Monday, September 1, 2008

Ireland should honour its WW2 heroes

Paddy Finucane returning from another successful mission over Europe, note the Shamrock next to the cockpit

How many people know that one of the greatest allied fighter pilots of World War Two was in fact a young lad from Rathmines. Paddy Finucane was born in Dublin in 1920. After emigrating to England in search of work at the age of 17 he joined the RAF and quickly rose by 1941 to be the youngest wing commander in RAF history. He fought over the skies of southern England during the battle of Britain. He excelled to such a degree that in April 1941 he was promoted to command his own squadron. He had not yet celebrated his 21st birthday.

As squadron commander he continued to stand out most notably in dog fights. Throughout the latter half of 1941 he was probably the most worshiped pilot in the RAF. Kids sold Finucane shamrocks on the streets of London and numerous newspapers featured the Dublin man. In June 1942 he was again promoted, this time to wing commander of Hornchurch wing. Nobody before or since has reached such a rank at such an age. However is good fortune in the skies was not indefinite. On the 15th of July 1942, Hornchurch wing was taking part in a raid at Etaples on the Northern French coast. They flew in at low level in an attack on a German naval base. He successfully attacked his target but on retreat his plane was hit by a freak shot from a German soldiers machine gun. As he header home over the channel he radioed his colleagues to say that his radiator had been hit and the plane would not make it home. Since he was flying so low he was unable to bail out. He attempted a landing on water. Although he succeeded, he was unable to exit his spitfire before it sank. Brendan Eamon Paddy Fitzpatrick Finucane drowned that day. He was 21 years old. By the time of his death he had confirmed 32 enemy planes shot down.

Paddy Finucane should be an Irish national hero. I obviously understand the sensitivities involved with the Irish who served in the British armed forces. But in the post troubles environment that we live in where Rugby is played in croke park and north south relations have never been better surely a sound acknowledgement of the Irish who fought and died in the world wars is only timely. If nothing else it should simply be about remembering the many dead. Less than 300 Irishmen died fighting in the 1916 rising. Over 50,000 died in the world wars. Surely these men deserve a more sincere and genuine acknowledgement of their sacrifice from the state and the public.

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