[This is a companion piece to an article that is due to appear in the Irish Times WW1 Supplement on 22.10.14]
Work on the 49,000+ names in the Irish National War Memorial Records suggests that around 36,500 of the names contained in the eight-volume memorial are of men born in Ireland and serving, mostly but not exclusively, in the British Army.
But what of the Irishmen who enlisted (Australia) or were conscripted (Canada, USA, New Zealand) in armies other than that of Britain? How many Irishmen died in the service of Colonial forces and that of the USA? The answer is, as with so many statistical questions related to the Great War, that we don’t know. We can come up with a rough estimate but detailed and intensive research would be required to give a definitive answer, if indeed such an answer is possible.
Thanks to the Trojan work of Professor Jeff Kildea and the Irish Anzacs Database we now know that 5774 Irish-born soldiers fought in the Australian Imperial Force in the Great War of whom 860 died. This study reveals as a major underestimate the figures compiled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which puts the number of Irish-born dead in the Australian armed forces at 488.
My own researches into the Irish dead in the New Zealand army (which I will upload in a few weeks when the work is in a better state of readiness) suggests a figure of around 280 Irish fatalities in units of that 100,000-strong force. This is largely confirmed by the information gleaned from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.
It appears that around 20,000 Irishmen served in a Canadian Expeditionary Force that conscripted 630,000 men (just over 400,000 of whom went to Europe). Of those around 65,000 were lost. On that basis (a 10.3% death rate) up to 2000 Irishmen may have died while serving in the CEF. However, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website suggests around half this figure. It records 960 Canadian fatalities of Irish origin. However, given the Australian underestimate the numbers may be higher. Canadian attestation papers asked the question ‘in what town, township or parish and in what country were you born.’ It is possible that a number of recruits neglected to include their country of birth or used an abbreviation such as ‘Irl’, thus rendering themselves inaccessible on the CWGC website. The same may be true of other colonial forces – this may account for the Australian discrepancy.
The USA is proving, and will continue to prove, most problematic.
By the end of the war the US Army numbered almost 4.4 million men. However, only half of these actually served overseas. The figure for US fatalities was 116,000 (around half that number died of flu). There is, unfortunately, no indication in the three-volume publication listing American fatalities, Soldiers of the Great War, of the birthplaces of any of American dead.
What we do know is that 24 million American men were required to register for the draft. Around 18% of those either volunteered for service or were conscripted, though less than 10% served on the Western Front.
The probable total of those with Irish origins who registered for the draft comes to 65,025. Extrapolating from the overall figure that would give us a cohort of around 11,700 (18%) Irish-born men actually serving in the US Armed forces. There may well have been more if Irish-born men volunteered in disproportionate numbers. The names of early volunteers do not show up in the Draft Registration Cards. However, this is unlikely given Irish-American antipathy to the war before American entry into the conflict in April 1917. In addition many of the most enthusiastic Irish are reckoned to have gone to Canada and joined the CEF.
We don’t know how many of that highly speculative number, of just under twelve thousand, actually went abroad. If we extrapolate once again we come up with a figure of under 6000. The American fatality rate was relatively small, around 6%, or a ratio of one death for every seventeen serving soldiers (1:17). On that basis Irish-born fatalities in the US Army could have been as low as 350, on a par with that of New Zealand in absolute terms but small in proportionate terms. The truth is we don’t know, the process of arriving at the figure of 350 is highly speculative and it will be extremely laborious and time-consuming to attempt to discover the true figure.
As regards Irishmen in the South African and Indian Armies, while there were undoubtedly some serving in both forces, the bulk of the million-strong Indian Army was Indian-born and suffered 62,000 deaths, while total South African fatalities came to under 7,000 of the 74,000 who served. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists 80 names of members of the South African armed forces associated with Ireland and 13 (all officers) for the Indian Army. In the case of the former however the South Africa War Graves project lists 181 names associated with Ireland, though a detailed examination is required to ascertain how many of these are likely to have been born in this country.
Based on hard but incomplete evidence for Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and Canada, and little more than informed speculation regarding the USA the figures for Irish-born dead in the main Imperial armed forces and those of the USA might, at a minimum, look something like this.
NEW ZEALAND 280
SOUTH AFRICA 80
There is, however, a further difficulty with these figures. It is not possible simply to add this number to the total number of Irish dead recorded in the INWMR. Almost a thousand names in that record are of men who served in the Colonial or American armed forces. In most cases there is no indication in the records as to their place of birth, they have simply been added to the INWMR. However, despite the fact that they are numbered among the 7405 men recorded in the INWMR but not assigned a country of birth, it is likely that all are of Irish origin. It would appear utterly pointless to have included the names of men serving in, for example, the Australian or Canadian armies in a record of the Irish dead, who themselves have no connection whatever with this country. We must assume that certain information was available to the compilers of the INWMR which meant the name warranted inclusion in the Irish records while the criterion used [Ireland as place of birth] was not included in the record of the dead soldier.
INWMR RECORDING OF DECEASED IN COLONIAL OR US ARMIES
TOTAL IRISH OTHER NO NATIONALITY INDICATED
CANADA 644 58 4 582
USA 52 14 20 18
AUSTRALIA 230 21 17 192
NEW ZEAL. 75 15 3 57
INDIA 127 11 73 43
S.AFRICA 72 10 8 54
TOTAL 1200 129 125 946
Only those numbered Column 3 (Other) are unambiguously not Irish. The 129 names in Column 2 are definitively identified as Irish – the mystery is the place of birth of the remaining 946 and why, if they are not all Irish, they found their way into the Irish National War Memorial Records in the first place?
[If anyone has any helpful observations to make or any worthwhile statistics to contribute based on their own researches please contact me on email@example.com. I am new to this particular field of Irish World War 1 studies so I am happy to be corrected on any of the assertions contained above.]
 30,986 have Ireland as their place of birth – the remainder of the figure is made up of the extrapolated Irish ‘share’ of the 7404 names with no known place of birth.
 The methodology employed here was simple and far from foolproof. The word ‘Ireland’ was inserted in the ‘additional information’ box in the CWGC ‘Find War Dead’ search engine. ‘First World War’ and ‘Canadian Forces’ were also selected. This brought up 975 records matching the search criteria. 16 of these represented non-Irish entries of men named ‘Ireland’. When the word ‘Irish’ was Adjustments were made for fatalities with the surname ‘Ireland’. The same methodology was employed in the case of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India.
 This calculation is based on the insertion of ‘Ireland’ as a keyword in the Ancestry.com Draft Registration Cards 1917-18 (66713) and the subtraction from that figure of 1688 men whose surname was Ireland.
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