by ehistoryadmin on July 15, 2016

Kildare Observer 20 May, 1916






A Catholic officer writing from the Front under date 7th May says: – “Not a letter from Dublin in over a fortnight! It is a cruel anxiety for us poor exiles, overstrung as we have been lately. It is something for us, as you know, to get news from home, and you can realise what a worry it is to be without news except that sad and terrible news of the wreck of our city and the devastation of our hopes for Ireland – news that makes for disquiet only. There was something crushing in the fate that reserved the tidings of the disaster to reach us as we were in the midst of sufferings of the recent gas attacks. Gas is the cruellest of thing in a war. No less than three did we experience.

“For the first time we were in the reserve trench. It was the eve of our relief, but we had to go back to the front line to reinforce our sister battalion, and there we were for the attack that was made on Saturday morning.


“I had done eight days firing line, and was on my 15th day in the trenches, when the rattle of machine guns and artillery booming brought me out one morning. Soon after we saw the gas coming. We asked ourselves, how is it with the firing line? The bombardment had knocked about communication, and we had to keep on the worry and the watch. The Boches had got a footing, we heard, but we knew that they had been booted out – must have been, we said. So instead of the relief, we were sent back to the firing line. The spectacle of the remnant of the company mine was taking the front line from, and the falling back to a line behind us, was the most saddening I have seen. Their food and water had been gassed, their sleep lost and themselves a bit gassed; poor devils, they were all in. The Friday passed quietly; nothing but gas lodging in the trench, and the sorrowful tales and spectacles and our nerves affecting us. Saturday morning we were standing to very early when the Huns sent up lights, and we saw the green dense cloud of gas coming. We were ready, but it didn’t come our way – we being in a salient; it went behind us and to the side of us. It looked like rolling over some of their own trenches. But we were ready. We found we could lift our helmets, and the men smoked, calmly waiting their chance of vengeance. The Hun didn’t come. Our line was battered out in places, and we were, after so many days (18), tired and worn out and nervy. So we looked forward anxiously to our relief. We got relieved early and had to go at a snail’s pace, for the poor gassed chaps, till we got our busses to billets. I went asleep beside the driver.


“A lurch woke me. ‘Gas,’ said I, but it was only the cloud of dust from the bus in front. We reeked gas; our buttons were green, our hands greenish, our watches coloured black, and a little gas in our lungs. It is a horrible death is gas. Poor devils crawling about, perhaps seeming to be about to do well, and at the end collapse. In the cloud of gas you could not see a man three yards away. Certainly the Dublins will remember gas for ever. In one part of the line, after the shrapnel, etc., and the gas, there were only a sergt. and six men keeping the thing going. From going through the gas-permeated trenches, I got a touch myself; I wasn’t laid out, but my voice and breathing were affected.

“I am writing from the trenches, where I am again after five days out.


“I’d simply love to get back on leave just now, to reassure myself and get a little rest among my dear friends. You get a bit shaken and lonely after seeing those sights. And it is too, too bad we cannot learn – or have not, at the moment I am writing, learned – how our people and our dear friends have come through the trials of Dublin. The trials have been ours. I don’t think my condition of overstrain alone could possibly account for the dejection of spirit the news threw me into. It puts Ireland back a generation. It was cruel and foolish. Dublin has a tragic way of becoming European. Why, oh why, should the sufferings of war be brought irresponsibly, without an atom of practical wisdom, for the sake of a foolish fanaticism, a chimera, into the lives of Dublin and Ireland. Violence of arms – what a terrible thing it is, and how hard to find it consecrated by the moral law. Yet a section of emotionalists, of labour desperados, our own countrymen (and Catholics most of them) appeal to it as if birth and death, the stability of a country, were mere toys. It is disheartening. One generation gets over the turmoil after the Park Murder, and enters upon a chance of a brighter day, when a new witch’s cauldron of trouble is spilled over a succeeding generation. I do feel lonely at the though of Ireland. You will exhaust facts and arguments, but you won’t eradicate a new suspicion of Irishmen this ghastly thing will have created. The pity of it.


“I have been giving my own feelings, but they are what any man of us here has. We are like men, whose country is the world without a ‘patrie’. We are disconsolate as men who have suffered a trial of faith – belief in our country.”

Re-typed by Jennifer O’Connell


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