Posted 11 August 2005 - 09:46 am
Just to add a few bits of info:
From Orange, Green and Khaki -
"On the evenng of 8th May, under command of Lt-Col. V.G.H. Rickard, 2nd Munsters once again marched towards the Front. At a French wayside shrine, Rickard halted the the Battalion and formed a hollow square before it. On three sides were the rifle companies, and facing them on horseback were Col. Rickard, his adjutant, Capt. Filgate and the Chaplain, Father Gleeson. Gun flashes added to the semi-light of a spring evening; gunfire and shell explosions reminded all of the ordeal to come. All bared their heads and the light breeze ruffled hair and caused to flutter the green company standards. Father Gleeson's stole made a splash of soft colour. The chaplain raised his right hand and intoned general absolution and all sang the Te Deum. Then, to the barked command of RSM Ring, the march resumed towards the sound of the guns."
A footnote says:The scene was well captured on canvas by Fortunino Matania from a description obtained by Mrs. Rickard. The original painting was presented to the Royal Army Chaplains Department(RC) by Major Henry Harris, author of The Irish Regiments in the First World War
This means that Matania was not in fact present and it is based on the recollections of eyewitnesses.
From The Cross on The Sword
"In early May 1915 on the eve of the attack on Aubers Ridge, Father Gleeson watched the battalion at rest before going into the line for an assault the following morning.
I gazed out over the scene, there were hundreds of giant men sitting in the fresh grass under the shade of the thickly-blossomed fruit trees, praying, meditating, reading their prayer books, saying their rosaries - silent, absorbed, reverential to a degree.
A chaplain who served long with a predominantly Catholic infantry battalion could become emotionally involved with its welfare. When that battalion sustained repeated heavy casualties, the mental anguish of a chaplain was very great. He was, after all, closer to the dying and the dead than any other person in the unit, the medical officer being spared the burial. After the battle of Loos, where the 2nd Munsters were again annihilated, Fr. Gleeson wrote to the senior chaplain (RC) asking to be relieved:
I am sorry to be leaving the dear old Munster lads, but I really can't stand it any longer. I do not like the life.......though I love the poor men ever so much.....will you please send me the papers regarding my discharge.
Mgr. Keatinge relieved Father Gleeson with another chaplain, Fr. O' Flynn, until Fr. Gleeson overcame his grief and was able to 'soldier on' with the battalion, as he did until 1918."
In reply to the original question, none of my sources identify the spot where the Absolution took place, other than to say that it was a wayside shrine.
If you look closely at the picture, you will notice a line above Father Gleeson's head that continues below the horses belly. The lady I spoke to from Schull books told me that the prints now available are prints of a print taken from the original Sphere magazine, and I suspect the line is where the original fold was in the print.
Whether it was painted from eyewitness accounts or is a print of a print doesn't take from the power of the picture - I think it's a particularly poignant scene. The Munsters lost 19 officers and 374 men that day on Aubers Ridge - many of them to their own artillery.