119 Upper Leeson St.
My own dearest wife,
The long expected is now close at hand. I was at Mass and Communion this morning at 6:00, the camp is broken up, and the column is about to move. It is no longer indiscreat [sic] to say that we are to take part in one of the biggest attacks of the war. Many will not come back. Should that be God's design for me you will not receive this letter until afterwards. I want to thank you for the love and kindness you spent and all but wasted on me. There was never in all the world a dearer woman or a more perfect wife and adorable mother. My heart cries for you and Betty whom I may never see again. I think even that it is perhaps better that I should not see you again. God bless and keep you! If the last sacrifice is ordained think that in the end I wiped out all the old stains. Tell Betty her daddy was a soldier and died as one. My love, now at last clean, will find a way to you.
Ever your husband,
In the field
Sept 3. 1916
I withdraw the association of Prof. Magennis with my wife in the publication of any of my writings. I leave all to her as a compliment to her intellect as well as her love. T. M. Kettle Lieut R. Dub Fus.
[Witnesses] W H Boyle Jas Carrick CSM
It is a strange thing to read the last words written by a husband to a wife, words meant only for her eyes. On the back of this letter, Thomas Michael Kettle's wife, Mary Sheehy Kettle had written, "Tom's last letter to me to be destroyed after my death". However, the letter was not destroyed. It is to our favour that the letter was preserved for history, giving us the privilege to read it. It is now held, within the collection of his personal and family papers, in the archives of University College Dublin (UCD), the university at which Tom served as a Professor of Economics.
Although I have transcribed the letter here in type, the original is written in Tom Kettle's hand. The simple physical makeup of the letter, manifested in the small piece of rough tan parchment on which it is written, and the pencil used to craft the text, serves to emphasize the poignancy of Tom's last words. There is a desperate sadness in the one short paragraph in which the dynamic of his relationship with Mary is laid out. It is an expression of his deep love for her, and their little daughter Betty, as well as a recognition of the demons which plagued his life — 'all the old stains' refers to his battle with alcoholism and mental illness — and the negative impact they may have had on the Kettle marriage.
The final two sentences, written as an addendum after he dated the letter, served to change Tom's Last Will and Testament. In his original instructions, Tom had stated that Mary must be aided, even directed, by Professor Magennis in any matters having to do with the publication of Tom's literary and political writings. It was a last act which would make a real difference to Mary's life by leaving all publication decisions in her hands, and it was made official by the signatures of witnesses Private W.H. Boyle and Company Sergeant Major James Carrick.
They say that those about to cross over to the other side have a sense of it, and in such cases there seems often to be a presentiment in their final spoken and written words. In reading Tom's last letter to Mary, that sense of foreboding comes through, although in this case it was perhaps more an understanding of the facts as they were before him, rather than a sense of impending doom. Entrenched in the heart of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battlefields in Europe, death must have been staring him straight in the face, and he knew it was coming for him. I find myself envisioning Betty's face as the tiny girl gazed up at her mother and heard her say, 'Daddy was a soldier and died as one.'