Letter from Private Giles to the widow of Private Christopher Coleman of the 7th Leinster Regt, killed on the Somme.

Dear Madam

Yours to hand the 15 inst & I have great pleasure in answering your

most kind & welcome letter. I daresay you was a little upset at first

after receiving a letter from my fried but I do hope & trust these lines

will find you in the best of health & spirits under circumstances & I

shall also be very pleased indeed if you will accept my sympathy in your

sad bereavement you said in your letter you would like to know details

re what I know of him well dear madam its a


very strange thing how I fell across him. My company was sent to

Guillemont to clear a way for traffic after the place was taken (this was) &

my duty was to go round & see all tools was collected & I can tell you

I was always on the look out for any one that may have been wounded or

killed & missed which I know often is the case as there is so much to

do & of course the lads cannot do everything. However I came across this

fellow in a shell hole (a very large one) & passed him as I passed

others that lay about. & something struck me to go back & see him, as he

lay there as if resting from a long walk. his statue marked me very

much indeed he looked sa smart & of a lovely build. then I pictured my-


self in his place. how if it was me & suppose he has just got missed

altogether how will his friends ever know. so you can guess how I got

my mind seemed only of him & his dear ones if any, how was I to know.

(at this time I forgot all about going to look for tools. & I thought

of his top pocket that all I could get tp. & with my knife I cut it

down & I saw a piece of paper I got it out & read it. & to my great

relief I saw an address taht as you have at the present. & then I opened

the other & the label of him was inside. this label I refer to is one

they all have to wear when wounded & as he was wounded in the hand. that

accounts for it)


& no doubt he was going to keep it. I hope dear madam you will forgive

me of taking liberties with your dear husbands body. but you can rest

assured (I will give you my word of honour.) that he is buried & I

buried him the best I could. not so well as some but better than

thousands. I was at this time up at the ruined church & luck came my way again

going about as I liked that gave me another chance of going to see if

any one had interfared with him. this was after I had buried him. &

about 600 yards from the church. I came back to my party after about

(say houer away. & found a lovely square stone from the ruins with 5



engraved on it. then I claimed it & took it for his grave after

writing his name & regiment in copying ink pencil as best I could. hoping &

trusting that if I was called away myself some-one would be sure & come

across him & probably would let your know. This was as near as I can

say to date Sept 15th & Fritz as we call the German was still sending

the shells pretty thick. & just after I was finished my duty to wards

this unknown soldier (your dear husband.) a shell came just after we had

finished dinner & I lost four of my comrades. I am very sorry also for

their parents.


it’s a hard war & dreadful to see let alone hear about it, but I thank

God he has spared me to write these few lines to you to night. how I

wish I had sent at the first. you can I hope well understand me. I did

not like sending such bad news to you but it struck me all at once. my

friend sent me a paper & has it happened there appeared the photo of a

fellow belonging to my own country. he also was reported missing but I

have the clue of him as of your loving husband & I saw him I believe

the same day but not in such a good condition & his letters & his kit

baglay their. I picked them up & he belonged to my own


brothers regiment & the same company. I kept them until now & when I

saw his photo. I soon reckoned up what to do. Send his & yours as

well. I thought to my self if that lady’s in the same street she will

never know. So of course I asked my friend as to her opinion about the

matter & if she would send. This she has kindly done & we must Thank God.

as I said before & hope & trust he will keep me long enough to let you

know as much as I possibly can can as regards to your husband Dear

madam if there is any thing else you would like to ask me I shall only be

to pleased to hear from you at any-time –


You said as to me wanting anything at present I’m afraid I do not as

I’m in good circumstances this has happened since, (this affair) & I have

pretty well everthing of the best. also I have good friends at home &

relations that will provide for me if Im wanting. I may tell you I

have had to rough it for at least 9 months. & this part I’m at now is not

so far up to the line. my work at present is cook for the superior 6

officers at Headquarters & they are of the best as one could wish also

my mates & we are all happy to-gether & make the best of it. not

forgetting to thank you for your kind offer. which is very good of you.


if I have done you a favour, I have been rewarded for it. & thats my

blood. I cannot help it I must be doing good some-where my dear mother

was the same – when she was alive. & she was my only treasure. you

can guess the rest. (how I miss her.) dear madam I hope you will forgive

me writing so much as its your husband you want to hear about it looks

as if I am telling you more of my-self. I was quite forgetting hoping &

trusting to hear from you again I must now close

I remain

yours truly

Pte G H Wiles

P.S. if you would like me to send the label I shall only be to pleased

to do so at my earliest convenience

Please excuse bad writing and mistakes

Good bye & may God bless you


Dear Madam

wishing you a Happy & Prosperous New Year

& Best of Luck

yours G W

I have no other paper & envelopes

so please excuse



Four days in North Yorkshire

boars head

Entrance to the Boar’s Head public house and country hotel, Ripley, North Yorkshire

You can catch a bus to Ripley, from Leeds Bus station. Number 36.  It takes you all across the dales to North Yorkshire and drops you off right outside the Boars Head in Ripley, which was where I was staying for a four-day Yorkshire Break.  Ripley is one of those handsome stone built Yorkshire villages set in rolling dales, which round there are steeped in the blood and the history of religious and civil wars.   Not too far away was Marston Moor where Oliver Cromwell destroyed the Northern army of Charles the 1st.    And at Ripley castle, on the edge of the village, lived the Ingleby’s, heavily related to and implicated with those involved in the 1605 Guy Fawkes gunpowder conspiracy to blow up the Houses of Parliament.  There’s some good people round here!

The 700-year-old castle still remains in the Ingleby family but is now a neat manicured family home/castle/manor house,  with extensive gardens, tea rooms, souvenir shops, a lake with a small waterfall, and long county walks.  It has become the poshest and most popular place in Yorkshire to have your wedding and you can hire it for grouse shooting, antique fairs and such like county pursuits.

We dined, Patricia and I, as the guests of Sir Thomas and Lady Ingleby, in the panelled library of the Castle.  Cromwell had dined here, in the very same room, shortly after the battle of Marston Moor, in 1644.    While he dined, Sir William Ingleby, a staunch catholic royalist and the then owner of the castle, who had fled from the bloody fields of the Marston Moor rout of the King’s Army, to his home in the castle, hid from Cromwell and his troops in the castle priest hole.

So, when the royal toast was proposed, I raised my glass of Yorkshire beer and toasted, quietly, under my breath, Oliver Cromwell.

Crofts, Ernest, 1847-1911; Cromwell after the Battle of Marston Moor

Cromwell on the march after the Battle of Marston Moor

We were told the tale of Cromwell and his soldiers arriving at the castle, weary and tired, their boots, horses, armour and swords stained with the blood of the battle, seeking entry for the night.   The sister of sir William refused to open the castle gates and a tense stand off ensued with Cromwell demanding entry and Sir William’s sister, known as Trooper Jane Ingleby, denying it.    Of course, Yorkshire common sense prevailed, and the gates were eventually opened.


It occurred to me that what he should have done, Cromwell, to gain entry, was to shout up at Jane on the battlements, “We’ve booked it for a wedding”


To Ripon next, about half an hour on the bus.   It has the appearance of a smallish country town; market square, town hall, war memorial, old buildings, some of them timbered, that sort of thing.  But it has a cathedral.  Massive.  As big as St. Paul’s in London and it’s a puzzle as why such a quaint country town should have such a monster size cathedral.   But it’s a very cool place to visit.  It has been a place of prayer since 670, perhaps even before that. The cathedral is built over the original little 670 chapel of St Wilfred.  You can go down a steep winding stone staircase to the chapel itself, a small stone room not much bigger than a smallish garden shed.   I sat in the stone chapel a little while, on my own.  Thought it could do with a bit of a refurbishment.

Back up in the cathedral I sat and listened to a choir practice and saw this strange creature carved on one of the stalls of the choir. choir stalls 2   They are peaceful places such cathedrals, even if like me, you have no faith, worship no God and follow no religion.   There is an elegance in the soaring architecture, the stained glass and the low lighting.I lit a candle for our son Gavan who was taken from us earlier this year and sat and thought about him for a while.    owen ripon cathedral

And I stumbled across these five panels mounted behind the alter in the chapel of peace and justice, dedicated to the poet Wilfred Owen and engraved with words taken from his poetry.


A bloke on the bus had recommended I go for a pint at the Royal Oak in Ripon and as it was only 100 yards or so from the cathedral I took up his suggestion and so found myself in this proper ancient Yorkshire pub with black beams and real Yorkshire horse brasses and copper topped tables.   It was renowned, the Royal Oak, for its food.   There was an all-day full Yorkshire breakfast, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, Yorkshire sausages, Yorkshire beef pies, Yorkshire Barnsley chops, Yorkshire pikelets, Yorkshire vegetable soup, Yorkshire cheeses and sticky Yorkshire toffee pudding with Yorkshire custard.

I asked if they had any Lancashire hotpot.   They were very rude to me!  pint at ripon

But the beer was cracking, and for the beer alone I would always return to North Yorkshire, it was brewed in Saltare and by gum it wer good.

There’s not much else to see in Ripon, I had lunch, as one would while up north, in Greggs, a cup of tea and a steak bake, and wondered about the charity shops and into a large store called “The Yorkshire Trading Company” – a sort of cross between Woolworths and the Co-op, most notable for its clothing department which seemed to consist entirely of tweed jackets and flat caps, a sort of national dress in North Yorkshire, although I didn’t see any dog leads.   Whippets don’t kick in till you reach the County Durham Border.

There’s a plaque to Wilford Owen on one of the side streets, 34 Borage lane, where he wrote some of his poems while stationed a t Ripon Army camp, but I couldn’t find it.

And there is a very ancient custom in Ripon whereby each night, at precisely 9pm a man in a three-cornered hat comes out to the war memorial in the market square and blows a horn.   They have not missed a single night since 868 AD.    Well I was not going to hang around Ripon till 9pm but you can see the horn blower on YouTube, here   http://bit.ly/2Ra6Lz7    it’s worth watching till the end, to catch a real touch of Yorkshire charm and wit.  And if you are quick you can see the Greggs shop where I had my cup of tea and steak pie.

I was rather taken with the Yorkshire accent.  It has a real warmth to it and was surprisingly familiar for my mother hailed from Yorkshire and I was born in York so it was good to hear again the lilt and music of it.   If you holiday in France or Italy it would be natural to try and learn a phrase or two of the local language to help you navigate the days, how to order a cup of tea, or a beer, how to buy a bus ticket, that sort of thing.   So why not, I thought, a few Yorkshire phrases?     Thus it was that I started earwigging Yorkshire conversations and secretly practising the accent.    You may not believe me about this but below is an actual conversation I overheard between two Yorkshire ladies, sitting on the seat in front of me, on the number 36 bus to Leeds.  It was so good I had to write it down.  I swear to god this is a genuine conversation.

1st lady:

“ee, it wer right windy last week.  Theay don’t mek clothespegs like theay used ‘ter.  Our Frank’s trousers blew right off washing line, we ‘anvnt seen em since.

2nd lady.

“Yer’d might get sum proper pegs off ee. Bay”

I looked out the window at the passing countryside, hoping to see Frank’s Yorkshire trousers billowing across the dales, but they had long gone.   Probably somewhere over Scotland by now.   But I was encouraged in my wish to learn a phrase or two

I had worked on it.  In the “bath”  and on the “grass”  (with a short “a”) on long  country walks, and now here I was, waiting for the big red Yorkshire bus to Harrogate, determined to put it into practice.   What I meant to say, I didn’t in the end, but what I meant to say was

“ Eee by Gum, ‘ow much is ‘ticket ter ‘arrowgute?”

I glad that I didn’t.   Bus driver was from Poland.

Aye Elvis.

Elvis tribute actI went to see “Aye, Elvis”.   It was such good fun. It’s a  musical.  So poignant ,  I laughed tears and wept at the pathos.   A Scottish woman, leading desperately lonely life, looking after her wheelchair bound mother, working for next to nothing as a checkout girl at the local supermarket, not well educated but the salt of the earth.  From Aberdeen.  Who have you heard of from Aberdeen?      At a local pub karaoke competition she performs an Elvis number.  In pure Scottish, if yer ken wha I mean.

Arre ye lonsime ta neet

De ye miss me ta neet

Ah yer sorrie  wer driffin apairt

She was awful but she is convicted she has it nailed.  She puts her whole heart into it  and it was a joy to watch and to listen to. She wins the £20 karaoke prize and emboldened by the win she buys herself a full glittery sequined Elvis jump  suit and enters a national Elvis Tribute competition And it is glorious, she puts her heart into it.  And it is funny and poignant.  But she’s noo good enough.  There is a happy romantic ridicules ending full of pathos and Elvis songs.   Ahh, its such fun, just what the festival is all about.  Five stars from me.


Private Peaceful – review.

morpengoMorpurgo;s  Private Peaceful is very disappointing.   Perhaps we expected too much after the stunning writing of War Horse, , its astonishing stage production and the film.  Or perhaps World War 1, as a vehicle for drama has passed its peak and needs to take a rest.

Of course one reason may be that without the need of any spoiler alert, we all know the end of the story. it is a universal and self evident truth that a world war one rank and file soldier, executed by firing squad is invariably innocent, has been treated unfairly and unjustly and his killing is a tragedy.

But this was a poor production.   As Private peaceful recalls for us, on stage, his life we see him terrified and traumatised by the horrors of  trench warfare.  He cowers under the barrage of artillery.   We all know, particularly from War Horse, what can be achieved on a stage, but here, the soundtrack of the gunfire and artillery is almost in the background and has none of the volume and horror that would induce the kind of terror and trauma being enacted upon the stage.  It is as if they had got a bog standard recording of  gunfire/artillery from Bargain sound effects for your drama group.com    One would reasonably, I think, expect to flinch from the sounds/ horror of a full scale artillery bombardment, but in truth, you could hear a crisp packet rustle.     And the shots that bring Private Peaceful’s life to an end, surely they could have been loud enough to shock us in our seats, just a little bit?

The story was not as powerful as I had imagined it would be.  Almost every cliche of world war one was thrown in.   Below age signing on;  close friend signing on with you;  friend getting killed;  nasty shouting sgt.:  weak officer;  girlfriend back home; letters about babies.

I have not read the book and cannot say whether this was an accurate reflection of Morpurgo’s  work.  If it is then Private Peaceful is not his finest hour..






Part 2:  A New Presidential election is Imperative.

This is a follow up to a piece I wrote back in 2012 entitled “The RTE have tarnished the Presidency” (http://bit.ly/2MoCa1Q

It is widely accepted that Trump secured the presidency of the United States of America with the help of some dodgy tactics, fake news, manipulation of social media and a ruthless disregard of ethics.

Let us accept that is true.

When it comes to manipulation of  social media and fake news then it worth recalling how Michael Higgins became President of Ireland.

He, personally played no part in the social media manipulation and the fake news that swamped the electoral process won him the election.   But he was, and remains,  the principal beneficiary of a manipulative process that effectively stained the election and stained the office of the presidency.

Let us recall.

We are a small country and national television debates have a markedly greater effect here than they might in a country with a massive population and many many cities and centres of population.      So it was that our most important TV station, deploying its most notable and expensive presenters, and having the most sophisticated monitoring  process  for   filtering “public” contributions and participation in their programmes, (and a wealth of experience in so doing), allowed a entirely fake social media account to plant an entirely fake story, at the prime moments of the principal national debate and  to entirely destroy the campaign of the then frontrunner.    No not just the front runner.  Sean Gallagher was way ahead, no one could catch him and no one would have caught him had it not been for the fake account, the fake allegation and RTE’s role in allowing it to run.

One of our major political parties,  Sinn Fien, was responsible for the fake news, manipulative attack, and they were aided by a supine RTE.

It undermined the integrity of the election and, in my view the integrity of the Presidency.

So now, when we have to consider whether there should be a new Presidential election or whether we should allow President Higgins into a second term without having to face the electorate, then let us remember what occurred.

It is, in my view imperative there be an election to clear the Presidential electoral process of the legacy of a fake news, manipulated unpleasant odour that saw the wrong candidate win.   Or perhaps, for I am a supporter of Michael D, the right candidate win for the wrong reasons.

Of course Michael D should stand, again if so wishes and if he does he would certainly be the candidate that I would support.  But not to have an election is to give legitimacy to the fake news manipulative process that took over the election, for if we are authentic in our collective condemnation of fake news, Trump and all that goes with it, then we owe it to ourselves.


De Profundis compared – Edinburgh Festival


De Profundis  must be one of the most powerful letters in English literature and each year, it appears, in one form or another at almost every Edinburgh Festival.

This year it was Simon Callow in a highly praised performance at the Assembly rooms on George Street.  He attracts, as one would expect for such a distinguished figure in the world of the theatre, large appreciative audiences.

I last saw De Profundis at the Edinburgh Fringe some four years ago, performed, on that occasion, in a much smaller theate, by Gerard Logan and I must say that it was a superior performance to that of Callow.

De Profundis is a very intimate letter and resonates its power when the theatre is smaller and the audience not so vast as that that gathers in the great music hall theatre on George Street.   That, I think, must have contributed to my preference for Logan’s performance.

But there is more.  Callow performs the prose in anger, accusatory anger, for it is an angry letter, whereas Logan’s performance was one of despair and regret.  He did not shout his accusations against Bosie and I think, by doing so he  caught the passion of it better.

The setting of such performances in Edinburgh, indeed, for must shows in Edinburgh, including De Profundis is mostly black curtains and almost nothing on the stage.   Callow had a wooden chair, rather a big chair.    The performance is set in prison but it did not look like a prison chair, nor feel like a prison chair.   It looked too comfortable for a prison, like an IKEA chair rather than a prison stool.  For most of Ca[low’s performance he was seated in the chair, sitting bolt upright angrily proclaiming his accusations against Bosie.   By comparison with Logan it was rather stilted, for Logan was at a desk and it looked much more like a piece of prison furniture; and he was standing, with the “letter” itself in his hands, and he moved with the rhythm of the despair in the letter and it produced a more convincing performance.

Wilde was 43 years old when he wrote De Profundis.   He was a broken dandy.   Callow is now 70 years old.   It is terrible to be so ageist but I think Logan rather carried it off a little more successfully.

For both men, the simple act of committing to memory, not just a few lines but the entire 50,000 word text of the long, powerful prose as it meanders over the minutiae of the Bosie/Wilde  relationship, at times petulant, full of self pity, seething with humiliation and regret, anger and love, is quite astonishing.

Callow’s performance brought forward prolonged  and deserved applause.  Logan’s, as I recall, brought us to our feet.

The wise and foolish Wicklow Virgins

It is the unusual, out of the way things you might accidentally stumble across that make a visit to a famous city memorable.   Edinburgh, like all great cities has it’s must see places, must go to events, its great houses and  art galleries, its long turbulent history, royal and religious and of course the Castle, the Royal Mile, the Edinburgh tattoo and the finest International and Fringe festival in all the world.

We took a house, for the festival, in the Broughton district.  It’s a little off the main city, to the east, close to Leith walk, but still full of those fine stone grey Edinburgh town houses.   traquair-church.jpgAcross the road was a rather noble and superior looking grey stone church, incongruous and a little anonymous, sitting as it does on a busy roundabout.  It turned out to be long de-consecrated. It had been a church of the Catholic Apostolic movement, zealous believers in the second coming, but it  is now preserved as a Scottish heritage project know as the Traquair centre.*

It is a fine building, from a distinguished Scottish Architect,**  but it is  the interior that is most important and for which the building is now listed and protected, for it is adorned with over 500 square meters of the most beautiful religious murals.***  A touch of Italy in the Auld Reekie.

Screenshot 2018-08-09 21.28.23

For me, one of the more exciting aspects of the murals, far too little known outside of Scotland, was that the artist was Irish.

I like to think I know a bit about Irish artists. I  have a small collection of Irish works myself. But I know that I have much to learn and I must confess that I had never heard of this Irish artist, not a whisper of her name in Ireland.  And she was a real revelation, for she is exceptionally well known in Scotland, exceptionally talented and in fact enjoys an international reputation.

phoebe anna traquair

She was Phoebe Anna Moss, born in Dublin in 1852, raised in County Wicklow, the daughter of a prominent Dublin Physician, she studied art and design at the Royal Dublin Society.

She was employed, in Dublin,  by a Scottish paleontologist, Ramsey Traquair, then working at Dublin’s National History Museum, to illustrate his collection of fish fossils. They fell in love and married in Dublin, in 1873.  A year later her husband was appointed Keeper of natural History at the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art and she left Dublin for ever.   It was in Edinburgh that  she made her name as a major, internationally recognised artist.  One of her great admirers was W.B. Yeats who wrote of her, to Lady Gregory,

Nearly all my time in Edinburgh I was absorbed in Mrs Traquair’s work and find it far more beautiful that I had foreseen – one can only judge of it when one sees it in a great mass, for only then does one get any idea of her extraordinary abundance of imagination . . . I have come from her work overwhelmed, astonished, as I used to come long ago from Blake, and from him alone…”

She became a noted member of the Arts and Craft movement and the church murals, while clearly having an Italian influence in their concept, also  display influences from among otherstraquair centre Burne Jones, Rossetti and William Morris.  I was particularly struck by the Morris like details she painted above the arched stone doorways.

By all accounts she was a feisty red headed Irish woman, but five foot tall and full of creative energy.  It was she who simply approached the deacons of the church and told them she was going to paint their walls for them!

It took almost nine years, (between 1892 and 1901) to complete the work and for  the Irish, the greatest  interest will be her series of panels within the church narrating the parable of the wise and foolish virgins****

Here they are in all their glory, in one  of the five virgin panels, being summoned by  the Lord and clutching their famous oil lamps.  Five of them, the wise virgins, carry containers of oil.  The other five, the foolish virgins, have lamps but carry no oil.


The background landscape is  unmistakably the hills of Wicklow, and who, in Ireland will fail to recognise the Sugar Loaf mountain

Henceforward, at least for me, these virgins, wise and foolish, will always be known as the wise and foolish Wicklow Virgins!

Let the trumpets sound:

Screenshot 2018-08-09 21.28.10



* Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB

** Robert Rowand  Anderson (1834 – 1921)        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Rowand_Anderson    

*** Although the obvious Italian influence would suggest they are Frescoes it is more correct to describe them as murals.  The Fresco technique involves applying  pigment to a wet plaster surface whereas here, Mrs Ttarquaid has applied oil paint, diluted with turpentine,   onto a  hard dry surface prepared with lead white..

****  “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, “Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!” Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “What if there isn’t enough for us and you? You go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.” While they went away to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins also came, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Most certainly I tell you, I don’t know you.” Watch therefore, for you don’t know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man  is coming.”       Matthew 25:1-13