Source: The Irish Times front
page: Thursday, January 11, 2001
From Rachel Donnelly, in London
"Unarmed civilians and "Irish rebels" were shot during the 1916 Easter Rising on British orders not to take prisoners, according to War Office files released at the Public Record Office in London yesterday.
The files, which were closed under the 100-year rule but revealed now as part of Labour's policy of open government, provide details of soldiers shooting civilians, suspected of taking part in the Rising, without trial.
In a report written in June 1916 to the then Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, the permanent secretary to the Home Department, Sir Edward Troup, observed that the source of "mischief" was the military order not to take prisoners. "This in itself may have been justifiable - but it should have been made clear that it did not mean that an unarmed rebel might be shot after he had been taken prisoner . . . still less could it mean that a person taken on mere suspicion could be shot without trial."
Sir Edward also referred to the shooting of James Moore outside a house in Little Brittain Street in Dublin. Moore was killed by a shot fired by a group of British soldiers in the street, but the soldiers' senior officer, "Serjeant Flood," went to the house after the shooting to express his regret. Sir Edward told Asquith that Moore was "probably a perfectly innocent person, and his being shot must be regarded as an accident. I have no doubt, however, that if the evidence were published there would be a demand that Flood should be tried for murder."
Legal advice given to the government in 1917, when Asquith had been replaced as Prime Minister by David Lloyd George, warned against publishing the proceedings of courtsmartial, many of which were held in camera in the days after the Rising when martial law had been declared. "There are one or two cases in which the evidence is extremely thin."
A legal official adds: "Nor do I think it would be wise if, for example, we were to publish the evidence in the case of Edmund Kent and we had to publish the fact that he summoned as one of his witnesses Thomas McDonagh, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising, and we had to state that Thomas McDonagh was not available as a witness as he was shot that morning."
Éamonn Ceannt was executed on May 8th, 1916."
British told not to take prisoners during Rising
From Rachel Donnelly, in London
"The shooting of unarmed civilians during the Easter Rising arose from British orders that soldiers should not take any prisoners, according to War Office files released at the Public Record Office in London yesterday.
A War Office document from June 1916, marked "very confidential", written by Sir Edward Troup, who was permanent secretary to the Home Department, for the British prime minister, Herbert Asquith, refers to several cases of civilians shot by British soldiers during the Easter Rising in Dublin.
The typed report is covered with handwritten corrections - sentences have been crossed out and rewritten - suggesting Sir Edward made a second draft of the report on the shootings, possibly after a request from Asquith, who was facing pressure from Irish politicians, such as John Dillon, to publish a detailed account of the Rising.
One case refers to the shootings of Peter Connolly, a member of the Redmondite Irish National Volunteers and the owner of a hardware shop; Thomas Hickey and his son, Christopher Hickey, aged 15, in North King Street on April 28th. They were "shot as rebels taken red-handed" and the British soldiers "had orders not to take prisoners, which they took to mean that they were to shoot anyone whom they believed to be an active rebel".
After this sentence several additions are made to the first draft of the report. The original script says: "Some of the persons were rightly shot, and that probably the others were not taking any active part, though the police evidence is clear that the whole of this street was a nest of Sinn Féiners." But additional notes provide more information so the sentence reads: "Some of the persons shot were probably fighting or sniping, but there can be little doubt that others were not taking any active part and, though the police evidence is clear that the whole of this street was a nest of Sinn Féiners, some were probably not even sympathisers."
And a handwritten note at the end of the document provides a revealing insight: "The source of the mischief was the military order to take no prisoners. This in itself may have been justifiable - but it should have been made clear that it did not mean that an unarmed rebel might be shot after he had been taken prisoner."
The next part of the sentence - "To kill an enemy who has surrendered without trial can't . . . " - has been crossed out and the sentence continues: "still less could it mean that a person taken on mere suspicion could be shot without trial." The second War Office file, registered on January 11th, 1917, details resistance to calls to publish transcripts of courtsmartial.
There were "161 Field General Courts-Martial" of civilians, with one referring to a non-commissioned officer and "22 General Courts-Martial" in connection with the Rising.
Asquith had given an undertaking to provide relatives of Irish "rebels" who had been shot with a copy of courts-martial proceedings, and when he was replaced as prime minister by David Lloyd George at the end of 1916 efforts were still being made to resist publishing details of the courts-martial.
Legal advisers to the government warned publication was unwise because several trials were held in camera and there was "no legal justification" for this under current legislation, "and in certain cases the evidence against Sinn Féiners who were killed was not too strong."
On Wednesday, April 26th 1916 Henry B. Knowles left his house at no. 6 West Essex St. Dublin.
That evening his family became anxious when he did not return home at his usual time. His wife, Arabella, was told by a neighbor that there had been quite a few men killed that day and that Mr. Knowles was among them. "I knew young Knowles who was murdered in 27 North King street. Mrs. Hughes and I both saw the feather bed burning over their grave in the yard." (statement of Mrs. Ellen Walsh whose husband was also murdered at 172 North King Street)
Henry's youngest son Thomas went out in search of him.
Henry had been shot in the abdomen, and had been brought with the other dead to the dispensary at Castle St. and here he was laid out in the back yard.
Thomas climbed over the dispensary wall and into the yard and had to search among the dead bodies for his father.
(See the book Dublin 1916 by Roger McHugh, London, Arlington Books, 1966, p. 234 which contains a reference to the shooting of Henry Knowles)
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