October 24th, 1916.

Dear Mother,

The winter is beginning to set in rather severely. I hope the weather is better at home. We got the first snow fall yesterday. Not so long ago it would have filled the men with a certain joy and wonder, now it is yet another reminder of another winter spent away from home. It really isn’t like home. We complain about the rain in Dublin but this is something else. The rain conducts the cold with a tenacity I have never known. We struggle to get warm in the first place and it’s even harder to stay warm. The cold bites into the men as bad as any bullet.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it were not for the rain and sleet. We stand waiting in the sodden trenches each day but even the officers know better than to force half frozen men over the top. We are practically solid as we stand shin deep in ice cold mud and water. I fell over earlier as I could no longer feel my feet. My toes had gone completely numb. My boots were submerged under the rancid freezing water. It is not as bad as one of the sentries last night. The poor fellow has had three toes amputated from frostbite. Poor chap.

I used a mirror to survey no man’s land just before dusk. The shell holes were filled with water from the last few weeks of rainfall. They had frozen with the drop in temperature and had stayed frozen through the day. I thought the winter last year was grim, but at least the German’s are suffering as bad as ourselves.

We are starting to struggle with the rations as well. There are supposed to be supply runs taking food to the front and injured to the field hospital three or four times a day. Now we are lucky if we see a transport once a day. The roads coming to the trench have fallen into disrepair. The constant rainfall and now the freezing weather is wreaking havoc. As a truck headed off yesterday, the road collapsed beneath it. It rolled over and off the road. There were several injured men in it and a couple of medics. Two of the injured men died and one of the medics was concussed. It is beginning to wear heavily on the men’s nerves. They are cold and hungry. It makes them in a foul and rebellious mood. For the time being there is nought to do but to sit and stare at the Germans until the cold kills one or both of us.

Pvt. McKenna received a letter this morning. His father owns the butcher’s shop down off Thorncastle Street in Ringsend. The letter said that his brother was being detained in Frongoch after the Rising. They are releasing all the low level prisoners taken from the GPO first but they have his brother pegged as a ringleader of some sort. The way McKenna tells it, his brother is a bit rough and tumble but not a bad sort. It didn’t sit well with many of the chaps here. Every Mick and Paddy seems to have been shipped off if they ever said so much as a hello to a Republican.

Now while most of us were sympathetic to McKenna, one of the new officers drafted in, . Lieutenant Clemens made a snide remark. McKenna cleaned his clock and put him to sleep with a right hook. When Clemens came to, he took out his pistol and went looking for McKenna with a perturbing determination. It took three of us to talk Clemens out of shooting him. Clemens is a sod and pillock. We are hoping he won’t last long, and have actually started a betting pool to see how long he sticks it out. I’ve got three shillings on three weeks. One of the lads has put a pound on McKenna killing him within the week.

I don’t know what is to come in the next couple of weeks. We haven’t really moved over the last couple weeks. We haven’t seen real action since the Battle of Ginchy back in September. I fear that only means a big offensive will come soon. We haven’t had it through the official channels but the men are whispering. They are nervous, saying it is the calm before the storm. Another fruitless surge of life over the top, to be met with only death or a near escape of it. This is the way of it, over and over again. You would not think the war would last this long taking such a toil on life for every yard gained, but there seems to be no end in sight, one quickly gives up hope up of a breakthrough or crushing surge. It seems our generation is destined to waste half of it’s youth in this monotonous and endless ritual of death.   

I hope to write to you again soon. I hope that you and father are well. I don’t imagine I will see you before Christmas. I hope you are safe and that you are looking after each other. I will be home as soon as I can.

        With love,

        Your son,

        Pvt. Peter Keegan


Cillian Fearon |  Short Story Serialist