Tom Joyce obituary

Oct 20th, 2017 | By | Category: Joyce Biographies, Joyce Obituaries

Tom Joyce in Alexandria, north Africa, in 1942 during the second world war
 Tom Joyce in Alexandria, north Africa, in 1942 during the second world war

My father, Tom Joyce, who has died aged 99, grew up in the west of Ireland, and his earliest memories were of the Black and Tans during the Irish war of independence in 1921. He recalled how nobody would look at or acknowledge the motorised columns of their Crossley Tenders as they raised clouds of dust on the dirt roads around the village where his family lived – Hollymount in County Mayo.

Tom was born near Hollymount to Tom and Ellen, tenant farmers. He was educated at the local Roundfort national school, before becoming a grocer’s apprentice in Castlebar. Like most of his generation, he left Ireland in the 1930s, and when the second world war broke out he joined the Royal Engineers as a sapper, going on to build defences in the Vosges mountains of France.

He often recalled the moment in 1940 when the order for withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force came through. Against army orders he gave this information to the Jewish refugees he was labouring with, and they immediately dropped their tools and ran. After returning from France, he resolved to inform the Irish embassy about what he had learnt about conditions in Germany. An Irish diplomat’s wife berated him for being in a British uniform because, she said: “After all, ’tis only the Jews Hitler is after.”

Tom spent the rest of the war in the Eighth Army fighting across Africa and Italy. Later he would complain loudly about the lack of historical accuracy in war films (apparently German Panzers could be heard coming from miles away and could never make a surprise attack). He thought Anthony Minghella’s film The English Patient was very true to his own experiences as an ordinary soldier experiencing extraordinary events. He preferred to talk about the highlights, which included hitchhiking across the desert to Damascus, and drinking and fraternising with the Italian prisoners of war, who would slip away nightly to their homes as the front moved up through Italy.

After attending the VE Day celebrations on the Mall, he was demobbed and began working as a navvy, pouring concrete and building new roads in England through the 1950s. On returning to Ireland in 1958, he met Kitty Ryan, who had a knitwear business in Dublin. She agreed to marry him and live on a farm, but only if it was within 20 miles of the city, so he bought a hill farm in Saggart, County Dublin, with his savings. There he farmed sheep and cattle, bred champion Irish draught horses and raised a family. Eventually he passed the farm to his eldest son, Bryan, but kept working until he was 97.

Kitty died in 2014. Tom is survived by his children, Mary, Bryan, Helen, Stephen, Sarah and me, and 15 grandchildren.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Skip to toolbar