How my family history led me to become an author.
By Eamonn Ashe
My grandfather was killed in the First World War. In 1991 I brought my mother (his daughter) to France to visit his grave. It was her first and only time to visit her father’s final resting place. I found the trip very poignant; however, I was surprised that my mother seemed stoical. On the way back to Paris I said to her, “Mam, I thought you would be more emotional.” She replied, “Eamonn, you don’t understand. I was born in 1915; my Dad was killed in the war in 1918 — during those three years, he was away at the war. I didn’t really know him.” I realised then that Mam was what I would call a war orphan and, bearing in mind that the total death toll between the two world wars was sixty million, I wondered then and still wonder how many war orphans there were. Sixty million people is the equivalent of every man, woman and child in Britain being killed.
My grandfather, Joseph Phillips, was a Company Sergeant with the Connaught Rangers. After enlisting in the army at Renmore Barracks in 1899, he served in the Boer War and later in India. He got married in India in 1907 and had five children: Myra, Phyllis (my mother), Bernie, Leo and Alby. When the First World War began in 1914, he was already an experienced soldier. He saw action on several of the world war fronts before being tragically killed in action in France at the age of thirty-six in what became known as the German Spring Offensive. The Russians had withdrawn from the war in 1917 after their own revolution, leaving the Germans with a clear field on the Eastern Front. They then concentrated their full attention on the Western Front in an attempt to finish the war before the Americans arrived. The Germans launched a major offensive on 21 March, taking full advantage of a very heavy fog. Joseph Phillips was one of many casualties. He is buried in Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery, Villers-Faucon, Somme, France.
My visit to his grave was my first to a war cemetery. It made such an impression on me that I resolved to write a book about the Great War, which is remembered for the horrors of trench warfare that cost the lives of ten million soldiers. It decimated cities, destroyed countries and obliterated centuries-old empires. It was to be “the war to end all wars” yet just twenty years later the world was plunged into another even more devastating conflict. I became fascinated by the events which shaped Europe and the United States in the years that followed the First World War: the crucifying debt, the depressed state of countries and the enmity over territorial disputes. Following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of that war, British Economist John Maynard Keynes said, “I believe that the campaign for securing from Germany the general costs of the war was one of the most serious acts of political unwisdom for which our statesmen have ever been responsible.” This era facilitated the rise of Hitler and Stalin, two of the greatest mass-murderers this world has ever known. So decided to write a concise history of the two world wars and the interwar years. I called it ‘31 Years of Hell! 1914–1945’ to reflect the horrors of both world wars.
Eamonn Ashe with his critically-acclaimed book '31 Years of Hell! 1914–1945'
Once I had made the decision to write the book I realised that a huge amount of research was required so I read dozens of books and watched many documentaries about the wars. I also embarked on war tours to the Somme, Messines, Passchendaele, Gallipoli, Tyne Cot Cemetery and the Menin Gate (World War I) followed by the Normandy Beaches, Berlin, the site of the Dunkirk Evacuation (World War II) and the Imperial War Museum in London.
Once I commenced writing, I realised that I had to adopt a system. There were too many distractions during the daytime so I decided to write during the night and I quickly discovered that two hours writing at night was more productive than four hours during the day. This is a practice that has stayed with me.
Because there is so much detail involved in documenting the world wars, I decided to illustrate the book with maps which would show the vast territories involved and the power struggles therein. I also wrote timelines at the end of each chapter to give readers a snapshot of the key developments in a given year. To convey the emotion of this traumatic time in history, I have included powerful photographs which underscore the very human aspect to this global tragedy. I feel honoured that historian and author William Henry described the book as: "An excellent and riveting book” and that British security expert Philip Ingram MBE endorsed it as: “Brilliantly researched, clearly written, expertly edited. For a factually-based history book it reads as easily as a good novel.”
‘31 Years of Hell! 1914–1945’ tells the captivating story of the two world wars in a well-paced, easy-to-read narrative. It is a timely and moving account of power struggles, human suffering and the devastating toll of war. I have dedicated the book to my mother and it is one of my greatest pleasures to see it on bookshelves.
‘31 Years of Hell! 1914–1945’
The First World War decimated cities, destroyed countries, obliterated empires and cost millions of lives. 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 World War I led to crucifying debt, enmity over territorial disputes and the brewing of unimaginable horrors in the cauldron of the interwar decades. '31 Years of Hell!' chronicles in a concise 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.
Eamonn Ashe made his debut as an author with his world war book ‘31 Years of Hell! 1914–1945’ Originally from Galway, he studied engineering and ran his own companies for more than thirty years. He became gripped by the world wars, sparked by the loss of his grandfather in World War I. Joseph Phillips, a Company Sergeant Major in the Connaught Rangers, died on the fields of France on 21 March, 1918 during Germany’s Spring Offensive. Eamonn became so passionate about the world wars that he resolved to write a book about them when he retired. An avid reader, Eamonn Ashe has studied dozens of books about the wars and the interwar years. He has deepened his insight through documentaries and visits to war sites, including:
• Battlefields at the Somme, Messines and Passchendaele
• War museums in Ypres and Albert
• Sites of the Normandy landings
• Allied war cemeteries at Tyne Cot (Passchendaele) and Normandy
• Checkpoint Charlie
• Brandenburg Gate
• Soviet War Memorial (Tiergarten)
• Battle of Berlin sites
• Seelow Heights museum
• Wannsee Conference building
• Cape Helles, Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay in Gallipoli
• Atatürk monument
• Francis Ledwidge's grave
When Albert II, Prince of Monaco visited Eamonn’s home town of Drogheda in 2017 the author was delighted to present him with a copy of his book ‘31 Years of Hell! 1914–1945’. He also sent a copy to the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, who wrote to Eamonn expressing his interest in the book.