Posted 15 January 2007 - 10:41 am
Thank you very much for all of your posts on this subject. As someone with an interest in the Munster Fusiliers, I hope to be standing on the Rus du Bois next Saturday, and thanks to your post, maybe I will be able to stand on the exact spot.
I also hope to visit Le Touret where most of the Munsters who fell on the 9th of May are commemorated - photo requests welcome, I just hope that the weather is good.
I quote, below, from a letter written by CSM James Leahy, of the Munster Fusiliers, concerning the 'Last Absolution' and the action of Rue du Bois:-
‘I know it is about time I wrote you a letter, but I can tell you we have had a fearful time. No doubt you saw in the papers the glorious name again earned by the regiment. Well, if ever heroes were born the fellows were. I have been in some dirty work since the start, but, my God, the 9th of May will ever live in my memory. It was the spirit of everyone that was so astonishing. Several days before we knew that at 5.37 a.m., on 9th May – it was death or glory – that the German trenches which were impregnable since October were to be assaulted, yet there was never such a happy laughing crowd.
The day previous to the charge close on 800 men received Holy Communion, wrote their names and home address on their hymn books. I have seen sights, but the faith, piety, and sincerity of that congregation, each man knowing that death was staring him in the face, would make anyone in this world proud to be a Catholic.
The night before the charge we lay on the road a short way from the trenches, Father Gleeson went down the ranks, saying words of comfort, bidding goodbye to the officers, telling the men to keep up the honour of the regiment. At dawn then on that lonely dark roadside, lit up now and then by intermittent flashes from our own or German flares, rose to heaven the voices of 800 men singing that glorious hymn ‘Hail Queen of Heaven.’ There were no ribald jest, or courage buoyed up with alcohol, none of the fanciful pictures which imagination conjures up of soldiers going to a desperate charge; no, there were brave hearts without fear, only hope that God would bring them through, and if the end – well, only a little shortened of the allotted time span. Every man had his Rosary out reciting the prayers in response to Father Gleeson, just as if at the Confraternity at home, instead of having to face death in a thousand hideous forms the following morning.
Then dawn broke, a beautiful morning, the sun shining brightly, just a day that makes you feel that life is worth living – the beauty of nature did not worry the boys, they were more intent on oiling the mechanism of their rifles and looking to their bayonets, and I can vouch for it that a more happy or jocose crowd never lived. Every fellow was laughing and joking even when the most terrific bombardment in the history of the war was raging, shells of all sizes both ours and Germans, shrieking overhead in one continuous moan.
Five minutes before the bombardment the order was given by the officers: ‘Are you ready, lads? ‘Yes,’ came the cry. Then over and over the parapet like one man leaped 800 forms, the four green company flags leading. The first trench was taken in no time, then on to the second. But what a hail of lead met those gallant men. The ground was dotted with brave Irish soldiers, yet on they went. The green flag was raised on the parapet of the main German trench, and in they went. The numbers to reach the objective were too few to hold the position, and eventually, and with reluctance, they had to retire. The words of the Commander of the 1st Army was enough to show what a splendid achievement had been accomplished. – ‘Men,’ he said, ‘I am proud to command such a gallant regiment. You were the only battalion to penetrate and storm the German trenches although under a hellish fire. You have added another laurel to your noble deeds during the present campaign. You will now return to rest, and another day when wanted I know you will do anything within human power to uphold the traditions of your regiment and the army.’