November 5th, 1916.
Dear Mrs Keegan,
It is with the deepest regret that I write to you today to inform you of the death of your son Private Peter James Keegan. I had only known Peter for a short number of weeks but in that time I knew him to be an outstanding soldier. He was steadfast and reliable. In attack he was brave and in defence he was ferocious. He was killed defending his platoon’s position after they had been overrun by a German raiding party. He will be sorely missed by the 9th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
Lieutenant Wilber Clemens.
November 7th, 1916
Dear Mrs. Keegan,
I’m writing to you because Peter was my friend and I don’t trust that dolt Clemens to do him justice. I’m sure you’ve been informed of his death by now. It happened in the evening. We had just eaten our meagre rations and were stationed on the trenches. There were seven of us in the trench. Peter, myself, Parsons, Lynch, Farrell, Wright, and Clemens. We weren’t really expecting anything. There had been a mist settling and we were soggy but not in terrible spirits. The guns along the line had been quiet. Our sentries hadn’t reported anything. It happened suddenly.
A stick grenade landed in amongst us. It took Parsons’ head off. He had only been with us for three weeks. Farrell took a nasty wound to the leg, Wright got a piece of shrapnel in the neck. Lynch was trying to tend to them when the Jerrys came over the top with bayonets and clubs. Lynch took a bayonet to the back before I knew what happened. Peter shot the first man dead with his rifle and stabbed a second as he tried to finish off Lynch.
It took me a moment to ready myself as the grenade left an awful ringing in my ears. I shot a man who tried to stab Peter. Peter finished off another one. It had stopped for a moment. Only myself and Peter were left standing in the trench. Peter saw Clemens whimpering on the ground. He went over to him to see if he was injured. The coward had not gotten up from the stick grenade. Peter dragged him to his feet. Clemens was totally unharmed. He was a coward through and through. I went to tend to Wright. He had bleed out. I will be writing to his fiancé shortly. He was a good man. Lynch too was dead. The bayonet was stuck in his body, it was one of those terrible serrated ones. Farrell was howling in pain. The grenade had taken off his foot just below the knee. He was lying in the blood and the bodies and the mud screaming in pain. I looked at him and knew he didn’t have long unless a medic showed up soon.
That was when the second wave attacked. I grabbed Lynch’s rifle and shot the first man. I went to shot the next man but my rifle jammed. I took one in the shoulder and another in the gut. I wasn’t able to so much as pick up a gun. Peter grabbed Clemens’ revolver and returned fire. They seemed to be pouring into the trench. The German’s were shouting and screaming bloody murder. They were coming at Peter from both sides. He shot the first three with the revolver. A fourth man came at him from behind with a bayonet but Peter crushed his skull with a trench club. Another two men charged at him with bayonets. He shot both of them dead. One of the Germans stopped beside me and saw I was still alive. He raised his bayonet to finish me and Peter cut him down. Peter saved my life. I looked at him and saw a German appear behind him. I called out and he turned but the revolver was out of ammunition.
The young German boy shot him through the head. Peter died quickly. He didn’t suffer. The German boy was shot a moment later as several reinforcements arrived. If he had waited but a moment we would still have Peter. He was one of the best friends I have ever had and he was one of the bravest men I will ever know. He was a hero. I owe him my life. As does Farrell and Clemens.
Myself and Farrell are currently recovering from our wounds in a hospital in Nantes. We will be shipped home as soon as we are fit to travel. There is little else either of us can do in this war. I wanted to write to you to tell you all this because it’s important you know how brave Peter was and that when he died, he died defending his brothers in arms. Clemens has been sent back to England to “assist” with the war effort.
It may not allay any of the grief you are feeling to know how your son died but I felt it was important to tell you. Peter didn’t die for the British. He didn’t die out of a hatred of the Germans. He died for Ireland, and for his friends. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
Regards and my deepest sympathies,
Pvt. John McKenna
Cillian Fearon | Short Story Author