Wednesday 22 October 2014

Tragic soldier's last letter home among WWI treasure trove

Published 14/07/2014 | 02:30

Pictured are (LtoR) Anne Richards, Carmel Shanahan and Rita Gallagher with photographs and letters from Peter Leo McGrane at the World War 1 Roadshow hosted by Trinity College Dublin in partnership with Radio 1 and the National Library of Ireland. Photo: El Keegan
Joe Loughnane and Colman Shaughnessy with military cap badges of regiments of WWI with Irish connections, medals and a swagger stick at the World War 1 Roadshow hosted by Trinity College Dublin in partnership with RTÉ Radio 1 and the National Library of Ireland. Photo: El Keegan
Joe Loughnane and Colman Shaughnessy with military cap badges of regiments of WWI with Irish connections, medals and a swagger stick at the World War 1 Roadshow hosted by Trinity College Dublin in partnership with RTÉ Radio 1 and the National Library of Ireland. Photo: El Keegan
Pictured is a family picture of Christopher McGrane of the Air Corps provided by Anne Richards, Carmel Shanahan and Rita Gallagher at the World War 1 Roadshow hosted by Trinity College Dublin in partnership with Radio 1 and the National Library of Ireland. Photo: El Keegan

AN UPBEAT soldier wrote home from the front to tell his family "you might forget there even was a war on" after enjoying a sports day with his comrades.

A week later Second Lieutenant Peter Leo McGrane (28) was dead, among the almost 300,000 casualties at the Battle of Arras in spring 1917.

His faded letter was among tattered, worn canvas military backpacks, poems from the trenches, yellowing photographs and medals of bravery that were dusted down for an 'Antiques Roadshow'-style event focusing on World War I.

Hundreds of relatives of Irishmen who fought during the Great War gathered in Trinity College Dublin's Examination Hall to remember and reclaim their heritage and history.

Essential

Anne Richards, the grandniece of Mr McGrane of the Third Battalion in the Royal Irish Regiment, arrived with dozens of photographs and letters, including the one written seven days before he was killed in action on May 20, 1917.

"I've brought all these pictures here today because it is essential this piece of history is recorded and his life is remembered," she told the Irish Independent. "These men and the families of those who died didn't get the recognition they deserved – it was a double trauma for many."

The roadshow, which was organised with TCD, RTE Radio 1 and the National Library, saw historians carefully study items before they were photographed and digitised for our national records.

Patrick Moore from Tipperary arrived with a book of poetry his grandfather wrote recalling his experience in the trenches.

"He never spoke about the war to anyone," Mr Moore said. "My grandmother would ask him what had happened in the trenches, but he could never get the words out.

"Then in the 1950s he sat down and wrote it all down in three days. He handed my grandmother the journal and said 'This is my story'."

Mr Moore treasures the worn book and can recite all of its contents by rote. "It's my party piece," he said.

"Parts of it are emotional, like when he writes about his friends being injured or killed, but it is incredible to have an account like this and to remember what he went through."

Joe Loughnane from Loughrea, Co Galway travelled to Dublin with a case full of cap badges of all the regiments.

"For me it's about sharing history but it's also an opportunity to learn more," he said. "I would know a fair amount about the different regiments but would love to find out more about the Connacht Rangers or the Munster Fusileers. You come here to soak up information as well as give it out."

Irish Independent

Read More

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News