Fr William Doyle SJ, from Dublin, was killed by a German shell in the Great War on this day 95 years ago in the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele. It was ten days after my maternal grandmother's brother, Corporal Lawrence Dowd, died in the same battle. I wonder if Father Doyle attended to my Uncle Larry before he died?
Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ, a truly inspiring blog, in the entry for 10 August gives an extract from a letter Father Willie wrote to his father in Dublin six days before his death.
A sad morning as casualties were heavy and many men came in dreadfully wounded. One man was the bravest I ever met. He was in dreadful agony, for both legs had been blown off at the knee. But never a complaint fell from his lips, even while they dressed his wounds, and he tried to make light of his injuries. Thank God, Father, he said, I am able to stick it out to the end. Is it not all for little Belgium? The Extreme Unction, as I have noticed time and again, eased his bodily pain. I am much better now and easier, God bless you, he said, as I left him to attend a dying man. He opened his eyes as I knelt beside him: Ah! Fr. Doyle, Fr. Doyle, he whispered faintly, and then motioned me to bend lower as if he had some message to give. As I did so, he put his two arms round my neck and kissed me. It was all the poor fellow could do to show his gratitude that he had not been left to die alone and that he would have the consolation of receiving the Last Sacraments before he went to God. Sitting a little way off I saw a hideous bleeding object, a man with his face smashed by a shell, with one if not both eyes torn out. He raised his head as I spoke. Is that the priest? Thank God, I am all right now. I took his blood-covered hands in mine as I searched his face for some whole spot on which to anoint him. I think I know better now why Pilate said Behold the Man when he showed our Lord to the people.
In the afternoon, while going my rounds, I was forced to take shelter in the dug-out of a young officer belonging to another regiment. For nearly two hours I was a prisoner and found out he was a Catholic from Dublin, and had been married just a month. Was this a chance visit, or did God send me there to prepare him for death, for I had not long left the spot when a shell burst and killed him? I carried his body out the next day and buried him in a shell hole, and once again I blessed that protecting Hand which had shielded me from his fate.
Fr William Doyle SJ (3 March 1874 - 16 August 1917)
Prayer for Priests by Fr Doyle