William Harvey-Kelly (b. 1924)
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William Harvey-Kelly (b. 1924)


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Track 1: William Harvey-Kelly explains that his grandfather was the first member of his family to go into military service, spending his army life in India. William also discusses his father, Charles, who served in the Indian Army. Though his Baluch regiment was sent to France, Charles was in the Middle East for the duration of WWI. William explains that though many people in Ireland held a rank, these were often related to service with the local militia rather than with the British Army. His father Charles served mainly in Persia on various missions and William relates an anecdote concerning Charles who, while on leave at home during the Civil War, had an encounter with the IRA. William explains that only one house in Westmeath was burned during this period and that his father’s last post was as military attaché in Afghanistan prior to his retirement in 1925, when he returned home to Ireland. Track 2: Charles Harvey-Kelly’s youngest brother, Hubert (Bay), was in the Royal Irish Regiment, and after learning to fly, he then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in around 1910. William has much material about his uncle. He explains that Hubert was the first RFC pilot to land in France in 1914, and he provides further details of his exploits. William himself attended Wellington College in England and was 15 years old at the outbreak of WWII. He was not eligible for conscription as he was an Irish citizen, but he enlisted with the Irish Guards in 1943. The various stages of his training are described. In 1944 he was sent to join the 3rd Battalion, and he details his movements towards the end of the war. He mentions his commander, John Kennedy. An engagement on August 11 1944 with the German army in northern France is described in detail. He was involved with the liberation of Brussels on September 3 and further engagements are described. He explains that he has visited the scene several times since, and that some of the trenches dug by him and his men in Belgium still exist, though now overgrown. Further action in Belgium, including the ‘Market Garden’ engagement (featured in the book and film ‘A Bridge Too Far’) is described in detail. The book, ‘The Ever Open Eye: Operation Market Garden’ by his brother officer, Brian Wilson, is mentioned. He remembers a fellow officer, Thomas King-Harman from Roscommon, who was one of the many Irish who saw action in WWII and he gives some details of further engagements with the enemy. He describes using the PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank), a British portable anti-tank weapon developed during WWII, and says that the war-time memoir, The Time of My Life, mentions this incident. He was then injured and was evacuated home. He later took part in one of the last battles in Germany. Track 3: William describes the condition of Germany and of the German people whom he encountered. He feels that the people there had not been subject to quite the same restrictive rationing as that which had prevailed in other countries. His task after the end of the war was to protect German civilians from displaced persons (DPs), generally Eastern Europeans released from the camps. Track 4: After the war William was offered a regular commission and also a place at Oxford University. He explains that he does not consider that he had been a very good officer but he had done well in combat, so he did accept the commission and continued his military career. His first posting was to Palestine. His training until retirement was for the eventuality of opposing the Russians, and the possibility of Russia taking Western Europe during the nuclear age is considered. William explains that the main difference in artillery between WWI and WWII was the tank. His father’s campaign medals and Distinguished Service Order are examined. His grandfather’s cousin, Charles Kelly, who was working as an engineer with the Northumberland Fusiliers during the Indian Mutiny, is mentioned, as are some other family members who served. William talks about his own medals, including the British Defence Medal and his MBE awarded for his work with ex-servicemen in Ireland. He finally retired from military service with the rank of Colonel in 1969, and he returned to Ireland in 1972, living for a time at Clonhugh House, Multyfarnham, Co. Westmeath. The lack of recognition of ex-servicemen in Ireland, particularly after WWI, is discussed and William explains that he considers himself to be Irish. He recalls his father’s service with the Local Defence Force during the Emergency and discusses his occasional stints as a training instructor for them while home on leave. A retired Guardsman, who proudly wore both his Great War and War of Independence medals, is remembered.

Additional information


Disk, MP3

Audio series:

The Irish Country House and the Great War


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

10.63 MB, 29.62 MB, 11.69 MB, 4.24 MB, 16.20 MB

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The Harvey-Kelly family's tradition of military service

Recorded by:

Maurice O'Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore