The letter seen here was written by a member of the 9th Royal Munster Fusiliers on 8 May 1916 to Winifred Florence O’Bryen of Stafford Lodge, Stafford Road, Southsea in Britain. The author was wounded in action during the Great War in 1916 and is in the Empire Hospital in London while writing the letter. The letter reads as follows:
9th R. Muns. Fusiliers
My Dear Winnie,
Thanks so much for your letter, which
I received tonight
I was very cut up, as my poor old battalion has
been so badly cut up. Collins and Milligan where
to great friends of mine, and it is awful to think
that I will never see them again.
Yes, my poor old battalion suffered for what
they did, but they showed Fritz that they had no sympathy with those dirty rebels in Dublin.
Stafford is here is me, he is very attentive
and awfully good to me, he nearly mothers me
He is I am afraid going back to my reserve battalion in a few days
I was awfully sorry that you were out
when I rang you up, and I wanted to speak
to you most particularly.
Two of my cousins came to see me, this
afternoon, they cheered me up
Yes, I got rather a nasty wound on my shoulder
but it is healed up now.
My head is a bit better tonight, I was X Rayed
today, I do not know the result as yet.
I had a letter from mother today, it was the
first since the rebellion.
I was awfully glad to hear that she was
The pup is getting on nicely now, it is a very
large dog now.
Well I must end now. Have you got another
of those photos of, of which you gave me. I lost that one when
I was wounded. I was awfully sorry I lost it.
Could you please spare me another. Do please,
please write soon, as I long for your letters.
(The envelope the letter was enclosed in)
Ms. Winifred O’Bryen, approximately 20 years old at the time she received this letter, was likely a girlfriend or love interest of the author as he asked for another one of her photographs. However, O’Bryen would eventually go on to marry a different man, Henry Falkiner Minchin. Minchin had also served in the Great War and was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, assigned to the HMS Centaur, at the time of his marriage to Ms. O’Bryen. Without knowing the full name of the Royal Munster Fusilier who wrote to Winifred during the Great War, it is impossible to trace his history and know what became of him. He may have recovered from his wounds and been sent back to the front to later be killed in action, or he and Ms. O’Bryen may have simply drifted apart and met other people.
This letter is important for understanding the History of the Great War, as well as the Irish Revolution for many reasons. The author mentions that his battalion “showed Fritz that they had no sympathy with those dirty rebels in Dublin.” This viewpoint is crucial to historians’ understanding of the Irish Revolution and how the Great War intertwined with it. The Easter Rising occurred in Dublin two weeks prior to this letter being written, and historians have often focused on the reaction it garnered in Ireland. However, they’ve talked less about how Irish Soldiers fighting with the British Army, in the Great War, felt about it. Some certainly came to support it in some fashion, and joined up with the IRA after the war, however countless others were opposed to the Rising as they felt it was a slap in the face to cause of Home Rule. Many Irishmen had joined the British Army to fight in the Great War to secure Home Rule for Ireland. Others who would’ve been opposed to Home Rule and wished to remain part of the British Empire also would’ve had an unfavorable opinion of the Rising. We’ll never know what the political beliefs of the author of this letter were, but it’s clear that after going through a tough battle, where many of his friends were killed, that he had little sympathy for anyone who had taken part in the uprising in Dublin.
The author’s mother seems to have lived in Dublin as he states on page two of his letter that, “I had a letter from mother today, it was the first since the rebellion. I was awfully glad to hear that she was safe.” The soldiers were accustomed to being in harm’s way and writing home to let their families know that they were safe. Now many of the men in the Army, with family back in Ireland, were trying to get news of the Rebellion and of their families to ensure that everyone at home was safe. For one week, those men had to think of their families living in a war zone and being in as much danger as they themselves were out on the front. For men who saw the horrors of war up close every day, this was likely a terrifying thought for them.
1. CHU 32/1B/5 Hampshire, Portsmouth Marriages, Portsmouth History Center
*Thanks to Conor Dullaghan for his input on the transcription of the letter.