Patrick Flynn – The East Wall Sapper who tunneled under the Germans

Pictured above : Royal Engineers, posing for a photograph, 1915.

Name of soldier : Patrick Flynn

Name of descendent : Philip Flynn

Philip Flynn lives in Cabra and runs a barbers at Hart’s Corner in Glasnevin, with his father. Hart’s Corner is at the end of the Finglas Road, just before Glasnevin cemetery.

Philip is also a youth coach with local soccer club, Bohemians FC. (Hence, the tracksuit in his photo below)

Adjoining Hart’s Corner is Bengal Terrace, named for the Indian area. India was once the jewel of the British Empire, with many British and Irish soldiers stationed there.

Vigalent readers of James Joyce’s novel ‘Ulysses’ will know Bengal Terrace as the site of the real-life Childs murder, which was constantly speculated about in the book. The case involved the alleged killing of Thomas Childs by his brother Samuel in 1899.

Above : Hart’s barber at Harts Corner, Glasnevin

Philip’s grandfather Patrick was a sapper with the Royal Engineers and was involved in the building of trenches and tunnels on the Western Front. The Royal Engineers do the crucial technical and heavy work for the rest of the army, creating the facilties through which all the soldiers fight.

A Sapper gets his name from the French word ‘sappe’ for trench. It dates from 17th century warfare when tunnels were dug under the walls of besieged forts to weaken them.

The First World War saw a major transformation of the Royal Engineers as new technologies came into warfare and engineers suddenly had to undertake a whole new range of roles.

In the front line, they designed and built fortifications, operated gas equipment, repaired guns and heavy equipment, and conducted underground warfare beneath enemy trenches.

Their support roles included the construction and operation of railways, bridges, water supply and inland waterways, as well as telephone and other communications. As demands increased, the Corps was expanded from a total of approximately 25,000 men in August 1914, to a whopping 315,000 by 1918.

Truly, the First World War was a war of construction – and destruction : an industrial-level conflict never before seen.

In 1915, in response to German mining of British trenches under the static siege conditions of the war, the corps formed its own tunnelling companies. Patrick Flynn was active in these.

Often manned by experienced coal miners from the north of England and Wales, the tunnelling teams operated with considerable success, building dugouts to protect troops from heavy shelling, as well as tunnelling under the enemy so that mines and explosives could be laid.

Your own name : Philip Flynn

Your relative : Grandfather Patrick Flynn

Period of activity: World War One

Specific regiment: Royal Engineers

Areas served in: The Western Front, Flanders

Did your family have much contact with him?

Yes, they visited him a lot in East Wall, which is where many ex soldiers lived. Many of these had been dockers.

What were his most striking memories ?

He often joked about the tunnelling, and putting bombs underground, and threatened that he’d do the same with a tunnel under the River Liffey!

Above : Hart’s well known haircutters in Glasnevin

Where is your grandfather buried?

Grangegorman Military Cemetery, Blackhorse Avenue.

Do you have any mementos of him?

Nothing that I’m aware of. He died a long time ago, in 1978.

Above : A trio of Royal Engineers, pictured with their pet dog.



The Tunnellers from North Dublin

Since the original post above, we’ve received more information on the life and activities of Patrick Flynn.

This is thanks to military historians Johnny Doyle and Simon Jones, who has a special focus on the Royal Engineers and WW1 tunnellers. Their twitter handles are @johnnyD8796812 and @simonjhistorian and are always interesting.

According to his Pension Card (pictured below) Patrick Flynn lived at one stage on 19 Upper Rutland Street, Dublin 1 and enlisted in March 1915. He suffered an accident to his right leg during service and received a grant in 1922 to set up as a tailor.

It also appears that Patrick Flynn came from very near where his fellow tunneller Joe Niland came from at 23 Summerhill, in inner city Dublin.

Niland was with the Royal Engineers 179th Tunnelling Company, responsible for the Lochnagar Tunnel built for the Battle of the Somme. He was killed a year later with his comrades in a German shell attack in March 1917. Below is a picture of Patrick and his wife Jane.

Below : the wider family and children of Joe Niland.

Simon Jones has written a fascinating book on the wartime tunnellers, entitled Underground Warfare 1914 – 1918, published by Pen and, Sword Military Publishers. Image below.

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