November 10 2018
7 May 1912: The University of Cambridge grants Stephen Michael Barry-Walsh, a 31 year-old Irish doctor from Kilmallock, a certificate stating that he had proved himself by “his KNOWLEDGE and SKILL in SANITARY SCIENCE, to wit in Chemistry and Physics in the causes and prevention of Epidemic and Infectious Diseases and in the means of remedying or ameliorating those Circumstances and Conditions of life which are know to be injurious to health as well as in the Laws of the Realm relating to Public Health is CERTIFIED to be well qualified in respect of Knowledge and Skill aforesaid to fulfil the Duties of a Medical Officer of Health.” With this certificate he became Dr S.M. Barry-Walsh, M.D., B.A. and D.P.H. (National University of Ireland), D.P.H (Cantab).
August 1914: His brother, Eugene, a Kilmallock farmer, sits on the sandy beach at Youghal, Ireland with his 15 month-old son, born in April 1913, between his legs. Eugene is in his Sunday suit, crisp white shirt with wing collar and neatly knotted tie, a smart hat on his head. Propped up against his knee stands a small boy in a white short and shorts with wide braces fixed with buttons, a sun hat on his head as he squints into the sun. That boy, also named Stephen, later became a doctor. There are 7 more brothers and sisters, the last of whom dies in 2013.
On this day, however, Ireland was still part of the British Empire, whose monarch had made a successful visit to the oldest and nearest part of their Empire three years earlier. No-one could foresee the type or length of war that was about to start. Nor that barely 6 years later in May 1920 Kilmallock Barracks would be the subject of one of the largest attacks by the IRA in ferocious fighting during an Irish civil war.
8 September 1915: Dr Stephen Michael Barry-Walsh, by now a Lieutenant 1st Cavalry, Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, dies of his wounds aged 34. He is buried in Calais Southern Cemetery.
The first entry in his war diary is on May 27th. “12 noon. Message. “Send officer able to ride to report A-D.M 8 for service with 1st Cavalry Division.” Me. Pack up. Send one box and one parcel of clothes home via Military Forwarding office Southampton. Something will get there.” His first posting is in Rouen.
His last entry in his war diary is on July 26th 1915. He has drawn a map of his camp near the Yser canal north of Ypres. He writes: “Just before arriving…a motorcar overtook us and in it the D.A. DMS – to say that a note had been received from the General countermanding the previous day’s order. It had rained very heavily all night and until about 6:30 in the morning. So that we men had to strike camp in a deluge and of course got promptly soaked in the process. We marched home on foot arriving shortly after nine.”
October – November 1917: Carlo d’Ayala Valva, a young engineer from Naples, fights in the battle of Caporetto, one of the bloodiest battles of WWI in the front between Italy and the Austrian Empire, a front at least as bloody as the trenches of Northern France.
1939 – 1945: Dr Stephen Barry-Walsh joins the RAF and becomes a Squadron Leader.
19 August 1944: It is the 17th birthday of Maria-Teresa d’Ayala Valva, the eldest daughter of Carlo d’Ayala Valva. She, her 3 brothers and sisters, mother and grandmother, have been hiding in Rome (the family split up) to escape the bombing of Naples (the most bombed city in Italy) by the Allies. Her father has remained in Naples in the family home; it too is bombed. Her half-French mother, Jeanne, writes in a book (Ernest Daudet’s “Jeunes Filles d’Autrefois”) she gives her daughter as a present: “A tes 17 ans qui fleurissent en un climat tragique de guerre, l’histoire de cette heroique jeune fille.” (For your 17th birthday which comes during a tragic time of war, this story of a heroic young girl.)
Many years later Maria-Teresa d’Ayala Valva and Dr Stephen Barry-Walsh marry. They are my parents. They have two children and three grand-children.
Those grand-children have a grand-father born before the start of WWI to parents who grew up during the Edwardian era. But they will live the majority of their lives in the 21st century. Both they and me and my brother have had the inestimable good fortune of living our lives without having had to fight or endure the agonies of war or its consequences. Our birthdays have not been against the background of tragic times. We have been fortunate to live in a region and at a time when war in Europe has been unthinkable.
On this 100th anniversary of the Armistice which brought the First World War to an end, let us remember all those we have lost, all those who did not share our good fortune. Let us remember our blessings. And let us hope that the peace we enjoy now continues.