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FIRING BLANKS; UPRISING: PO GUARDS HAD GUNS BUT NO AMMO Guards told 'shoot to kill' Bulletless workers fixed bayonets to fend off rebels.

ARMED guards failed to stop rebels capturing the GPO during the Easter Rising - because bumbling officials had not given them any bullets.

A new book issued by An Post has claimed the security guards in the GPO on Easter Monday in 1916 had no ammunition in their rifles.

GPO Staff In 1916 is written by Steven Ferguson - and it looks at the Rising from the point of view of the workers in the post office.

He claims one of the most important events in Irish history could have had a completely different outcome. GPO guards were under orders from Post Office chief A.H. Norway to shoot and kill anyone who tried to get into the telegraph room.

Ferguson said: "Norway had seen the vulnerability of the GPO telegraph network to destruction or sabotage by a German agent or sympathiser.

"He had consequently applied for and been given an armed guard for the telegraph system.

"Unfortunately for reasons unknown to him the Instrument Room guard was subsequently deprived of ammunition and left to stand with empty rifles."

He added: "Clearly, the outcome of Easter Monday's occupation of the GPO might have been different if the Instrument Room guard had had ammunition in their guns."

The telegraph system was the only form of instant communication available in 1916 - and it was needed by the British army chiefs to keep control of Ireland.

Ferguson claimed the guards were given orders to shoot any unauthorised person who tried to get into the telegraph room.

He said: "They were instructed to keep their magazines full and to shoot to stop any unidentified person who approached the Instrument Room."

The book claimed the security guards tried to hold off the rebel forces - even without any bullets in their guns.

He said: "Though lacking ammunition for their guns, they fixed bayonets and stood on either side of the northern entrance to withstand the attack.

"The soldiers were helpless and the blame lies with those, probably civilians, who disarmed them."

Ferguson claimed the staff in the Post Office Headquarters showed great bravery under dangerous conditions.

More than 40 workers in the central telephone exchange continued to work throughout the six days of fighting.

He said: "They stuck to their posts even when bullets entered the switchroom itself.

"Mattresses were secured for sleeping and hazardous forays made by the men to find food."

Ferguson claimed staff showed great courage keeping the postal service running despite the violence on the streets.

A temporary Sorting Office was set up in the Rotunda buildings in Parnell Street the day after rebels took over the GPO.

Ferguson said: "Just three days after the end of hostilities, the whole postal service had been reorganised and two daily deliveries reinstated in Dublin."

But despite their sacrifices postal boss Norway was reluctant to give his staff a bonus for their extra work. Norway said: "The spirit in which great difficulties were met and overcome was one of conspicuous loyalty and devotion.

"My staff as a whole did their work out of self-respect - but I think a little extra leave would be much appreciated."

Ferguson claimed the staff in the GPO deserve to be remembered for their role in the Easter Rising.

He said: "The GPO as a building holds a special place in Irish history but the men and women of the Post Office - ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events - deserve to be remembered too."

The Irish Government are planning to hold a parade this year to commemorate the Easter Rising.

The parade will travel from Dublin Castle to O'Connell Street where the 1916 Proclamation will be read outside the GPO.

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More than 40 postal workers continued to work throughout the six days of fighting which detroyed the GPO
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 12, 2006
Words:627
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