New online archive offers insight into ordinary Irishmen’s experiences in WW1

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Christy Burke, will launch an important archive of First World War letters at Dublin City Library & Archive, Pearse Street at 6.30pm tonight Thursday 16th October 2014.

The archive, is a collection of 453 letters from 56 servicemen who wrote to Dublin woman Monica Roberts in acknowledgement of practical gifts she sent to them during the First World War. It has been published in a fully searchable online database of text and images on databases.dublincity.ie. This is a Dublin City Council Decade of Commemoration project, in conjunction with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association.

At the outbreak of the Great War, Monica Roberts of Stillorgan, Co. Dublin, along with her friends, established the ‘Band of Helpers for the Soliders’ to raise funds to send small gifts to the men of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Royal Flying Corps fighting at the Front. Monica Roberts included letters with her presents and usually the soldiers wrote to thank her – she replied and a correspondence was generated.

The Lord Mayor remarked: ‘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.

For more information, contact Mary Clark (01-674 4996) or Ellen Murphy (01-674 4848) or e-mail cityarchives@dublincity.ie
Dublin City Council Media Relations Office (01) 222 2170

Additional Information:
• ‘The Band of Helpers to the Soldiers’ raised funds 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.
• The original letters were donated to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association Archive, held at Dublin City Library and Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street, D2.
• An exhibition titled ‘Letters from the Great War’ will run in the Dublin Room, Dublin City Library and Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street for the months of October and November and is accompanied by original documentation in the display cases from the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Association Archive.
 

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