The Soldiers Last Letter

(Loftus soldiers of the Great War)

Joe with his brother Jim in Glasgow just before he went to France and his death.

This was the last letter Joe wrote just months before he died. It was addressed to his brother Jack (my grandfather).

My grandfather's youngest brother Joe, joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders around 1915 in Glasgow. The picture above is of Joe with his brother Jim and the letter is the last one he wrote before being killed in action. His body was identified because of this letter which was found in the pocket of his army tunic. For his sacrifice Joe was postumusly awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He died on the 9th of may 1917 and he is commemorated at the Arras Memorial,France.

Joe's brothers Martin and Bill fought in the war. Martin was to die five years after the war due to the effects of gas poisoning during the war. Bill it is believed rescued an officer from no man's land and lived to a ripe old age.

William Loftus

Their cousin Henry Loftus joined the Leinster Regiment and became a sergeant. He died in 1970. His brother Patrick like Joseph lost his life in France and was a private with the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Patrick died on the 27th of April 1916.

Henry James Loftus

It should be remembered that a considerable number of the allied troops who lost their lives in the trenches were young Irishmen not all of whom were "true blue" Ulster protestants. Like Joe, his brothers and cousins, many of the recruits hailed from southern Ireland and from staunchly catholic and republican backgrounds. An estimated 320,000 Irishmen took part in the Great War 49,400 of whom died.

They joined the British army for many different reasons, for some it was the "manly" thing to do macho and exciting, defending their homeland from the dreaded "Hun". However, for a large number of them it was in the, some would say, naive belief that in doing so they would have earned Ireland its right to home rule.

That was not to be. The Irish "Free State" came into being in 1921 with the signing of the "Anglo Irish Treaty". A bloody civil war ensued. The Republic of Ireland was not declared until 1949.

When I think of Joe and the place where he lies, the song Willie McBride comes to mind and in particular, the words "and did they believe when they answered the call, did they really believe that this war would end wars. The sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain, the killing and dying were all done in vein. For young Willie McBride it all happens again and again and again and again and again."

My sincere wish is that unlike the young man in the song my grand uncle, his cousin Patrick and all the young men like them,will have found eternal rest in the green fields of France and Belgium.

The First Battle of Ypres by Charles Jagger 1918

Exhumation Party at work near Ypres Belgium June 1920

Links

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Anthem for Doomed Youth

by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for those who die like cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling them from sad shires.

Click on picture for more poetry by Wilfred Owen