22 May 1917

Archive Ref: IE IJA /J2/83_Letter to his Father _(136) (4/4)

I  know F. John Brennan S.J.  Rathfarnham Castle  Would be glad to read some of my old letters if you could send him a bundle sometime.

B.E.Force

France

22/5/17

My Dearest Father,

I  have long suspected and am now quite convinced of the fact that you are in league with the “Clock Man “! How you manage it I do not know, but somehow you got him to slip over a few days in the week at least so it seems to me for hardly have I dispatched one letter to you then it is time to begin another. I do not mean this as a grumble, for it is a real pleasure to write to you dear old father, but the trouble is to find something fresh to say. When I have told you, the weather is roasting hot and that I am brown and bronzed and bonney I have exhausted my slender stock of news nearly so.

We have been back in the trenches, for some little time, which I always enjoy, though it may seem strange to you. Things have been somewhat more lively, finally yesterday when the Boche gave us an unmerciful hammering return for a fierce bombardment from our guns I

 

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think he is sorry he did so for he got back more than he bargained for as we seemed to have ten guns to his one.

Brother Fritz for once did one a good turn. I had arranged to hear the men’s confessions shortly before he opened fire and a couple of well delivered shells helped my work immensely by putting the fear of God into the hearts of a few cautious boys who might not have troubled about coming near our service.

I wonder were the Sacraments are administered under strange circumstances. Picture my little dug out now (too big at any time) packed with men who have dashed in for shelter from the splinters and shrapnel coming down like hail. In one corner is kneeling a poor fellow recently joined, who has not “knelt to the priest” as the men quaintly say for many a day, trying to work his compassion. I make short work of that for a shower of clay and stones falling at the door is a gentle hint that the “crumps” are getting uncomfortably near and I want to give him absolution in case an unwelcome should walk in. Then while outside the ground rocks and seems to split with the work of the shells – big chaps some of them-

I give them all communion, say a short prayer and perform the wonderful feat of packing a few more men into the sardine tin of a house.

As soon as I got the chance I slipped round to see how many casualties there were, for I thought not a mouse could survive that bombardment.

Thank God no one was killed or even badly hit and the firing having ceased we could breath again. I was walking up the trench from the dressing station when I suddenly heard the scream of another shell. To vary the old proverb “ he who hides and runs away will live to hide another day”. I could not hide so I ran, like sixteen hares, up one trench, down another and round every corner  I met followed so I could have sworn , by  that hearty shell ,up + down  the trench  and round the corner. Failing  to catch me he burst in rage and later on I danced a gig on his ( or her ) ignoble grave and then made my way home. It was then I realised my good fortune. There are two ways to my dugout and naturally I chose the shorter. This time and without any special reason I went by the longer way and it was well I did for the shell pitched in the other trench and probably would have caught me nicely as I went by, but instead of that it wreaked its vengeance on my unfortunate orderly who was

 

Close by in his dugout, sending him spinning on his head but otherwise not injuring him. He is a “ Paddy from Cork” and has got a hard head. I found another string of men waiting my return for confession and holy communion in fact quite a long evening thanks once more Fritz’s “H E” or high explosive which has a wonderful persuasive effect of its own. I am wondering when I give my next retreat how many pounds of “ H E” will it take to move 14 stone of “ H N” ( what this stands for I shall leave you to guess, but it has something to do with the inmates of a convent.)

I hear Michael, my orderly hard at work frying onions for my dinner-what a time we are going to have !- so I must put up the shutters  and say  au revoir. Now that he has had a good blowing up I am hoping for great things and that he wont wash my socks again in the water  with which he makes the tea. After all as the farmer said “ pigs is pigs and war is war,” and fresh water is scarce, so harrah! For the laundry tea.

God bless you all. Please stick me into the back of a Hail Mary.

Ever your loving

Willie