Published on September 17th, 20132
A Gentleman and a War Criminal: A Measure of Integrity (Part 1)
By Henri le Riche
One was born in Australia, the other in England. One a Christian, the other an Atheist. Both made their choices on a matter of principle. Both men ended up in a foreign country fighting a war that had nothing to do with them. One did it for the adventure, the other did it because he believed it was the right thing to do.
How these men handled themselves in war will be the measure of their integrity as men, and in life. Who are these two men?
The war was the Anglo-Boer War fought between the British Empire of 500 000 Imperial soldiers, and two little Republics at the tip of Africa with an army of only 28 000 men. This was the start of Britain’s “Vietnam” and its most costly war in money and lives, which lasted three years and is responsible for the crumbling of the British Empire.
Arthur Alfred Lynch (16 October 1861 – 25 March 1934) was an Irish Australian civil engineer, physician, journalist, author, soldier, anti-imperialist and polymath. He served as MP in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland as member of the Irish Parliamentary Party, and represented Galway Borough from 1901 to 1902, subsequently West Clare from 1909 to 1918. Unlike most of his compatriots, Lynch fought on the Boer side during the Boer War, in South Africa and raised his own Irish battalion towards the end of World War I.
Lynch was born at Smythesdale near Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, the fourth of 14 children. His father, John Lynch, was an Irish Catholic surveyor and civil engineer and his mother Isabella (née MacGregor) was Scottish. Arthur Lynch had a Christian upbringing and a man of morality and integrity.
Lynch wrote and published a large number of books ranging from poetry, to a sophisticated attempt to refute Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. His verse was clever and satirically Byronic, and his essays and studies show much reading and acuteness of mind. E. Morris Miller, himself a professor of philosophy, mentions Lynch’s “high reputation as a critical and philosophical writer especially for his contributions to psychology and ethics” (Australian Literature, p. 273).
Lynch met Annie Powell (daughter of the Rev. John D. Powell) in Berlin and they were married in 1895. In 1898, he was Paris correspondent for the London Daily Mail. When the Second Boer War broke out, Lynch was sympathetic to the Boer cause and decided to go to South Africa as a war correspondent. In Pretoria, he met General Louis Botha, and decided to join the Boer side.
Lynch raised the Second Irish Brigade, which consisted of Irishmen, Cape colonists and others opposed to the British and British Imperialism.
None of the foreigners who served in the Boer army received any compensation. They were supplied with horses and equipment, at a cost to the Boer Governments and they received food, but no wages. Before a foreign volunteer was allowed to join a commando, and before he received his equipment, he was obliged to take an oath of allegiance to the Republic. A translation of it reads:
I hereby make an oath of solemn allegiance to the people of the South African Republic, and I declare my willingness to assist, with all my power, the burghers of this Republic in the war in which they are engaged. I further promise to obey the orders of those placed in authority according to law, and that I will work for nothing but the prosperity, the welfare, and the independence of the land and people of this Republic, so truly help me, God Almighty.
When the Anglo-Boer war broke out in October 1899, Lynch went to the Transvaal as a reporter for the Paris newspaper, Le Journal. In January 1900, with the help of some Irish still in the Rand and some members of the Blake-McBride brigade, he organized the 2nd Irish Brigade. It is estimated that only a quarter of the 150 men who joined Lynch were Irish. The rest were French, German, Dutch, Austrian, Greek, Bulgarian, Italian and American.
Lynch’s men reached the Natal front in February 1900, just as the siege of Ladysmith was coming to an end.
The next four months were spent, much like the Blake-McBride brigade, in retreat. On 14 May they set fire to a field to stop some British cavalry from advancing on a weak Boer position. They repeated this tactic several miles further on, allowing Boer commandos to escape without any losses. Lynch later claimed that these fires were accidental.
After arriving in Pretoria in early July, Lynch’s brigade fell apart. Lynch went to America and from there he returned to France. In 1901, when M.H.F. Morris, Unionist MP for Galway, succeeded as Lord Killanin, Lynch was nominated to run in the resulting by election. Although he remained in Paris, nationalists were urged to vote for him and he defeated his Unionist opponent, by a margin of three to one. That same year the British government had issued a warrant for his arrest because of his support for the Boers.
When he arrived in England to take his seat in the House of Commons, he was arrested, tried and convicted of hi-treason and sentenced to death. Due to international protest and the personal intervention of the American President, Theodore Roosevelt, Lynch’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was released after twelve months. In June 1904, Arthur Lynch visited his old school at Carrickerry when he was in the area to look up some old friends. It took a while for his old school-teacher, Mr. Halpin, to recognize him.
The old schoolroom brought back memories of a childhood spent in Carrickerry during the earlv 1880s. “I suppose you must have seen a good lot of the world” said Mr. Halpin as he watched Lynch studying a map of the world. “Yes” said Lynch, “I have been in America, France and South Africa.” “And what took you to South Africa?” asked the teacher, “you don’t look as if you were soldiering for England.” “Oh no,” said Lynch with a laugh, “I was soldiering for Kruger.” (President of the Transvaal Boer Republic)
Lynch represented West Clare as a Nationalist MP from 1909 to 1918. He died in 1934.
Part two of this article will be published on Tuesday 24th.
*For more on the Anglo-Boer war, you can visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/AngloBoerWar/. The original version of this article can be found at http://www.henrileriche.com/2013/07/12/a-gentleman-and-a-war-criminal-a-measure-of-integrity-part-1/