The Soldiers Last Letter
(Loftus soldiers of the Great War)
Joe with his brother Jim in Glasgow just before he went to France
and his death.
This was the last letter Joe wrote just months before he died.
It was addressed to his brother Jack (my grandfather).
My grandfather's youngest brother Joe, joined the Argyll
and Sutherland Highlanders around 1915 in Glasgow. The picture above is of Joe with his brother Jim and the letter is the
last one he wrote before being killed in action. His body was identified because of this letter which was found in the pocket
of his army tunic. For his sacrifice Joe was postumusly awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He died on the
9th of may 1917 and he is commemorated at the Arras Memorial,France.
Joe's brothers Martin and Bill fought in the war. Martin
was to die five years after the war due to the effects of gas poisoning during the war. Bill was a decorated war hero who
rescued an officer from no man's land and lived to a ripe old age. He never married and lived with his brother Tom who
had been in the IRA during the war. They were both very eccentric but very different. A very odd couple indeed
who were poles apart politically and they were often heard by their neighbours arguing over politics. The
arguement regularly ended with Tom pointing out that his brother had betrayed Ireland by taking the "King's shilling!"
Their cousin Henry Loftus joined the Leinster Regiment
and became a sergeant. He died in 1970. His brother Patrick like Joseph lost his life in France and was a private with the
Royal Irish Fusiliers. Patrick died on the 27th of April 1916.
Henry James Loftus
It should be remembered that a considerable number of the allied troops
who lost their lives in the trenches were young Irishmen not all of whom were "true blue" Ulster protestants. Like Joe, his
brothers and cousins, many of the recruits hailed from southern Ireland and from staunchly catholic and republican backgrounds.
An estimated 320,000 Irishmen took part in the Great War 49,400 of whom died.
They joined the British army for many different reasons, for some it
was the "manly" thing to do macho and exciting, defending their homeland from the dreaded "Hun". However, for a large number
of them it was in the, some would say, naive belief that in doing so they would have earned Ireland its right to home rule.
That was not to be. The Irish "Free State" came into being in 1921
with the signing of the "Anglo Irish Treaty". A bloody civil war ensued. The Republic of Ireland was not declared until 1949.
When I think of Joe and the place where he lies, the song Willie McBride
comes to mind and in particular, the words "and did they believe when they answered the call, did they really believe that
this war would end wars. The sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain, the killing and dying were all done in vein. For
young Willie McBride it all happens again and again and again and again and again."
My sincere wish is that unlike the young man in the song my grand uncle,
his cousin Patrick and all the young men like them,will have found eternal rest in the green fields of France and Belgium.
The First Battle of Ypres by Charles Jagger 1918
Exhumation Party at work near Ypres Belgium June 1920
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Anthem for Doomed Youth
by Wilfred Owen
What passing-bells for those who die like cattle?
Only the monstrous
anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now
for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;
bugles calling them from sad shires.