Finding Private Brennan - his remarkable story

A simple call for information on a Private Anthony Brennan in the pages of this newspaper has uncovered a fascinating story of a Kilkenny man who fought in The Great War, returned home, emigrated to England and went on to forge a successful career in the British Civil Service.

A simple call for information on a Private Anthony Brennan in the pages of this newspaper has uncovered a fascinating story of a Kilkenny man who fought in The Great War, returned home, emigrated to England and went on to forge a successful career in the British Civil Service.

Private Anthony Brennan’s memoirs appeared in the Imperial War museum - yet little or nothing was known of his war record or his early life in Kilkenny. Indeed his final resting place made no mention of his service during the Great War.

His story really came to light when his descendants from Australia - his son Doctor John Brennan - made contact with this newspaper after the call for information was made. Private Brennan’s records appeared in the Imperial War Museum, but little else was known of this brave soldier from Kilkenny.

But now thanks to the outstanding work of local archivist John Kirwan, more can be revealled about this son of Kilkenny. His mother had a newsagents shop on High Street while his father was owner of a butchers shop, thought to be in Irishtown. Anthony was known as Tony to his sisters ands cousins. Anthony’s address on his war records is High Street, and the newsagents was near the present AIB building and his family was known to take in lodgers at the time.

After the war he returned to Kilkenny and worked in the local Labour Exchange. He was involved in one of the rehabilitation programmes for veterans, and our picture on the left shows Anthony at Talbots Inch during that period. During this time his life-long hobby of rug making began. Partly because of the chaos of the Civil War, and his dislidain for the terror of the Black And Tans, Anthony emigrated to realise the greater economic opportunities in London.

He initially worked in Somerset House, before joining the Ministery of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1923. Two years later, his first noted address came to light, living with his sister Jospehine Brennan in Wlndsworth, London. In 1926, Anthony married Edna Florence White and they had two sons. Dr John Dermod Brennan , one of Anthony’s sons, is presently living and practising medicine in Queensland, Australia.

The family home was in Wandsworth, and in 1937 Anthony and Edna divorced. Ten years later he remarried, Ivy Phyllis Prole and they lived in Battersea, London.

Anthony and Ivy had two daughters, and they travelled to France and Beligum for family holidays,visiting old war graves of Anthony’s fallen comrades. He was not reluctant to talkk about his experiences in the trenches.

In 1963 he retired from the Ministry of Agriculture as a Higher Executive Officer and was a regular attendant at Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Cenotaph in London. He died in 1967 at Croydon General Hospital aged 69 - his widow Ivy was 47. He was cremated at Croydon Cemetery, and his ashes scattered in the garden there, with no mention, nor indication of his Great War service at the funeral.

Anthony is remembered as a very compassionate man, perhaps because of his early life experiences.  He was a good listener to those with a worry, and had a keen wit. He was an avid reader and took an interest in many things, to include music, politics and history, and always enjoyed a good discussion. He also enjoyed rug-making, cycling and walking in the country, although the latter was sometimes impeded by his war injury. He was a good swimmer and often reflected fondly on swimming in Ireland as a youth.

He was liberal, courteous and tolerant, encouraging his children to be respectful of minorities and people of different ethnicity and religion.  He was highly respected in his work in the Civil Service, for after his death, among his effects were 30 individual handwritten notes from colleagues thanking him for his outstanding support to them in a time of upheaval and change.  

His widow, Ivy, passed his memoir to the Imperial War Museum in 1994.

Ivy P. Brennan remained at Thornton Heath, Surrey, until she died in February 2008, age 87.