Talking History: 31 Years of Hell! 1914–1945

by author and historian William Henry

Wednesday, 29th March, 2017

The title of this new book 31 Years of Hell! 1914–1945 by Eamonn Ashe grabs public attention and rightly so as it gives a deep insight into the horrors of both world wars. Eamonn Ashe is a Galwayman and the family home was in Salthill. He was educated in St. Ignatius College, and graduated from the National University of Ireland Galway as a Civil Engineer. During his professional career he worked for the local authorities in Roadstone and spent some time with Tobin Consulting Engineers. However, he ran his own companies, Swords Swimming Pools and Swords Sports and Leisure, for over thirty years. He specialised in the design and construction of swimming pools and synthetic sporting surfaces such as Astro-Turf pitches, Tartan athletic tracks and tennis courts. He has spent all of his married life living in Drogheda, where he and his wife Joan raised four children.

He obviously has a deep interest in the military history of the twentieth century. His grandfather, Joseph Phillips, was a Company Sergeant with the Connaught Rangers. He joined the army in 1899, enlisting at Renmore Barracks. He served in the Boer War and later in India. In fact he was married in India in 1907 and had five children: Myra, Phyllis, Bernie, Leo and Alby. By the time the war broke out in 1914, he was already a professional soldier. It is incredible that he survived almost four years of carnage on the Western Front and other theatres of war. Sadly Joseph Phillips was killed in action in France on 21 March 1918; he was thirty-six years old. He lost his life on the first day of the second battle of the Somme, sometimes called the Saint-Quentin Offensive or Operation Michael. It was also the beginning of the German Spring Offensive. The Germans were attempting to capture Amiens and split the French and British armies. The battle began at 4.50am on the morning of 21 March with German guns pounding the British lines. The bombardment continued for two hours with the British employing their own heavy artillery. The German infantry attacked under the cover of a heavy fog. This situation was for the most part in favour of the Germans. The battle continued and by noon the British commander, Sir Hubert Gough, had very little idea as to how the battle was progressing. Nevertheless, by noon, eight or nine of his twenty forward battalions had been virtually sacrificed in the German attack. His tanks and heavy guns in the forward zone were hampered by the weather conditions. The gunners needed 1,000 yards of visibility to be effective, but only had about twenty. As night approached the Germans were in possession of the forward zone and dug-in over most of the battle area. It was a day of blood and horror; and the war would not end for another eight months, but it was over for Joseph Philips. He was buried in St Emilie Valley Cemetery, Villers-Faucon, Somme, France.

31 Years of Hell! 1914–1945 is dedicated to Joseph’s daughter Phyllis Ashe, the mother of the author. In 1991, Eamonn brought Phyllis to visit her father’s grave for the first and only time.

Eamonn certainly took his project seriously as he visited many of the war sites, including the battlefields of the Somme, the bloody Anzac Cove and the beaches of Normandy where the Allies landed in June 1944. It was following his retirement that Eamonn decided to dedicate himself to writing this book. His schedule was somewhat unusual, rising in the early hours of the morning and writing for two hours. The result of his labour is an incredible and comprehensible book. The front cover describes the book as ‘A Concise History of the two World Wars and the Interwar Years’. It is that and much more. The author has given the readers an extremely well-laid out book with clear and defined sections that also includes timelines that are easily followed. All areas of conflict in both wars are covered as are the events that shaped Europe and the United States in the years that followed the Great War. The book is also illustrated with photographs and includes excellent maps that were designed by Dr. Siubhán Comer of NUI Galway.

The Great War of 1914–18 is remembered for all the horrors of trench warfare that cost the lives of millions of soldiers. It decimated cities, destroyed countries and obliterated centuries old empires. It was to be the war to “end all wars” and yet only twenty years later the world was plunged into another even more devastating conflict. This book gives a compelling insight into how the terrible impact of the 1914-18 conflict led to crucifying debt, the depressed state of countries and the hostility over territorial disputes. All of this resulted in brewing unimaginable horrors in the cauldron of the interwar decades.

31 Years of Hell! chronicles in a concise and captivating narrative the entire turbulent period from 1914 to 1945. It is a timely and moving account of power struggles, human suffering and the devastating toll of war. The pendulum of time during this period of history swung across its arc bringing with it a brutal experience in human conflict and on its return brought about another shocking struggle between so-called civilised nations. The changing political and ideological climate generated its own perspectives and questions in the unsettled years between the wars. Eamonn Ashe has captured all of this warfare and political intrigues in his excellent and riveting book and has done so in his own unique style.

For the family, the book also represents a really special father-daughter association; as Eamonn’s daughter Fiona is the editor and publisher of this great work of history. It is wonderful connection for both of them, and they must feel very privileged and proud to have collaborated on such an amazing project. This book is a must for all libraries, both private and public on a local, national and international scale. 31 Years of Hell! 1914–1945 is an outstanding achievement and brings together this entire period of turmoil in one book.

Events of Note: Fiona Ashe is an accomplished book editor, copywriter, journalist, marketer, business writing skills trainer and film-maker. Fiona published 31 Years of Hell 1914-1945! through her award-winning digital agency FlasheForward Communications. She also works with Newstalk and Today FM, and was a news producer at TV3. Fiona delivers business writing and content creation training through Irish Times Training and Fáilte Ireland. She has done extensive copywriting for Fáilte Ireland and Údaras na Gaeltachta.

The following is a quote from Joe Duffy of RTE’s Liveline: “This is an incredible book! Beautifully-produced. Lots of photographs. Can stand beside any history book in terms of detail. In terms of accuracy, it looks absolutely bang-on! It’s a fantastic tome!”

31 Years of Hell! 1914–1945 can be purchased at all good bookshops including Kennys Bookshop, Dubrays, Charlie Byrne’s and it is also available online on the book’s website