Irish soldier describes World War I hell in newly discovered letter
Irishman Captain Billy Richards describes the hellish experience of fighting during the first World War for the British Army at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli on August 10th, 1915. His letter has come to light the same time as Irish president Mary McAleese is making a visit to Turkey and Gallipoli.
Richards served with the 6th Battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers and wrote the letter for his father, he was also an uncle of novelist Jennifer Johnston.
Richards describes an attempt to capture routes to Istanbul and the Black Sea from Turkish forces.
"We have been fighting for four days and I am sorry to say may have lost most of the battalion,"
"We were doing fatigues for the first two days and only lost about 10 men but yesterday morning about 3am, we were called up to stop a counter- attack. In about two hours we lost 12 officers and about 450 men. How I got through I shall never understand, the shrapnel and bullets were coming down like hail."
“In the last five nights I have had about five hours sleep but still feel fairly fit in body but my heart is broken for all those fellows I like so much.” writes Richards.
Richards then explains that two divisions were sent up to replace them.
"We are at present much nearer to the enemy than they are, but they are giving us a rest. When they come up we will all attack.”
Richards also makes reference to the "young lads" in Ireland that did not join the army. Many Irish people that served in the British army during the First World War did so to protect Irish Home Rule.
"I would like to see some of the young lads who are staying at home get a few days of this. If they weren’t killed they would or should die of shame.”
Richards describes how his closest friends were wounded and survived. Richards hopes he too could survive.
“After yesterday I have a feeling I shall get through this ‘job’,” he said.
Richards died five days after he wrote this letter. He died of wounds received from a bayonet charge from Turkish soldiers.
His death is graphically detailed by regimental chaplain Con McClean in the book The Pals of Suvla Bay. It is a book about a group of friends that join the British Army and serve together in the Dubin Fusiliers.
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