Remembrance-Two Grandfathers And World War One

As a native of Liverpool, with Wexford roots from my maternal grandfather, I grew up with stories of the family farm back in Ferns, and stories of my grandfather, Henry Gahan, a Liverpool man, who was a veteran of the trenches of World War One.

As a member of the Royal Engineers, he would crawl out into no man’s land-that very dangerous space between the British and German trenches-to try and intercept German messages on their telephone lines. However, at the end of 1916, as a result of the wet conditions of the trenches, he became ill and was discharged from the army and returned to his job as a post office telegrapher in Liverpool.

A hundred years ago on 11 November 1918, he was on duty in Liverpool’s main post office, in his role as a telegraphist. He was responsible for receiving and sending messages via morse code-a series of dots and dashes-along radio lines, one of the main methods of electronic communications a century ago.

That Monday morning, at his desk, at 10.26 am he received the following message from London:

“Prime Minister Makes Following Announcement. Armistice Is Signed At Five O’Clock This Morning And Hostilities Are To Cease On All Fronts At Eleven Am Today”

So ended the First World War, the war it was hoped would be over by Christmas 1914 and the war it was hoped that would end all wars. The war claimed the lives of over sixteen million people.

I was telling this story to one of our  Irish Chaplaincy Seniors volunteers, Anne Harding, who told me the  story of her grandfather, Richard Evans, also a native of Liverpool, also with links to Wexford, this time Saltmills, where his wife was from, who died in the First World War and is buried in Fouquieres Churchyard Extension in Northern France.

In 1914, waiting to go to war Richard wrote these words in a letter to his wife Annie:

“My darling wife, Just a few lines hoping and trusting that, as the weather gets warmer, you will get well and be your dear old self again.

I am afraid dearie, you must be prepared to hear that I am going to France next week,without leave. Everyone in England has to go without leave.  I would give my life not to have to tell you this but God help me it must be done and you must face it bravely, as you have often faced trouble before and for our children’s sake.  You must forget me being out there and think of me still in England.  You can’t do me any good by worrying and if I know that my own little girl is quietly and calmly waiting for the day when I return I shall be contented, for I am coming back.  I feel that I shall before this year is out.  The war will be over and I will be united to you once more and forever more. Won’t that be grand?

Annie dear, promise me you won’t worry – the time will soon slip by.  I am going again to Holy Communion on Sunday and will offer it up for your health, so cheer up love and I will look forward to us being lovers once more. Heaps of love and kisses to your dear self and our sunny children.

From your loving and devoted Husband. Xxxxx

Xxxx  Xxx      I will send a wire at the last minute.”

My grandfather apparently never talked of his experiences of war, and it was only following his death, that his wartime diary came to light and what he had done. He finished his diary with the stark statement that volunteering for the army was “the worst days work I ever did”.

Anne’s grandfather Rifleman Richard Evans of the King’s Liverpool Regiment paid the ultimate price, laying down his life on active service.

It is poignant indeed to think that a century later, two of us here at the Irish Chaplaincy, both have Irish Liverpool grandfathers with Wexford links who were both caught up in that shattering conflict.

This Remembrance time, let us remember all who have suffered and still suffer as a result of war and renew our efforts for a peaceful world with justice for all.

The World is a Hankerchief

My wife and I were staying with friends in Liverpool and Paul was telling us about his voluntary work as Chair of the St Bart’s & Friends Community Sponsorship Scheme, by which careful preparations are made for the welcome of a Syrian refugee family into a parish. Paul mentioned the excellent input the group had received from Sean Ryan of Caritas Salford who is the national lead for the scheme. “Sean the musician?” I asked. It was indeed the same Sean that I had been in Rome with a few weeks ago for the Caritas Leadership Week and with whom I’d enjoyed a couple of great sessions of music. Continue Reading

Caritas at Villa Palazzola

I get the chance through my work to meet a lot of great people, in some interesting places (from prisons to palaces), and the Caritas Leadership Week near Rome did not disappoint. We were a group of fifty, representing a range of Catholic charities and dioceses in England and Wales, staying at Villa Palazzola, a 13th century Cistercian monastery perched above a volcanic lake, Lago di Albano, and according to the website ‘Rome’s best kept secret’. Continue Reading

Where’s the Bishop?

Maimie, who is 87 and one of our Seniors, was convinced there was a bishop coming to visit her, and as each of her guests came into her flat and turned out not to be a bishop she seemed to grow more and more disappointed. First in were Paul the Seniors’ Project manager and Joe, one of our wonderful volunteers. They were followed by two special visitors from Ireland: Alan Brogan, former Dublin Gaelic footballer, and Harry Casey who works closely with the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference (which is where she must have got the notion that there was a bishop flying over to see her). As I trooped in last, Maimie asked be, almost in desperation “are you the bishop?”

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The Church and Sport Spirituality

Sport, Spirituality and Seniors

One of my earliest childhood memories is of the Italia ’90, the 1990 Soccer World Cup Finals. It was the first time that the Republic of Ireland reached the finals and the team, affectionately known as Jack’s Army, was under the direction of Jack Charlton. New anthems were written, there was a run on Credit Union loans to finance fans visiting Italy and the nation truly held it’s breath at the penalty shoot-out against Romania. On returning home after the finals, Jack’s Army received a hero’s welcome.

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