Saturday, November 5, 2016

Sepia Saturday 345: 'The big guns are coughing...'

Embedded in my photo of poppies along the road into Thiepval, France, images of, and commemorations to,
those forever lost to our family in the First World War.
"I am calm and happy, but desperately anxious to live. The big guns are coughing and smacking their shells, which sound for all the world like overhead express trains...Somewhere the Choosers of the Slain, as in our Norse story, are touching with invisible wands those who are to die."

                                                                                                               —Thomas Michael 'Tom Kettle, 
                                                                                                                   in the field 8 September 1916.

These words of poet Thomas Michael 'Tom' Kettle, my maternal great-grandfather's first cousin, were written in a letter to his eldest brother Laurence the night before Tom was killed. Tom's words speak to the experience of many like him who found themselves on the battlefields of Europe during World War One. They are words that emphasize the madness of war, the random nature of death in the field, and the sense that little was within the control of the soldiers as they languished in the trenches or moved through No Man's Land.

For a while I have had to step away from blogging, so I hope you will allow to step back in with today's Sepia Saturday theme for November of 'War & Peace'. Since 2010, I have written a number of articles about the Irish and The Great War, including those about members of my family who made the ultimate sacrifice during the war which was supposed to end all wars. Here is a listing of some of those posts, as well as one story which features a young man unknown to our family, one Francis Lyons, whose fading sepia image upon a grave marker in Glasnevin inspired me to learn more about him.

In 2014 we marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One, and since then there has been a emphasis on commemorating the lives of those individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom of Europe. Hopefully as we remember their sacrifice we come to understand the necessity for peace in our world today.

Be sure to stop by the Sepia Saturday blog to see how others have interpreted November's inspiration image.

This call for volunteers appears in
The Daily News and Leader newspaper,
London, England, 1 September 1914.
The war was just weeks old and already
the number of recruits was climbing toward
what would eventually be in the millions. 


1. ’On a celtic cross, a young man in a photograph: World War One’

2. ‘It all began with a bronze plaque: Remembering William Dunne 1880-1914’

3. 'A portrait trimmed in black crepe': William Francis Pell: 1891-1915

4. ‘William Dunne & William Pell: Following the road of my two Williams’

5. ‘Too many names upon these walls’: World War One Commemoration

6. ‘A very special journey with a remarkable book of poetry’: Tom Kettle 1880-1916



©irisheyesjgg

22 comments:

  1. Welcome back, a lovely tribute to your courageous family.

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    Replies
    1. Chris, thanks very much for your comment, and your welcome. It is much appreciated.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  2. I agree with Crissouli - a beautifully written tribute, matched by the moving collage photograph. Your story of Tom's letter reminded me so much of one written by my great uncle George Danson to,his brother about his role as a stretcher bearer. Three weeks later he died on the Somme, aged just 22. A terrible war with so many lives lost.

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    1. ScotSue, thanks very much for your comments. George was so very young, at 22. His loss reminds me of the loss of our William Pell, who was killed in Belgium in January of 1915 at the age of 23. So many lost, as you've said, and so many of them so very young.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  3. A lovely post, as are those words of your great-grandfather's cousin. Very touching.

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    1. Anna, thanks very much for your comments. In my opinion, Tom's words in his letters and his poetry perfectly described life at that terrible time. He is my inspiration.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  4. "I am calm and happy, but desperately anxious to live." What heart-wrenching words, especially knowing the author did not live another day after writing them. So many lives lost in a useless war. From the date of Tom's letter, he must have been killed during the Battle of the Somme - one of the deadliest battles of the war. When it ended after 4 months, the casualty count alone in that one battle - including British, French, and German troops - numbered 1,263,000.

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    1. La Nightingail, thanks very much for your comments. I feel the same way about Tom's words — heart wrenching. Tom was killed during one of the battles that is encompassed by that phrase 'Battle of the Somme'. Tom was shot while leading his men of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers when they went 'over the top' at 5pm on the evening of 9 September 1916 in the advance on Ginchy, as the 16th Irish Division moved on the village and took it. It is shocking to consider all of the young lives lost on all fronts.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  5. We've missed you but glad so see you back. Such poetic and evocative words from Tom Kettle. The image does it justice.

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    1. Pauleen, thanks very much for your comments. I feel the same way about Tom words. All of his letters from the field of battle, especially in his last days, bring the reader to that awful place and time, and to the way he was feeling about his life and its imminent end.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  6. Jenn, a beautiful tribute, both your words and Tom's. It's good to see you back.

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    1. Charlotte, thanks very much for your kind comments. Always much appreciated.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  7. A very fitting post for our theme. The internet has given us new tools to carve a lasting memorial and preserve the words of the fallen for the world to read. I think the Great War was so horrid in the way that it assaulted human senses, that some men like Tom Kettle could only respond with poetry, word art, in the face of incomprehensible terror.

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    1. Mike, thanks very much for your comments. Tom is an interesting figure in that we can see an evolution from his published pre-war poetry to the lines crafted in the trenches which were published shortly after his death. So too his letters are revelatory of his experience in that terrible place which was the Somme. Completely free of claims of heroic feats and daring do, they encapsulate those feelings of incomprehensible terror to which you make reference.

      Cheers to you,
      Jennifer

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  8. What poignant words to open your post, which is a wonderful tribute to the fallen.

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    1. Little Nell, thanks very much for your comments. Tom's words in his letters and poems have given me insight into a place and time which I will never truly understand, but for which I am very grateful.

      Cheers to you,
      Jennifer

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  9. When you think about it, genealogy is really what will keep the memories alive of all these dead. If a family member doesn't find them they will be forgotten and just another headstone with a name and date. Between genealogy the net these forgotten people will have a memory attached for others to find. Good work.

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    1. Tattered and Lost, thanks very much for your comments. As Czesław Miłosz has written, ‘The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.’

      Cheers to you,
      Jennifer

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  10. It struck me as so very sad. We see the faces of the two men who died, but forget how many lives were changed by their deaths. It's as if the ghosts of so many are there too.

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    1. Tattered and Lost, thanks very much for these additional comments. It is so true, as you say, we can forget how many lives were changed by their deaths. In Tom Kettle's case he left behind a wife, Mary, and a daughter Elizabeth Dorothy, who was four months shy of her third birthday, and whose memories of her father were shadows in her life. For William Dunne, William Pell and Francis Lyons — each unmarried and without children when they were killed — their family trees were completely and utterly and cut down.

      Cheers to you,
      Jennifer

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  11. Replies
    1. Jo, thanks very much for your lovely comment.

      Cheers to you,
      Jennifer

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Cheers, Jennifer

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