21 July 1917

Archive Ref: IE IJA /J2/83_Letter to his Father_ (151)  (4/4)
B. E. Force
France
21/7/17
My Dearest Father,
They are giving us a few days breathing space on the road, so I take advantage of the temporary halt in our pilgrimage to send you my usual scribble. My present habitation is a tiny room in an equally tiny cottage,the only big thing in it (barring the f…s) being the lid which occupies 9/10thof the space. A beautiful dung under my window sends me, alternately d’enferous whiffs and savage mosquitoes, but one can cheerfully put up with these small inconveniences instead  of  German shot and shell. One week of special training contained nothing of interest except that my two battalions were again very far apart and much scattered. However I did not object to this as riding about the country in this beautiful weather was quite enjoyable and I cold manage my own hours as I pleased.An amusing incident took place the first morning we arrived. One old French Lady was horrified on looking out of the window to see a column soldiers in extended order advancing calming through her field of oats

 

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Arming herself with a stick which she rushed out and started to wallop the leading files, declaring they might trample on her but not on her precious corn. Hearing a noise behind her Madame turned round to only see one huge tank crawling up the hill, literally“making hay” of the cornfield. With a scream of rage the old lady made for the tank, waving her stick and defying them to come further at their peril, and it was only when two of them made for her (in fun ) that she realised the battle was a one sided affair and retreated to her fort. The English Government had warned the people that this ground would be needed for manoeuvres, had given them full compensation and told them they would plant their crops at their own risk, however, like true French people they want to get the money and the corn as well. ON Sunday last we had a very impressive ceremony in the Cathedral of ——. The new Bishop had just been consecrated and the suggestion was made to have a Church Parade of the whole Brigade in his honour. The Brigadier General, though not a Catholic, very
Kindly offered to command them himself + General Hickey with his staff promised to be present. It was a splendid sight to see the magnificent old cathedral with never as devout a congregation  as ever gathered within its walls. The most famous preacher in France, who does wish his name not to be mentioned, preached an elegant, thrilling and soul inspiring (and some more adjectives which I have forgotten) sermon and at the end of the mass, the Bishop
in a neat little speech thanked the men for the great honour they had paid him. He was especially struck he said by the fact that most of them had walked a long way to be present (some nearly ten kilometres) and he asked his own flock to learn from the grand spirit and deep faith of the Irish soldier.The ceremony concluded by a march past the bands playing in front of the Episcopal Palace, the Bishop taking the salute. The whole thing made a great impression and people could not help contrasting the respect + honour shown by the British army with the narrow minded permission of the French Government. You may be interested to hear that the Sargent whom I spoke of in my very long letter, ”Him of the muddy Language”, Has been awarded the D.C.M ( distinguished conduct medal) the private equivalent of the M.C.
I told the Colonel of his coolness and fine work in digging out the five buried men and recommended him for a decoration which I am glad to say was excepted at H.Q. The poor chap in very proud of his medal which I told him, he won by his eloquent language! Another item of news will also please you. Our division will not take part in the coming big offensive as we are being held in reserve so you need not be weary about me when the storm bursts; I expect this will decide whether we shall face another winter or not, though at present the end seems as far off as ever.Many thanks for enclosures which I was glad to see. I am afraid I was the only one  who did not send you congratulations on the“85 not out”score, but do so now- ad multos annos, limited however to 1,000!
As ever dearest Father
Your own loving
Willie