Documentary on One: Did Michael Keogh Save Hitler?

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This week’s Documentary on One features the story of Michael Keogh; a WWI and WWII war veteran who served in the same regiment as Adolf Hitler and has claimed that he once saved the future Fuehrer’s life.

Born in Tullow, Co. Carlow in 1891, Michael Keogh succeeded in fighting for both sides during World War One and, what is even more extraordinary; the opposing armies honoured this soldier for his gallantry and bravery. He was awarded the Mons Star, by the British Army for his actions in Belgium in 1914 and by the time the war was over he was the recipient of both the Hindenburg Cross and the Siegfried Dagger of Honour from the German Army.

Keogh lived a colorful life. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was forced to flee Germany and return with his family to Ireland. He fell foul of the newly emerged Nazi Party. He was targeted for assassination in the purge known as ‘The Night of the Long Knives’; this antagonism towards a man who served in the same regiment as Adolf Hitler, and who encountered the ‘little corporal’ on a number of separate occasions.

On one of these, in 1919, Keogh claims to have even saved the future Fuehrer’s life.

The Carlow adventurer spent forty years working on his memoirs. In 1964, while under medical care at the James Connolly Memorial Hospital, Blanchardstown, his precious manuscript went missing from beneath his pillow. According to his family, he became so distressed that he died, two days later. For the next forty-five years the absent papers remained a mystery until an Internet search, using some of Michael Keogh’s various aliases, revealed that they were in the safekeeping of the UCD library. They give a fascinating insight into a forgotten, or ignored, episode in Irish history.

Michael Keogh writes that he emigrated to America in 1907. He became a member of the New York branch of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood. Here he met Roger Casement and John Devoy and it is here that the seeds of militant nationalism were firmly sown. In the autumn of 1914, Michael Keogh returned to Ireland, where he enlisted in the British Army. As he writes “in the same spirit and the same aim that had inspired earlier soldier-Fenians.” His surviving sons understand that his motivation was to defect with his weapon whenever the ‘Rising’ was called, and to join the insurgency against the British, on home soil. With this in mind, he joined the 18th Foot of the Royal Irish Regiment. But, as was the case for most of his life, Keogh was unable to contain his political leanings. He was court-martialed for ‘sedition’ and shortly afterwards, was sent to the front. Here his unit was overrun and he was captured during the battle of Mons.

As a German prisoner of war, he again met Roger Casement. This time Casement was recruiting from amongst the Irish POWs for men to form an Irish Brigade within the German Army. The plan was to train and dispatch them, along with a shipment of arms, to Ireland. History acquaints us with the outcome of that enterprise. Casement was captured and neither the arms nor the members of the Irish Brigade ever landed on Irish soil.

Michael Keogh rejoined the fighting in Europe. In mid-May of 1919, while on guard duty at Turkenstrasse Barracks in Munich, he was summoned to quell a disturbance in the gymnasium. Here, he saw two political speakers pulled from their podium and set upon by the gathered soldiers. They were being beaten, kicked and had already received a number of bayonet thrusts. Keogh fired over the heads of the mob and placed himself between it and the victims. He arrested the agitators for their own safety and it was while taking them to hospital he recognized “the fellow with the moustache”, it was none other than Adolf Hitler, “the Lance Corporal of Ligny.”

Would the face of modern European history have altered if Michael Keogh acted differently on that night in Munich? On his return to Ireland, Michael and his family were shunned by the new Irish State. They were tainted by the outcome of WWII. There would be no pension and no medal from the Irish government. He was unable to publish his journals and it was only last year following their discovery in the UCD archives that the family have, finally, been able to fulfill Michael Keogh’s dying wish and bring his wartime memoirs to public attention.

Do not miss this riviting documentary on RTÉ Radio 1.