LCpl Joseph Bohan-O'Shea

Co. Waterford

In Flanders Fields

LCpl Joseph Bohan O'Shea

Lance Corporal Joseph Bohan O'Shea from county Waterford.

Early Life

Joseph Bohan O Shea was born on the 15th of November 1885. He had a twin brother named Michael.

Joseph and Michael were the eldest and had 3 brothers and 4 sisters. 

Their parents were Joseph Bohan and Ellen O Shea.

They were strict Catholics and lived in 42 Francis Street, Waterford City. The house is still standing today.

Joseph worked building bridges and train tracks throughout the south east.  He was employed with Sir William Arrol and Co, which were a scottish company that built railways, bridges and boilers throughout the late 1800's/early 1900's. It was while building the Timber Toes bridge in Waterford ( now the Rice bridge ) that he met his wife Mary Josephine Gibbons, who was down in Kilkenny as a manageress of a new shirt making factory.

The Timber Toes bridge in the early 1900's.

The Rice bridge in Waterford city today.

She was from Derry and her family were Protestant, when she married Joseph her family removed all contact from her and she never heard from them again.

Joseph continued to build bridges in England. He worked on the Firth Bridge in Glasgow and the Blackfriars Bridge in London.

Firth Bridge, Glasgow at the time.

Blackfriars Bridge, London at the time.

It was while working on this bridge in London that he was awarded a medal of Bravery when a co-worker fell from the bridge Joseph dived from the bridge and into the Thames. He had successfully rescued the man.

Family Life

Joseph and Mary Josephine had four children together, Joseph Bohan, John, Mai and Michael. They lived in Holborn, England. They raised their children as Catholics.

The 'Bohan' origin

 In 1798 an ancestor of the O' Sheas was hung from the New Ross Bridge for taking part in an uprising that had occurred earlier that year. The family were staunch nationalists and it was important to them to keep the name.

Military life 

Joseph enlisted in Walthamstow, Essex. 

He became part of the Royal Engineers, because of his background in bridge building, etc.

He was in the 64th battalion.

His service number was 59553

He had fought in the Battles of Loos and Mons.

'' and in fact, had never been out of danger. ''

Joseph had a great singing voice and it is believed that he sang 'Silent Night' to the Germans during the famous Christmas truce of 1914/1915.

Joseph Bohan returned home to see his family one last time shortly before the Battle of the Somme, which took his life. He was able to return home due to the special request from his major, R. Hearn.

Joseph's Diary.

Joseph kept a diary throughout his time at war, it has survived and remains with family members today. In the diary Joseph writes about his experience of the trenches and how he misses his family. 

By clicking read more you can see the scans of Joseph's Diary.

Death and Burial

Joseph Bohan was killed on the 19th of July 1916. This was 19 days after the Battle of the Somme had begun. 

He was 30 years old.

He was made Lance Corporal in May 1916, a month before his death.

Joseph was killed while carrying a wounded officer from a trench that was under shellfire.

He is buried in the Quarry Cemetery, Montauban in the Somme. 

He recieved a victory medal, a British war medal and a death penny for his involvement in the war.

The following is a letter written by Mary Josephine to the editor of the '' Waterford News'' informing him of her husbands death in battle. The letter was written from Walthamstow in London, where the family were living. Some words are unclear due to the age of the paper.

10 Cornwallis Road,
August 17th 1916

To the editor ''Waterford News''
Dear Sir, 

Would you kindly make mention in your paper, this week if possible, of the death of one of your fellow citizens, my husband, Joseph Bohan O Shea, late relieving officer, of 42 Grattan Terrace, Waterford. 

 Deceased was a pupil of Mount Sion Schools, and was only 30 years of age. He leaves myself and four little children to mourn his loss, as he was one of the kindest and best husbands and fathers. But the burden is light when I know he died such a noble death- in fact a hero's a death. He was killed as he was carrying an officer off the field under heavy fire, and I am sure his death is an honour to the City of Waterford and that he will be deeply regretted by his very numerous friends and companions. He was employed with Sir William Arrol and co., Bridge Erectors, from the age of 17 years, when he started on the Barrow and then the Suir bridges, and had been on the Blackfriars Bridge, London where he had been awarded a medal for a life- saving in 1909. He joined the Royal Engineers an April 191? (4) and had been through the Battle of Loos and Mons, and in fact had never been out of danger. He was made Lance Corporal in May 1916. He was killed on the 19th of July.

 I am sending you some of his companions' letters and also one of his major's letters to our priest here. I am also enclosing his photo and would you kindly let me have letters and photo back at your earliest convenience. 

 Trusting, dear Editor, it's not imposing too much and thanks in anticipation,

 I remain, yours sincerely, 

 Mary J. O'Shea

This letter, also printed was from Joseph's major to his priest in Waterford. 

August 17th 1916
Dear Father,

I was not present when Corporal O'Shea was killed, but it occurred as he was helping to carry one of our officers, who had been wounded in a trench which the enemy was shelling a the time. It was a brave action, because it was done under fire.

Corporal O'Shea had been in the company under my command for nearly two years. He was a quiet man and a good workman, one of many who had sacrificed themselves for the honour of their country. It is owing to the quiet sacrifice of men such as he that we have raised an army which even the Germans now respect, and which contains many individuals such as him, whose quiet heroism has exited the admiration of the nation and their comrades will not be forgetful.

I am glad to think that I was able to let Lnc Corporal O'Shea get home to see his wife and family before the action in which he fell. If I remember right, I was able to help him in this matter on his request.

With sincere gratitude for the prayers you are making for our safety, and I assure you we need them.

Yours very sincerely,


The following letter which was also printed in the paper alongside the two letters above, is from a comrade of Joseph's to Mary Josephine.

August 5th 1916

Dear Mrs O'Shea,

It is with feelings of sorrow and deepest sympathy that I now write these few lines to you. I know one of our chaps has written but I feel I must express my sympathy towards you for the loss of your dear husband. We are all sorry to lose him as he was such a good genuine (Pal) ??? and one of the best men I have ever worked with. I went on my first route March in Bordan with him and I was in the same section until about three months ago. We have shared blankets and parcels from time to time and I can assure you, although I am a single chap, I used to admire Joe for the love he had for his wife and children and few men thought more of home than he did. I went for a (wash/watch) ??? to an old post with him the same morning as he passed away that night, but he was doing his duty when he died as he was helping one of our officers that was badly wounded.

We read it is God's word that '' No greater love hath no man who lays down his life for his friend.''

My address is sir R.Bairnes, 34th F.T. McCoy. ???. I have his diary that one of our chaps gave to me as it would have been destroyed. So, I will send it along as soon as I have the opportunity. I left a photo he gave me ?? home when I went on leave in May, and if I live through I shall treasure it more carefully and I know someday I shall meet him in a better world. I pray that God may support and sustain you and yours in your hour of sorrow and trial. But Joe was loved by all who knew him and we are all very sorry to lose him, yet we do not know who the next might be, so may God bless you and sustain you. I do not forget you all in my prayers to the One above. With deepest sympathy, I remain your sincere friend.

R. Bairnes.

After Joseph's death

After his death Mary Josephine and her four children moved back to Waterford, in the hope that Joseph's family would help Mary Josephine to raise her children.

However Josephs family were not welcoming to the family as they did not agree to him joining the war and referred to him as of taking the 'Saxon Shilling' .

Mary Josephine was left to raise her children on her own.

 Joseph and his twin brother Michael had a poor relationship, when Joseph wrote a letter to Michael from the trenches, Michael corrected the grammar in red ink and sent the letters back.

The British government offered Mary Josephine either a widows pension or to be educated as a midwife. She chose to be trained as a midwife and went on to become a well known and respected figure in county Waterford.

Meanwhile Joseph's twin Michael was imprisoned as he was part of the Irish Volunteer Force and had been on the run for many years. At the time for prisoners imprisoned for treason, it was the responsibility of the family to clothe and feed the prisoners. Mary Josephine was the person that looked after Michael and visited him in jail, even after the way he treated her husband, his own twin brother. 

After the War of Independence Michael emigrated to America.

In the early 1950's, Mary Josephine went back to Derry with her son Michael to visit her family but they closed the door in her face.

Mary Josephine is buried in Tramore, county Waterford.

Joseph's Family today

  • Joseph Bohan (son) ;  He went on to marry a Polish woman, they had 3 children and emigrated to Chicago. The family is still living in Chicago today.
  • John ;  Married Lily Power and they had 5 children together, they live in county Waterford today.
  • Mai ;  She became a midwife like her mother and never married. She is buried in Tramore beside her mother.
  • Michael ;  His nickname was 'Sonny'. He married Celia Foley and they also had 5 children together. Michael was the only child to visit the grave of his father.


Sue Healy, great granddaughter of Joseph Bohan O'Shea, wrote a fictional radio play called 'Cake'. It is inspired by the relationship between Joseph Bohan and his twin brother Michael. It is set in Waterford in 1915-1920 and is fiction. It has been a great success and has been played on local radiostations.

To listen to 'Cake' follow the link ;

Thank you for reading.
Please feel free to contact me ; 

about me

I am a leaving cert student and head girl of Scoil Mhuire, Carrick- on -Suir, county Tipperary. 

I was born in New York City, USA and I am Irish- American. I moved to Ireland when I was 3 years old and my parents are both Irish. 

I live in a small village in county Waterford called Clonea- Power with my parents, 2 sisters and my brother.

 I love history in school and it is one of my favourite subjects along with German and Irish. In the future i hope to study history. 

 I am an active member of my community and am involved in the Carrick - on - Suir Musical Society and the Carrick Dippers swim club. 

 My great great grandfather on my fathers side, Maurice Hurley fought in World War 1. He was a private in the British army and I know that he fought in the Battle of Jerusalem in Israel. My great great great grandfather James Curran was also a soldier in the British Army in the late 1800's. He was in the army for a total of 21 years and in that time he travelled the world serving in countries such as Japan, China, Malaysia, Singapore and India. When he was in Malta he fell in love with my great great great grandmother who was Maltese, they married and continued to travel with the army, eventually settling and raising a family in county Waterford.

My history teacher, Ms. Doherty told me about the Adopt A Soldier competition. A few girls in my class entered the competition and my teacher was more then delighted that I became Waterford's representative for the project. 

She has been an incredible help to me along with my classmates and school throughout the past year. 

Finding My research

I found the family of Joseph Bohan O'Shea on the 1901 census. I then went to Waterford City library and they helped to find more information, showing me the right websites to use etc. The library got in touch with a local historian who found a blog written by a great-granddaughter of Joseph Bohan O'Shea named Sue Healy. In it she wrote about his death and included the letters written to Mary Josephine O'Shea after the death of her husband.

The next step was to make contact with her, fortunately she left an email address on her blog, and it wasn't long before she received a long e-mail from me explaining the Adopt a Soldier project and about how I was researching her great- grandfather. Luckily for me she was very interested in the project and knew a lot about her great grandfathers experience in the war. 

However Sue Healy lives in England, so she gave me the contact information of her family. Her mother Paula and her uncle Martin who were both grandchildren to Joseph Bohan O'Shea. They were so very helpful giving me the rest of the information needed to complete my research.

It was then a matter of putting all the research together, I prepared a slide show which went through the story of Joseph Bohan and his family. In March all other county representatives got together to discuss each others soldiers, meet the trip co- ordinators and talk about the project. At the meeting I didn't have to show my slide show presentation but Ms. Doherty had me well prepared and I practised the presentation in front of different history and english classes throughout the school. 

At the meeting which was held in Collins Barracks in Dublin, I got to meet the co- ordinators of the trip and all the other county representatives who would be going to the Somme with me the following June. I heard the stories of other soldiers and of the hardship each went through during the war. 

As the first meeting had been so successful, the head of the National History Teachers Association, Niamh Crowley who is from Waterford decided to hold a night for the South East representatives to get together and present to the public about our soldiers and what we had learned. The night was held in the Waterford Treasures Museum and was a great night. The relatives of my soldier Joseph Bohan also attended the meeting along with my history teacher and my family. It was an honour to speak about Joseph Bohan and to tell the people of Waterford and the South East about his story.

My parents and I, alongside Emily and her father on the night.

The Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny representatives and I (Emily, Kieran and BÊibhinn).

Finally, I would like to thank everybody who has been of help to me this past year in preparing for this trip. I would like to thank the trip co- ordinators Gerry Moore and Michael Collins along with Aidan Rafferty who designed the web page and Niamh Crowley of the History Teachers Association. I would also like to thank my mam and dad who helped me throughout the project spell checking and helping me to compose emails etc. My history teacher Susan Doherty who is the reason I entered the competition along with the other history teachers Mr. O'Mahony and Ms. Jones and my school principal Ms. O' Keefe. I owe a lot too me friends and my peers who gave me help and support through out the year. I would like to thank everyone who is involved in the co-ordination and sponsorship of the trip along with local radio stations, newspapers and RTE, who made people aware of the trip and helped us to honour the legacy of our sodliers.

Thank you for reading.
Feel Free to contact me ;