Is Dubliner Charlie Brennan the man in a famous war photograph?
A famous still from a 1916 WWI documentary has long been thought to feature an English soldier, but sources are now saying it is actually Charlie Brennan, a native of Dublin.
Members of the Imperial War Museum in London have now confirmed that descendants of Charlie Brennan are among the top contenders for those claiming a relation to the soldier featured in the 1916 film.
The still, taken from the 1916 documentary "The Battle of The Somme" filmed by Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell, shows a beleaguered British soldier carrying another injured soldier on his back through the trenches. The documentary, as well as the still, played an important role in shaping Britain’s view of WWI.
The documentary features both real and staged events from 1916’s Battle of the Somme. The still, which is thought to be staged and captured on the first day of the historic battle, became iconic.
The official record for the still says, “This image, and the film sequence from which it is derived, has been widely published to evoke the experience of trench warfare, the heroism and suffering of the ordinary soldier, and the huge casualties sustained by the British Army during the initial assault on German lines.”
It adds, “In spite of considerable research, the identity of the rescuer remains unconfirmed.”
The Imperial War Museum in London says some 100 claims of relation to the man in the photo have come forth over the years.
The Brennan family in Dublin, however, have presented a strong case that it is indeed Charlie Brennan, writes Frank McNally for the Irish Times.
The belief that it is “Uncle Charlie” in the famed still is corroborated by memories of Charlie Brennan returning to Dublin after his time fighting alongside the British with a Distinguished Conduct Medal, as well as a spiked German helmet which he brought home and was used to “collect eggs” back on the family homestead in North Dublin.
The Distinguished Conduct Medal disappeared some time ago after being loaned to a colleague, but the belief that it is Charlie Brennan in the photo has not.
75-year-old John Brennan, a grandnephew of Charlie Brennan, recalls his mother’s uncle as a man who “drank for Ireland” and would sing “16 verses” of a song at every family function.
Following his service in the war, Charlie Brennan returned to Ireland. There, he played Gaelic football with Erin’s Isle.
Pictures and footage from his time playing GAA football have been cross-referenced with the film still to help confirm his identity. While the cross-referencing did not definitively prove it was Charlie Brennan, it also did not present any anomaly to prove it wasn’t him.
It was only recently that military records were discovered effectively putting Charlie Brennan at the exact time and location for the filming of The Battle of The Somme documentary.
Records show a Charles Brennan, Soldier 48408, from “Finglay (sic) Dublin” had served with the Royal Garrison Artillery, which was present at Beaumont Hamel, the film location, on the date in question.
John Brennan speculates that there may be some British reluctance to confirm that the man in the photograph is actually an Irishman. Brothers of Charles Brennan were active in the IRA in 1920s Ireland, which wouldn’t bode well for the British narrative and propaganda nature of the documentary.
Even further, a “C. Brennan” was featured in a 1918 court-martial record for facing charges of being absent without leave and “violence to superiors.” He was convicted and sentenced to nine months in prison, but only served three.
Having once been promoted to corporal, Charles Brennan was ultimately demoted and discharged as a gunner.
Do you think it's Charlie Brennan in the famed still? Let us know in the comments!