06 August 2012

A death in the Great War 95 years ago today

Transfiguration of Christ, Paolo Veronese, painted 1555-56

Today is the 34th anniversary of the death of Pope Paul VI. It is also the 95th death anniversary of Corporal Lawrence Dowd, an older half-brother of my maternal grandmother Annie Dowd Collins. He died in battle near Ieper (Ypres). I was the first relative to locate his grave, in September 2001. Other relatives whom I didn't know personally, independently of me, found it a few years later, learned that I had been there first and contacted me, leading to new friendships and learning more about my Uncle Larry. 

Potijze Chateau Grounds Cemetery where Larry Dowd is buried

I had always thought that Larry was the eldest of the second family of my great-grandfather Michael Dowd. His first wife died. At the age of 35 he married Mary Geraghty who, as my late mother used to put it, 'came in over five children at the age of 19'. But I learned from my newly-discovered cousins that Larry was the youngest of the first family. They have some of his letters, written to his eldest brother, and official documents from the British War Office. I smiled when I learned that he had been demoted from sergeant to corporal over something that had happened on a boat from England to Belgium.

Larry had enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers but had been transferred  a number of times, as happened to so many. His birth place is given as Dunleek, Lanarkshire, Scotland. However, that can't be right as we had no connections whatever with Scotland. In his last letter he wrote that he had applied to be moved back to his 'beloved Dubs'. When I was growing up we Dubliners were known as 'jackeens'. But when the Dublin Gaelic football team was so successful in the 1980s the term 'Dubs' more or less replaced it. However, the nickname seems to go back to the Dublin Fusiliers.

At Uncle Larry's grave, September 2001

Ten days after Larry's death the saintly Fr Willie Doyle SJ died in the same battle.

A friend of mine in Dublin says The light of heaven on him whenever he refers to someone who has died. When Peter, James and John went up Mount Tabor with Jesus they caught, ever so briefly, a glimpse of the light of heaven. May it shine on my Uncle Larry and on all who died in that awful war. One of the hopeful things I experienced very strongly when I visited Ieper is that the memory of all the dead who died in the Great War in that area, no matter what side they were on, is held in reverence by the people there. Perhaps in the hell that men created there some saw - and still see - the presence of the Transfigured Christ.

May that be so for all of us.


Anonymous said...

Dear Father Sean, your posts are always so good..this one made me remeber a simmilar relative of mine, my paternal grandmothers brother, after whom my father was named, he is I think one of manywith no knowm grave, his name is on the Arras memorial,Pte Ernest Dodge killed 25/03/1918.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thank you, Marion. I remembered your great-uncle in my prayer tonight. Check out today's post on Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ, an inspiring blog. He was killed in the same area ten days after my Uncle Larry. I wonder if Larry was among those he tended the day Larry died. You'll find Father Willie's account of that day on the blog: http://fatherdoyle.com/2012/08/06/thoughts-for-august-6-from-fr-willie-doyle-3/#comment-3325

Anonymous said...

I read the blogg about Father Doyle before I wrote my comment, what a terrible place the front was and still is I suppose.His matter of fact description of the conditions, no wonder so many men suffered for the rest of their lives! I enjoy the links you share and find them illuminating and inspireing.Thank you for your prayer for my Great Uncle. I shall remember your intentions in mine.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

The following comment by Carole appeared under 'Thought for August 6 from Fr Willie Doyle'[http://fatherdoyle.com/2012/08/06/thoughts-for-august-6-from-fr-willie-doyle-3/#comment-3335 [ in the excellent blog 'Remembering Father William Doyle SJ', where I had posted a link to my post on my great-uncle.

Corporal Dowd served with the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment of 47th Infantry Brigade. Father Doyle served first with a battalion of 49th Infantry Brigade and then 48th Infantry Brigade. All three brigades were part of 16th (Irish) Division and there would have been some cross-over in their paths. On 31st July 1917, the first day of Third Battle of Ypres, Fr. Doyle was with his men of 8th Royal Dublin Fusiliers at Brandhoek Camp west of Ypres and 6th Battlion Royal Irish Regiment were also there, awaiting orders. Prior to that both battalions had been at Watou at the end of July. When the battle came to a temporary halt, men of 16th (Irish) Division were rotated between holding the front line and spending time further back, until battle recommenced on 16th August. However, even when further back at Brandhoek, and other camps nearby, they still came under shell-fire, plus they were often engaged in dangerous maintenance duties. It was dangerous and exhausting work just getting to and from the various locations. On 6th August the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment arrived back at Brandhoek camp after four days holding the new front line. During that time they had been to the left of 8th Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the day previously the Germans had mounted an attack on the Divisional front. As a result, the 6th Battalion Royal Irish Regiment suffered casualties of 139 all ranks (25% of strength) – reported in their war diary. Casualties refers to wounded and missing as well as killed, but it is probable that the death of Corporal Dowd was one of the 139 casualties.

Thank you, Carole

Crux Fidelis said...

Fr Seán:
I have never heard of any place in Lanarkshire called Dunleek. A number of my colleagues are from Lanarkshire and they too are ignorant of its existence - as is Google. Apparently recruiting sergeants of that era were none too diligent when recording names and places. The late Sir John Barbirolli of Hallé Orchestra fame once recalled that when he went to enlist during the Great War the recruiting sergeant inscribed his name as "John Bob O'Reilly".

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thanks, Crux. Someone made a mistake. I wrote the late parish priest of DULEEK, County Meath, some years ago. It's between Navan and Drogheda. My grandmother was born and baptised in Navan but I haven't located any records for Larry. The parish priest sent me information about various persons named 'Dowd' but none fitted what I knew about my great-uncle. to think that my grandmother died the year before I was ordained and I never asked her anything about her family!

If you're not familiar with 'Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ' check it out. It's truly inspiring.

Crux Fidelis said...

I will check it out, Father.

I was suspicious right away of the location "Dunleek, Lanarkshire" as Gaelic place names are virtually unknown in that part of the world. Duleek was also the place that I thought of as a possibility (I have a cousin living in Navan so I'm quite familiar with that area).
My grandmother was born in Co Fermanagh but the place of birth of her sister, who married a Dutchman in the 1920s, is given on a Dutch genealogy site as "Kilman, England". I've checked all the villages and townlands of Fermanagh and can't figure where that might be. I very much doubt if there's such a place name or anything like it in England.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Your note about 'John Barbirolli' becoming 'John Bob O'Reilly' reminds me of that famous episode in Fawlty Towers when Manuel is on the phone to Basil Fawlty wondering what to do with the 'Orally men', the workers of O'Reilly the cut-price Irish builder engaged in what some bloggers would say in a liturgical context 'wreckovating' the hotel.

Here in the Philippines such mistakes by those registering newly born infants can cause problems later on. A religious sister I know could not take the licensure examination for social workers because her birth certificate said she was a male.

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Father Seán,
No doubt you made your Uncle Larry smile down from heaven!
What a chilling sight those war cemeteries are...