New online archive of Irishmen’s WW1 experiences

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A new archive of First World War letters has been published online from servicemen who wrote to a Dublin woman who sent them gifts.

Last night the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Christy Burke, launched the fully searchable online database that holds a collection of 453 letters from 56 different servicemen, as well as images.

At the outbreak of the war, Monica Roberts of Stillorgan, Co. Dublin, established the ‘Band of Helpers for the Soldiers’ with her friends to send small gifts to the men of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Flying Corps.

They had to raise funds in order to do so usually through tea-parties and informal concerts. They then sent small gifts to the Front – Vaseline, boracic ointment and socks for sore feet; Oxo to warm up shivering soldiers; and practical items such as pencils, handkerchiefs and pocket knifes. However, the soldiers’ favourite gifts were tobacco, pipes and cigarettes.

Roberts included letters with her presents and usually the soldiers wrote to thank her.

The Lord Mayor said: “The Monica Roberts Collection of 453 letters gives a unique overview of life at the Western Front during the Great War.

“Whereas most letters from the First World War are from officers, this collection is special because the letters are from the rank and file – privates, corporals and sergeants. We are particularly grateful to Monica Roberts’ family for donating this collection and we are glad to bring it to wider attention by publishing it online and making it available free of charge.”

The letters are immensely valuable as they reveal the hardship of service in France and Belgium; the soldiers’ opinion of the German army and ‘Kaiser Bill’; and their longing for Dublin.

Private Edward Mordaunt told Monica: ‘I landed in France 24 September 1914. I have suffered cruel since then, the worst of it was the winter out here, we were frozed and up to our chests in water.’

In May 1916, many of the soldiers commented unfavourably about the Easter Rising which had taken place in the previous month. Private Joseph Clark remarked: ‘There is no one more sorry to hear of the Rising than the Irish troops out here, it worries them more than I can explain.’ The soldiers saw themselves as fighting for Irish freedom and were surprised to find that another group had the same idea.

The collection can be viewed at www.dublinheritage.ie

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