels had hoped would stop British reinforcements arrive. The ship had a compliment of sixty three officers and men and adding a dozen more souls made conditions cramped in the extreme.

Forrest found himself in the Captain’s quarters. At the Captain’s suggestion the steward mixed a ‘concoction of thick British navy cocoa’. The serving was very tasty but after such a sumptuous meal and a fair drop of wine in Holyhead, the addition of this concoction to the bucking and rolling of the ship was not sitting well with the reporter. Forrest left the cabin and climbed up a metal ladder towards the outside deck and was unceremoniously dragged through a manhole cover onto the gun deck by one of the seamen topside. Forrest slumped against the hull in almost total darkness as the ship ran dark trying to avoid the attention of patrolling u-boats.

The seaman attached a length of rope to Forrest’s waist which was tethered to the ship to prevent him falling overboard. There was sufficient slack in the rope to allow him to bounce off heavy metal objects that were secured to the deck as it sped through the waves.

For the three long hours of the seventy mile crossing, Forrest struggled with the fog, the mist, the waves and the constant dull pain in his stomach. The dawn of Thursday morning began to protrude from the darkness. As the light grew stronger he looked at the metal objects, shiny metal balls about a foot in diameter with handles attached. He asked the young sailor, who had kept him company all night what the objects were,
            ‘Six depth charges’ he nonchalantly replied adding
            ‘The safety catches are all secure sir, there’s not the slightest danger’.

As Forrest digested the shock of bouncing off high explosives for the previous number of hours, the coastline of Ireland began to appear from the horizon. The destroyer slowed speed which was a welcome relief. They passed a two master yacht just after six a.m. and the captain brought his ship to a stop as his crew ensured the vessel and its crew were not in league with the rebellion. The all clear was given and HMS Dove was underway again. An hour later they passed the lighthouse at the Great South Wall at the mouth of the River Liffey. As the ship entered the bay the officers were handed side arms and ammunition to repel any attack on the vessel as it made its way to its mooring point.

The rebels of the 3rd Battalion of the Irish Volunteers commanded by American born Eamon DeValera had seized Boland’s Mills near Ringsend on the southside of the Liffey and a nearby disused distillery which gave the rebels an excellent vantage point over the river. The rebels opened fire on HMS Dove as it moved slowly up the river. Forrest hurriedly untether himself and went below deck for safety. The vessels machine gun retuned fire directed at the rebel position, after ten minutes the firing stopped.

The ship tied up just short of the Custom House from where the correspondents could see the work of another British vessel The Helga which had first targeted Boland’s Mills and then James Connolly’s Irish Citizens Army headquarters in the now deserted Liberty Hall just on the far side of the railway line bridge.

Despite the fact that many of the journalists had spent many years reporting from battlefields across Europe, the tension on board the vessel as it docked was almost unbearable in such a cramped space. The party of twelve left one by one up the narrow gang plank. Once the ships engines had stopped all Sidney Cave could hear was the sound of machine gun fire. Birrell also stepped ashore and briefly addressed the pressman in front of a large party of British soldiers.
‘I wish you luck gentlemen, I don’t know what will happen to you now that you are here.’
Birrell was ushered into a motor car and whisked away with a military escort bound for the Vice Regal lodge in the Phoenix Park.

Cave reported that
Dublin seemed to be a dead city except for some weird evidence of hidden life. It seemed unreal, the streets, the quays and docks were all deserted”
‘Bullets swish overhead’. The reporters were left in little doubt that they were in a war zone.

The pressmen as a group with their chaperon Captain Butler zig zagged away from the direction of the ship back down along the North Wall Quay. They quickly passed the North Wall railway terminus and entered the lobby of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) Hotel managed by Edwin Solomons at 58/59 North Wall Quay. The hotel was almost on the front line of the battle, windows were shattered, and bullet holes littered the front of the red brick building that faced both onto the River Liffey and Boland’s Mills across the waterway.

The hotel, originally the Prince of Wales Hotel had been purchased by LNWR Company, who operated a sailing service across the Irish Sea, when they moved their Irish terminus from Kingstown to the North Wall Quay in 1861.

The journalists found themselves unwelcome in the beleaguered hotel. By Thursday food rations were running low and more mouths to feed would put an extra strain on those rations. They found that the Irish born Colonel in charge of the British forces around the hotel was also staying there as were many of the men in his command including kilted Scots Guards who were protecting the railway terminus next door. The only positive was that from the time of their arrival at the hotel, the bill for their stay including meals was paid for by the British Foreign Office through their representative Captain Butler.

The Colonel took the journalists out onto the roof of the hotel to point out many of the city’s landmarks and areas he believed were under rebel control. Smoke rising that Thursday morning was from the many fires now engulfing Dublin’s main thoroughfare O’Connell Street and around the rebel headquarters in the GPO. Draper surveyed the city landscape and wrote that
            ‘A lurid canopy of flame hung over the city’

They were unable to leave the hotel due to the heavy fighting and they awaited the arrival of military passes. The interviewed as many as they could in the hotel or simply those passing by the front door occasionally during a lull in the firing but this was the easy part. They typed their stories on hotel headed paper on their portable typewriters but they had no means of communications with their London offices.

They spent their first day in the new Irish Republic huddled in the confines of the hotel. Snipers from across the Liffey opened fire on any movement around the area. Draper from the NY Tribune described the hotel as a temporary prison.

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