Thoughts for June 6 from Fr Willie Doyle

Today we have a small excerpt from one of Fr Doyle’s letters which describes his preparations for the Battle of Messines. It was a truly devastating engagement. We shall read Fr Doyle’s description of the events tomorrow, though in preparation you may be interested in reading a description of the attack here:

For today, we will focus on Fr Doyle’s spiritual preparations. One interesting coincidence for us today – June 6 was a Wednesday and the eve of the feast of Corpus Christi in 1917, just as it is in 2012.

Here is Fr Doyle’s description of this night in 1917:

On Wednesday night, June 6th we moved off, so as to be in position for the attack at 3.10 a.m. on Thursday morning, the Feast of Corpus Christ! I got to the little temporary chapel at the rear of our trenches soon after twelve, and tried to get a few moments’ sleep before beginning Mass at one, a hopeless task, you may imagine, as the guns had gone raging mad. I could not help thinking would this be my last Mass, though I really never had any doubt the good God would continue to protect me in the future as He had done in the past, and I was quite content to leave myself in His hands, since He knows what is best for us all.

Alfred O’Rahilly describes the rest of the preparation in these words:

It was 11.50 when Fr. Browne and Fr. Doyle reached the little sandbag chapel which they had used when holding the line. There they lay down for an hour’s rest on two stretchers borrowed from the huge pile waiting nearby for the morrow’s bloody work. Leaving their servant lying fast asleep through sheer exhaustion, the two chaplains got up at 1 a.m. and prepared the altar. Fr. Doyle said Mass first and was served by Fr Browne, who, not having yet made his Last Vows, renewed his Vows at the Mass, as he always did at home on Corpus Christi. It was surely a weird and solemn Renovation. While Fr. Browne unvested after his own Mass and packed up the things, Fr. Doyle and his servant (now awake) prepared breakfast. At 2.30 the two chaplains put on their battle kit and made for their respective aid posts. Up near the front line, along the hedgerows, the battalions of the 48th Brigade were massed in support position. Their task was not to attack, but to follow up and consolidate and, should need arise, to help the leading brigades. “As I walked up to my post at the advanced dressing station,” says Fr. Doyle, “I prayed for that peace of a perfect trust which seems to be so pleasing to our Lord.”

One thought on “Thoughts for June 6 from Fr Willie Doyle

  1. On Wednesday 6th June 1917 Major-General W.B. Hickie Commanding 16th (Irish) Division issued an order of the day:
    “The Big Day is very near. All our preparations are complete, and the Divisional Commander wishes to express his appreciation and his thanks to all the officers and men who have worked so cheerfully and so well. The 16th Division is fortunate in having had assigned to it the capture of the stronghold of Wytschaete. Every officer and man – Gunners, Sappers, Pioneers, RAMC, ASC and infantry of historic Irish regiments – knows what he has to do.
    Let all do their best, as they have always done, continuing to show the same courage and devotion to duty which has characterised the 16th (Irish) Division since it landed in France, and it will be our proud privilege to restore to Little Belgium, the ‘White village,’ which has been in German hands for nearly three years.”
    With this rallying cry the 16th (Irish) Division moved into battle assembly positions in the early hours of the next day.

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