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Phil Farrington: Last 'Irish pardon' WW2 soldier dies at 94

Phil Farrington Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption Phil Farrington was involved in the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp, but had been jailed as a deserter when he returned home to Ireland on leave in WW2

The last known surviving Irish soldier to have been pardoned for leaving the Irish Defence Forces to fight for the Allies in World War Two has died.

Phil Farrington was involved in the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp, but had been jailed as a deserter when he returned to Ireland on leave.

He was among a group of servicemen who received an Irish government pardon in 2013, following a two-year campaign.

Mr Farrington died in a Dublin hospital on Saturday morning at the age of 94.

'AWOL'

Having gained independence from Britain less than a generation earlier in 1922, the Republic of Ireland remained neutral during WW2.

At the time, the Irish government referred to the global conflict as "the emergency".

Mr Farrington was among a number of Irish soldiers who went absent without leave (AWOL) from the Irish Defence Forces and joined the British Army to fight against the Nazis.

However, instead of being treated as war heroes, many were treated as criminals when they returned to their native land.

In 1945, the then Irish prime minister Éamon de Valera passed an emergency powers order, outlining the punishments for "desertion in time of national emergency".

Many servicemen were dismissed from the Irish Defence Forces, lost their pensions and were barred from holding jobs paid for by the state.

Harsh treatment

Peter Mulvany, who led the Irish Soldiers Pardons Campaign from 2011 to 2013, said that when Mr Farrington first joined the British Army, he became a member of the Royal Sussex regiment.

When he returned to Ireland on Army leave during WW2, he was arrested and put into a prison in Cork.

"On his return to the Irish Defence Forces, he went absent again and joined the Royal Pioneer Corps," Mr Mulvany told the BBC.

"And it was with the Pioneer Corps in Germany he was involved in Belsen's liberation."

Mr Farrington spoke about the harsh treatment he received as a detainee in Cork in the book Spitting on a Soldier's Grave, written by Liverpool author and veteran, Robert Widders.

The Irishman recalled how the inmates were never allowed to speak to each other and were given very little food.

*We were in jail through the winter," he said.

"It was freezing cold without any bedding or heating. And once a week we'd all be hosed down with cold water. Sometimes we had to stand to attention for hours in the freezing cold."

Redress

Mr Farrington's story was also included in a BBC Radio 4 documentary called The Disowned Army.

Mr Mulvany started the campaign after Queen Elizabeth's visit to the Republic of Ireland four years ago, the first state visit by a British monarch since the partition of Ireland.

"The cordial response from the Irish public to the Queen's visit to Ireland in May 2011 suggested that there would be a chance of success to seek redress from the Irish government for these blacklisted soldiers and their families," Mr Mulvany said.

In 2012, the Irish government apologised for the way Irish WW2 veterans were treated by the state.

Amnesty

In May 2013, the Irish parliament passed legislation granting a pardon to the almost 5,000 soldiers who left the armed forces to serve with the Allies during WW2.

The bill also granted an amnesty and immunity from prosecution to the servicemen.

The campaigner said he had learned of Mr Farrington's death "with regret".

The pensioner had been in the care of staff at a veterans' hospital in Foxrock, County Dublin.

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