As this year is the centenary of the start of World War I, the project 14-18 Now has been commissioning art projects and other events to mark the event. One of the projects is collecting letters to the statue of the Unknown Soldier who stands on Platform One at Paddington Station. Today is the last day you can submit a letter before they are collated to be stored in the British Library.
I decided to write a letter for the website and, as I’ll be featuring bits and pieces of World War I stuff on the blog, I thought I would publish it here as well. I decided to write it to my great-grandad, John Hennessey. I’ll post more about him soon.
It’s funny; I’ve only discovered more about your war experience since writing to your niece. Your daughter- my grandma- didn’t know you’d been gassed. She said you never spoke about your time at war to your daughters.
I keep your photo in the living room. You’re there with three of your pals, all dressed up in your army uniforms. I assume that they were also part of the same Irish regiment. You all look terribly young. I think about my own son, husband and brother and think about how I would feel if they were called up. I’d be terrified. I can imagine your parents were horrified when you signed up, underage.
Through research, I found out about your regiment. Your regimental song is ‘It’s A Long Way To Tipperary’, which I sing to my little boy as I get him ready for bed. He’s your great-great grandson and he definitely has a family resemblance! I always think about you as I sing it.
To be honest, I only know snippets of your life at war. I know that you told my mum you had shrapnel still left in you. I know that there are family legends that you walked frm Cork to Dublin to join up (although having done my research, I’m not sure how true that is.) I was told that you’d never had a pair of boots before joining up. I’ve seen your village and where you were born- I can believe it.
I desperately wish I could speak to you and ask you about your life. Searching through archives and speaking to relatives only gives us so much.
Yours sincerely and with love,