Journal Volume 6 2010
Letters to Stillorgan from the Western Front (continued/3)
Private Patrick Byrne
By way of contrast, the story of Private Patrick Byrne is a tragic one. There is only one letter from him (in Volume 2 of the Collection) and it is dated 4 April 1916. He was aged 28, was born in 9 John’s Street West in Dublin, and was also in B Coy, 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers. His parents were Edward and Kate.
Dear Miss Roberts
I have received your most kind letter which I always long to get from Ireland, it reminds me of the Happy times I spent there. I came out to France with the 1st Expeditionary Force & I have been twice down the line. Once gased at Ypres on 9th May, wounded 22nd January this year & could not get home but I am still in the land of the living, so I have a chance yet of seeing Dear Old Dublin. We had very bad weather all winter what with Snow, Rain, Frost and all, the worst kind of times you could expect in Winter, I did not spend a very good St Patrick’s day (two lines crossed out) outside but not inside. But still you would never hear us Chaps grumble. We just (words crossed out) got our own back by way of throwing Bombs, Rifles, Grenades and Sniping at the Huns so I had amusement after all. Of course I am well used to the game by now, as well as my Comrades, so you can expect we give the Germans a lively time.
I would like you to send me a parcel of Eatables as we are rather short of Grub sometimes. I would be very thankful to you for same. I expect to get my leave in a few months time and then I will relate to you some of my experiences here if it pleases you.
Patrick did not see Dublin again. On the back of the envelope, there is a note, probably written by Monica: ‘Killed in action. Recommended for the VC’. He was killed 17 days after he wrote the letter, on Good Friday 1916. Company Sergeant Major J. Connor wrote on 26 April, giving an account of Private Byrne’s death:
In the Field, 26-4-16
Dear Miss Roberts
In looking through the effects of the late Private Byrne, I came across a letter of yours. I am therefore writing you this letter to let you know of his sad but glorious end. On the 21st inst. a dug-out was blown in by the enemy. Some men being buried, Pte. Byrne went in to get them out but while engaged in this brave work another shell came through the roof killing Pte. Byrne.
I also take this opportunity of thanking you on behalf of the men of B Co. 2nd RDF for your kindness to us, to the whole battalion in fact.
I have just returned for the third time and I remember your very welcome Parcels when conditions were much worse than at present. I refer to October and November 1914.
Again thanking you for your interest and extreme kindness.
PS The shell which killed Pte. Byrne was what we call a dud, i.e. a shell which did not burst.
The Royal Dublin Fusiliers’ Association has added the information that Patrick Byrne is buried in Bienvillers Military Cemetery, plot XIV.A.10. There is no further reference to the Victoria Cross.
The Monica Roberts Collection is a unique one, and will prove even more significant in years to come as the Great War becomes a more distant memory. The gratitude of the men at the front and their appreciation that somebody remembered them and cared about their welfare pervades the letters, and we too should be grateful to Monica Roberts’ daughter, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers’ Association and Dublin City Library for ensuring that these poignant letters from the men of the Great War are made available to readers today and in the future. Perhaps somewhere, maybe in a long-forgotten bundle in an attic, letters from Monica to one of her soldiers have survived, and may yet come to light.