Irish journalist Jack Smyth, who was held captive in a Nazi concentration camp for eight months, and his wife Eileen were tragically killed when their car plunged into the River Liffey on a cold December night in 1956.
Born in Galway, Jack began his career at The Connacht Tribune before leaving for London in the early 1940s to join Reuters news agency. Swapping a quiet civilian life and desk job for the dangerous life of a war correspondent, he underwent secret training as a paratrooper before being dropped with British airborne forces in the Arnhem landings of September 1944. In the thick of battle Jack, the only reporter at the frontline, wrote:
On this fifth day our force is still being heavily mortared, sniped, machine-gunned and shelled … When the Second Army arrives and relieves this crowd, then may be told one of the epics of the war. In the meantime, they go on fighting their hearts out.
Most of the airborne force, that Jack dropped with, were wiped out. Injured in the bloody battle, he was captured by the Nazis. For 17 days he was tortured under Gestapo interrogation and overall spent eight months as a Prisoner of War in a concentration camp before finally being released by American troops. On his return he told a friend and fellow journalist:
Jaysus, they beat the s*** out of me!. There was I, in British Army officer’s uniform, telling ‘em I was a neutral and demanding to see the nearest Irish ambassador. Well, they were having none of that.
He wrote and published his experiences in a book, “Five Days in Hell”, in 1956. Lucky to get out alive, five of Jack’s fellow war correspondents and friends at Reuters had been killed in the War.
After Germany, Smyth traveled East and was aboard the last British cruiser to bombard Japan. Later, he was one of the first journalists to enter Tokyo and visit the ruined city of Hiroshima.
Leaving Reuters to take up the post of Managing Editor at The Waterford Star, he stayed there for sometime before joining the staff of the Irish News Agency in Dublin. Taken on as Assistant Editor of the newly fledged Evening Press, it was this capacity that he was involved in the sensational finding of the kidnapped Ashmore baby. He was appointed Managing Editor of the Irish Press in 1955, the year before his untimely death.
On the night of the 2nd of December 1956, Jack and Eileen were driving home to their house in Rathfarnham. He had to drop into the offices of the Press, on Burgh Quay, to help with the next day’s front page showcasing Ronnie Delaney’s sensational win at the Melbourne Olympics.
Driving from the office, the car accidentally entered the river at the junction of Lime Street and Sir John Rogerson’s quay. It was noted in The Irish Times on December 5 1956 that:
At this point there is a dockside warehouse, the gable end of which might be mistaken for a continuation of Lime Street and cause a driver unfamiliar with the area to overshoot the quay
The body of his 35-year-old wife Eileen Smyth, originally from Limerick, was found in the car when it was taken from the river on December 4th.
Jack’s body was unfortunately never recovered. He was 38. The couple left two young children behind.
In a bizarre, tragic coincidence that occurred two-year later a relative, John Shannon, who was looking after the two orphaned Smyth children was also was killed after he accidentally drove his car into the Liffey. It was noted in the 1958 newspaper report that eight similar accidents had occurred around Sir John Rogerson’s quay over the last twenty years. Today, there is better lighting and more road bollards to prevent such disasters.
That accident in December 1956 was a very sad ending to the lives of a brave war correspondent and his devoted wife.