Incredible letters from Irish officers in World War I digitised for all

30 Jun 2016

Trinity College Dublin has produced a digital version of a series of letters, diary entries and memoirs from Irish officers who served in World War I.

To mark the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, in which one million people were either wounded or killed, TCD has created a dedicated website commemorating a selection of Irish officers.

Converting some 1,600 documents into digital format, ‘Fit as fiddles and as hard as nails’ – Irish soldiers’ voices from the Great War, offers a pretty cool and very revealing look into the everyday goings-on of soldiers on the frontline.

Honest and open

Future Human

Taking in voices from seven Irish officers – on both the Eastern and Western fronts – the site includes the diary of Emily Wynne, who wrote of her life in Dublin while her brother Charles (also featured) battled in Europe.

There are some absolute gems included, for example, Arthur Nickson Callaghan’s desire to “get even with the Greeks some day” after discovering some of the British food reserves had been stolen.

“A more hopeless lot of swine I have never seen,” he wrote, noting he hated saluting Greek officers as they haven’t the courtesy to return a salute “with as much decency as I would a child in the street.”

“I wish our warships in the harbour would take a few plugs at their beastly town.” Lovely.

Bad Christmas

Henry Crookshank wrote of his grim Christmas in the Middle East, where Christmas Eve night was “as bad a night as ever you saw”.

“Most of the mens bivvies were either blown away or flooded out, luckily mine held out till well into Xmas day and then it was only the damp from underneath that got in,” wrote Crookshank, before praying for a Christmas away from Palestine.

“I think the only cheerful thing about it was the hot rum which we got in the evening.”

World War One regiment, includes 20-year-old Charles Wynne from Avoca, Wicklow in the front row, third from the left - via Trinity College

World War I regiment, includes 20-year-old Charles Wynne from Avoca, Wicklow in the front row, third from the left – via Trinity College

Well preserved

Charles Wynne’s letters home were collated by a nice management system he and his family used. Each piece of correspondence had a letter written in the corner, with the reply matching up. He on one occasion suggested Glendalough as a venue for a fellow soldier’s wedding, while slagging off the Huns, a lot.

Principal curator of the project, Jane Maxwell, said this site should go some way to ending the “eerie silence” associated with the Irish role in the Great War.

“The events of Easter week 1916 overtook them; their subsequent silencing in Irish historical narrative has come to an end in this decade of centenaries, and their voices are being brought to bear on the growing Irish investigation of this pivotal experience.”

The list of authors comprises of Lt Arthur Nickson Callaghan, Lt Henry Crookshank, Major Richard William George Hingston, Captain William Patrick ‘Pat’ Hone, Lt Col Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury, Captain Cyril Stanley Beresford Mundey, Private William Raws, Lt Charles Wyndham Wynne and his sister Emily.

Full biographies are included on each of the featured authors, with more reading than perhaps possible for most people.

It’s a great tool, though, and well worth a visit.

Main World War One image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic