29 May 1917

Archive Ref: IE IJA /J2/83_Letter to his Father_ (138) (4/4)
Please thank Bob And Jennie for their letters

B.E.Force

29/5/17

My Dearest Father,

I was half afraid I should not be able to get a letter off to you this week as I have had a good deal of running about to do, exhausting work in this intensely  hot weather, under a blazing sun, which has almost made us long for  the frost and snow  of the past winter. Then, at night we have been busy with raids and things of that sort so that one has to try and snatch an Hours sleep whenever one can. However, I keep well through it all, thank God; a bit tired perhaps from time to time but we are moving back from support to reserve which will give a chance for at least 40 winks with a few over.

As you might like to know how the “Game of Raiding your Neighbour” is played a sort of novelty for your next garden party. I shall give you a few particulars. You dig two trenches about 100yards apart and fill one with the enemy who are well provided with hand bombs and machine guns etc. Some night when you think they won’t expect your coming a party of your men climb over the

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top of their parapet and start to crawl à la Red Indian towards the foe. Very interesting work for star shells are going up every few minutes and lighting up No Man’ s Land, during which time your men lie are on their faces motionless probably cursing the inventor of the said star shells or “very lights” and praying for Egyptian darkness. It is part of the game that if the enemy see you they promptly paste you with bombs (which hurt) or give you a shower a shower bath of leaden bullets. For this reason, when the game is played at garden parties, it is recommended to place Husbands in one trench and wives in the other and to oppose P.P. or Rev. Mullen by their curates and communities in this way accuracy of aim in wonderfully improved and the casualties delightfully high which is a desideratum in these days, when supper time arrives.

Having reached a certain distance, the raiders wait for the artillery barrage to open. That is a sight never to be forgotten. At a fixed moment, every gun opens fire simultaneously with a crash which shakes the heavens and for five minutes the enemy trench from end to end is a hive of fire lit up by the hundreds of bursting shells

 

Then the barrage lifts like a curtain  to the second trench  to keep back reinforcements while the attackers dash through the cut barbed wire, over into the trench, sometimes to meet a stout opposition in spite of the awful shelling, sometimes finding only the bleeding remains of what were once brave men. Dug-outs are bombed if the occupants won’t come out paper maps +secured  prisoners captured if possible to be  questioned later for information which  seems to be freely and fooishly given and then the raiders carrying their own dead  + wounded get back as quick as they can  to their own lines for by this time the enemy artillery have opened fire and things are nice + lively.

A few nights ago I had a been along the Front lines as usual to give the men a General Absolution which they are as anxious to receive for the comfort it will be for their friends at home should they fall as for themselves. I was coming down to the advanced clearing station when I learnt that a small party had “gone over the top” on our right though I had told the raid was only from the left. When I got to the spot I found they had all gone and were lying well out in No Man’s Land. It was a case of Mahomet +

 
the mountain once more. The poor “mountain” could not come back though they were just longing too, but the prophet could go out could he not? so Mohomet rolled over the top  of the sandbags into the friendly shell hole and started to crawl on his hands and knees and tummy towards the Boche trenches. Mahomet being only a prophet was allowed to use bad language, of which privilege he availed himself, so report goes, to the full, for the ground was covered with bits of broken barbed wire, shell splinters, nettles etc etc and the poor prophet on his penitential pilgrimage left behind him much honest sweat and not a few drops of blood.

That was a strange scene!, a group of men lying on their faces, waiting for certain death to come to some of them whispering a fervent act of contrition and God’s priest, feeling mighty uncomfortable, wishing he was safely in bed a thousand miles away, raising his hand in absolution over the prostrate figures. One boy, some little distance off, thinking the absolution had not reached him, knelt bolt upright and made an act of contrition you could have heard in Berlin nearly giving the whole show away and drawing the enemies fire.

 

 

 

 There was really little danger, as shell holes were plentiful, but not a little consolation when I buried the dead  next day to think that none of them had died without absolution. I was more afraid getting back into our own trenches, for sentries seeing a man coming from the direction of Hunland do not bother much about asking questions and object to nocturnal visitors.

The following night May 24th , my own Dubs made another attack. Nothing of great interest happened except this., I told them it was a lucky night for such dangerous work as it was the Feast of “ Our Lady Help of Christians,” and Mary would surely help and protect them. Our Blessed Lady’s mantle must be well mended by this, for not only did the raiding party return without a scratch but there was not a single casualty either in the front or rear trenches in spite of the heaviest shelling I have seen for along time. I fancy Mary and all the Blessed in heaven will be very glad when the war is over as they must be working overtime to safeguard us from danger.

One German prisoner, badly wounded in the leg, was brought in. He knew only a few words of English but spoke French fluently.I tried to do all I can for the unfortunate prisoners as sometimes not much

 
Sympathy is shown them and they have evidently been drilled into believing that we promptly roast + eat them alive. I gave him a drink, made him as comfortable as possible and then seeing a rosary in his pocket asked him was he a Catholic.” I am a Catholic priest I said “ and you need not have any fear,” a! monsieur” he replied “ vous etes un vrai pretre”( you are a true priest), I suppose he was thinking of the gentlemen in the gospel who left the bleeding man lying on the road  and went on his way, which shows that even the maligned Hun can be grateful too. He gave me his home address in Germany and asked me to write to his parents. “Poor Father and Mother will be uneasy “,he said, as his eyes filled with tears.     “ O mon dieu, how I am suffering but I offer it all up to you.”

I hope to get a letter through by means of the Swiss redcross which will be a comfort to his anxious parents who seem good pious souls.

I am going to take time by the for lock and get in an hours sleep now while I have the chance. Much love to everyone and may God bless you all

As Ever Dearest Father

Your loving son

Willie.