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Fr Browne’s forgotten war

The famed photographer of the Titanic and Irish man Fr Frank Browne SJ was the subject of a documentary broadcast on RTÉ Television on Wednesday 30 July. It coincided with the launch of the book Fr Browne’s War by Edward O’Donnell SJ, published by Messenger Publications.

‘Fr Browne’s Forgotten War’ featured the work of Fr Frank Browne as a chaplain serving young Irish soldiers in the trenches on the frontline in France and Flanders, during some of the bloodiest battles of the war. Through his photographs he bears witness to the reality of life and death on the Western Front for these young men. The documentary also charted life in the Trenches, explored the work of the chaplain and the backdrop of the Easter Rising and the changing political atmosphere at home.

Presenter / Producer Rosin Duffy says, “What is extraordinary about Fr Browne is that he is remembered for the photographs he took on the Titanic and forgotten when it comes to the role he played keeping young Irish recruits sane as they experienced the absolute horrors of war on the Front Line”.

The film was illustrated by Fr Browne’s photographs – most of which had not been seen by a wide audience. (More photos can be seen in Eddie O’ Donnell’s book). There were filmed reconstructions of life in the Trenches and original archive footage giving real insight into what these soldiers faced and the important role of the Chaplain. Military Historian Tom Burke who was interviewed for the programme said, ‘These chaplains were incredible men and they too were volunteers . To hold men’s hands when they were dying demanded an incredible constitution. You often wonder how in God’s name did they actually survive?”

Contributor Nick Robinson (husband of former President Mary Robinson ) commented that Fr Browne made a remarkable contribution ‘by bringing his camera with him to the most dreadful parts of the Western Front, recording for posterity the bravery , the futility of war , the awfulness of it all. In so doing he brought alive again the faded images of the Irish who had served with such bravery in the Great War’.

Eddie O’Donnell SJ provided the spinal interview for the hour-long programme, which gave a fresh and fascinating insight into Fr Browne and his life as chaplain to the Irish soldiers who fought in WW1. The documentary was widely praised, and the Irish ambassador in a London requested that it be shown again in the embassy. The cameraman was Michael Lee, who has had a long-time interest in the First World War. It is expected that the programme will be repeated again in the autumn. Eddie Donnell’s book is available in all good bookstores or online from www.messenger.ie.