This morning was the beginning of our real work on the Irish Names List. Rather quickly Frank, Shane, and I had to come to terms with the fact that we would have to deal with one name at a time, and from such a giant roll of honour this would be no mean feat. At the moment, this is pretty much all that it is: a long list of names, and other than those Donna has already addressed our job is to find out as much as we can of these men’s lives and tell their story. Often we are looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack. When the list has an Irishman’s name like Patrick Murphy the census is of very little use. Sadly this is all too often the only detail of the fallen soldier’s life recorded in the Irish Memorial Record and what we have to do is identify which one of the 3,321 Patrick Murphy’s mentioned on the 1911 census that lad is in particular. Would the real Pat Murphy please stand up?! A look over the British Commonwealth War Graves list may or may not shed a little more light, but there are other sources. Each of us has been praying for a more unique name.
It was just my luck to come across such a unique name in the three thousand names placed on my desk: Second Lieutenant Martin Jestin of the seventh battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Martin was noted as killed in action at Ypres on 7 June 1917, and that means that he was one of the fallen of the Battle of Messines. There was no such Martin Jestin on the 1911 census of Ireland, but there was a single mention of this name in that of 1901. Bingo! Martin, in 1901, was the ten year old son of William and Susan Jestin of 5 Sentryhill, Borris-in-Ossory, County Laois (or “Queen’s County” as it was then). His brother John, also listed on the 1901 census, was killed the year before on 8 October 1916 (the Battle of the Ancre Heights). John had earlier relocated to Canada and so fought with the Canadian Contingent. What was great to discover was that the present Anglican clergyman of Martin and John’s parish in Borris-in-Ossory had published an online article of the family’s remembrance of Martin, and I wonder now if they even know of his brother John. All of a sudden this one name had become a real person to me, and it was deeply emotional to put something of his life down on the record. In the days ahead I am hoping that his family will send on a picture of him so that I can include it on his file on the names list.