12th September 1916,
I hope you and Father are keeping well. How are the apple trees coming along this season? I expect Nana will start making her apple cider soon. I will miss it as winter advances. I wonder if there has the been further word from cousin Michael? Have they released him from that prison in Wales? I’m afraid there is little I can do for him here.
The weather here has been miserable and the mood of the 9th Battalion is not much better. We had a rough go of it over the last few days. However I am safe and on my way to Carnoy for a short rest. I do not know where we will be sent next. The division suffered heavy casualties at Guillemont and over the last few days at Ginchy. We will need to be resupplied both in men and in provisions. I am particularly running low on cigarettes. I grow weary of these battles. There have been so many friends lost. I struggle to find words to express the ache of my soul. But we do what we must, for Home Rule and for Ireland.
The village of Ginchy was little more than a scattering of rumble. There was scarcely a brick or stone left standing. The trees had exploded due to the shell fire leaving nothing larger than splinters. Our artillery had bombarded the village from 7 a.m. and did not stop until we attacked just before 5 p.m. The 7th Royal Irish Rifles and the 7th Royal Irish Fusiliers took the village itself and allowed us in the Dublin Fusiliers press the advantage. We swept through the village and routed the enemy. We charged their secondary trench line and overran them again. Many of them threw down their guns and threw up their hands. We captured over two hundred soldiers. Many of us wanted to keep pushing on but the remaining officers called for us to halt and retreat back to the village.
The 9th lost two-hundred and nine men attacking Ginchy and a little over twice that were injured. It was horrific. I saw men scattered across the ground, friends of mine. Their eyes looked at me. Some held a look of agony, others held a look of pity. I came across one boy. He was German, probably no more than eighteen years old. His body trapped under a mound of earth where a shell had collapsed his trench. He looked at me with eyes full of pity. He looked as though I were the one deserving of pity. I can’t say he is wrong. His trouble, his pain, is over. The 9th will fight again. We will endure further torment.
It took much of the evening to remove the German bodies from the trenches. The two hundred captured Germans were in a terrible state. We had been shelling them for three days. They had run out of rations a day before our attack and were already weak and sickly. The Jesuits saw to them, treating their wounded, administering the last rights to those who would accept it. Some were uncomfortable with being tended to by Catholic priests.
I found out later on that our commander had been killed in the assault on Ginchy. I think you met Captain Murphy the last time we were back in Dublin. William was a good man and a great leader. I imagine word will have reached home of the death of my old Professor, Thomas Kettle. He was killed during the ascent into the village. Young Emmet Dalton was near him as he died. Dalton has taken it very hard but he proved he self a courageous soldier. He lead the charge after Tom fell. It is difficult to believe that he is gone. You remember when he came to the house to recruit me? I know you hated him that day, but at the time it felt like the right thing to do. He told me since of his anger at not being allowed to join the men at the front. It got worse for him after the first casualty reports started to come in.
He was glad to be fighting over here with us, with his Dubliners. He was well liked among the men. He had recruited half of them himself. Though privately he had mentioned to me his anger with the war and his anger at the rebels at home. I feel awful for Tom’s widow, Mary. It is awful to lose her husband is such a dreadful war. It is worse still for two sisters to lose their husbands in a matter of months. Tom was not the same after the death of his brother in law. You see, both he and Francis Sheehy-Skeffinton had attend university together. I remember being given leave with Tom and Mary to visit Sheehy-Skeffington’s grave site in Glasnevin. We met Hanna out there. Now both Hanna and Mary are widows. I fear that they will not be the last widows made of this bloody war.
We are due to move to a new sector in a few days time and I am not sure where just yet. I wouldn’t be allowed to tell you in any case. Give my love to father. I hope you’re all keeping well and I hope to see you all as soon as I can.
Pte Peter Keegan.
Short Story Serialist | Cillian Fearon