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Grounded in Eire: The Amazing Story of Two Pows in Ireland During World War Ii

by Ralph Keefer

Judging from what I saw in a recent visit, the Irish seem to have erased their country’s neutral stance in the Second World War from their memories. Everyone from President de Valera down to the humblest sheepshearer in County Mayo wanted an Allied victory – or so they say now. The Irish were certainly neutral during the war – they interned Germans who strayed into their airspace and crashed too – but there was a bloody-minded, anti-British quality to their neutrality. That’s why Grounded in Eire, a book about the internment of Allied fliers in Ireland, is so important.
Bobby Keefer and Jack Calder were RCAF crewmates who, flying a Wellington bomber with the Royal Air Force on a raid against Frankfurt in October 1941, got lost and crashlanded in the Irish Republic. Interned in a camp with other Allied airmen, they lived a bizarre life: so long as they gave their word not to esacape, they could leave the camp, go on dates, visit pubs, and golf. Some POWs even married Irish women and one at least was allowed to live outside of the camp. But if they escaped and were recaptured, the internees received rough handling.
Keefer and Calder desperately wanted to leave their half-life as POWs and return to the fight. Grounded in Eire, written by Keefer’s son Ralph, features plenty of deftly reconstructed conversation and contemporary Irish, British, and Canadian documentation to tell the story of the prisoners’ eventual success. Keefer escaped cleanly in August 1942, and, helped by landed pro-British Protestant gentry, made his way to Ulster; Calder failed on this try but eventually persuaded the Irish (and with more difficulty unpersuaded the RAF) that he was mad and secured his release.
Grounded in Eire is amusing and informative, filled with enough detail and insight to make its story come to life. It also serves as a useful reminder of the attitudes of Canadians of the war generation – and of the Irish public’s ability to rewrite this part of their history.