1 April 1916

Taking a short cut across country to our lines I found myself on the first battle field of Loos, the place where the French had made their attack. For some reason or other this part of the ground has not been cleared, and it remains more or less as it was the morning after the fight. I had to pick my steps, for numbers of unexploded shells, bombs and grenades lay all round. The ground was littered with broken rifles, torn uniforms, packs, etc., just as the men had flung them aside, charging the German trenches. Almost the first thing I saw was a human head torn from the trunk, though there was no sign of the body. The soldiers had been buried on the spot they fell; that is, if you can call burial, hastily throwing a few shovelfuls of clay on the corpses: there was little time, I fancy, for digging graves, and in war time there is not much thought or sentiment for the slain. As I walked along, I wondered had they made certain each man was really dead. One poor fellow had been buried, surely, before the breath had left his body, for there was every sign of a last struggle and one arm was thrust out from its shroud of clay. A large mound caught my eye. Four pairs of feet were sticking out, one a German, judging by his boots, and three Frenchmen — friend and foe are sleeping their long last sleep in peace together. They were decently covered compared with the next I saw; a handful cf earth covered the wasted body, but the legs and arms and head were exposed to view. He seemed quite a young lad, with fair, almost golden, hair. ‘An unknown soldier ‘ was all the rough wooden cross over him told me about him; but I thought of the sorrowing mother, far away, thinking of her boy who was ‘missing’ and hoping against hope that he might one day come back. Thank God, Heaven one day will reunite them both. I found a shovel near at hand, and after a couple of hours’ stiff work was able to cover the bodies decently, so that on earth at least they might rest in peace.

Later that day, the following scene occurred in (as far as I can make out) the cellar of a house.

John McCormack had just finished the last bars of ‘She is far from the land’ (Note: on a gramophone) which brought back old memories, when suddenly Bertha Krupp opened her mouth in a most unlady-like way, even for a German, let a screech which you could hear in Dublin, and spat a huge shell right into our courtyard. It was a 6 inch gun, so the artillery officer who was present said, but I am certain that 60 inches would be nearer the mark. I shall not easily forget the roar as the shell burst only a few feet from where we sat: had we not been safe under cover, there would have been few ‘Fragments from France’ to send across the water. A moment later there was a deafening crash: a second shell had hit what was left of the upper wall, and brought it tumbling down half smothering us with the dust that came through the open slit which served as a window and chimney combined. Not bad shooting so far.

The next shot went wide, but did useful work among the stables and out houses, and then came a fearful dull thud, the walls quivered, I was nearly knocked off my chair by the concussion, while the cup in the officer’s hand sitting next me was sent flying – a shell had landed clean on top of our cellar. That was too much for Messieurs les Rats: out they came from hole in the corner, scores of them, and scuttled for the open, evidently they thought the poor ship was in a poor way. For once I said a fervent prayer for the Germans who had formerly occupied the house. They had done their work well, propping up the cellar roof with huge beams, otherwise we must have all been buried in the ruins. Shell after shell kept raining down, six at least falling on our heads. We were perfectly safe as the battered in roof and walls on top of our cellar made a natural dug-out, but we all knew that there was just the chance of a shell coming through and possibly smashing the cup and gramophone. It was an exciting half hour, and as I said one also that none of our party have any great anxiety to repeat for some time at least.

As we went home in the dusk of the evening I came to the conclusion that there are worse places to live than in than poor old Ireland, and also that I had had quite enough thrills for one day. It was not to be for another experience awaited me. I found that a dead man had been brought in for burial, a by no means pleasant part of my life. The cemetery, part of a field, was outside the town, in the open country, so exposed to shell and rifle fire that it could not be approached by day. As soon as it was dark we carried the poor fellow out on a stretcher, just as he had fallen, and as quietly as we could, began to dig the grave. It was weird. We were standing in front of the German trenches on two sides, though a fair distance away, and every now and then a star-shell went up, which we felt certain would reveal our presence to the enemy. I put my ritual in the bottom of my hat, and with the aid of an electric torch read the burial service, while the men screened the light with their caps, for a single flash would have turned the machine guns on us. I cannot say if we were seen or not, but all the time bullets came whizzing by, though more than likely stray ones and not aimed at us. Once I had to get the men to lay down, as things were rather warm, but somehow I felt quite safe, as if the dead soldier’s Guardian Angel was sheltering us from all danger, till the poor dust was laid to rest. It was my first war burial, though assuredly not my last – may God rest his soul and comfort those left to mourn him.


1 April 1914

Fr Doyle made these notes in his diary on this day in 1914. They record what he perceived to be a divine locution on the anniversary of his entry into the Jesuit novitiate. It is interesting to note some areas he felt he was being called to work on with greater vigour – control of his eyes (against curiosity), control of his tongue and overcoming human respect (too great a concern about what other thought of him). There is surely something for almost everyone in this.  

I begin to-day my twenty-fourth year in the Society, with a heart full to overflowing with gratitude for my vocation. I write this before my Jesus in the Tabernacle and I have asked Him to make me note down what He wants from me.

Jesus says: ‘(1) I want you to trust Me more: you are too much afraid of injuring your health by doing what I ask of you e.g. rising at night, sleeping on boards, taking no butter, etc. I would not urge these things so much if I did not want them from you. Trust Me more, My child. Have I not helped you to do many things you thought impossible and have you suffered for it? (2) I want you also to be My ‘Suffering Love,’ never content unless you are making some sacrifice. You have not given Me all yet, though you know I want it, and until you do so, I cannot give you the marvellous graces I have destined for your soul. Be brave, be generous, but do not delay. There is joy in crucifixion. (3) I want this year to be one of profound recollection and intense union with Me. I have promised to dwell physically in you as in a tabernacle, from Communion to Communion, if you do what I have asked you — guard your eyes. (4) Your faults of the tongue must cease from this day, they are working you much harm. (5) You must work for Me as you have never done before, especially by prayer and aspirations, boldly urging souls to heroic sanctity, not minding what people may say of you. Human respect is one of your faults still.’

Before leaving the chapel Jesus said: ‘In future let your heart speak; you are afraid of letting people know that you love Me tenderly.’

The Seventh Station of the Cross by Fr Willie Doyle

The Seventh Station: Jesus falls the Second Time

Image courtesy of St Raphael's Parish, Surrey. www.straphael.org.uk

Jesus falls a second time, crushed beneath the weight of His awful sufferings which are fast draining His strength. Exhausted and spent He lies upon the rough-paved ground, a cruel resting place for His bleeding, lacerated body. Vainly He tries to rise, for love impels Him on to the consummation of the sacrifice, but His tottering limbs will not support Him and once again He falls upon the ground. Again the soldiers with fiendish brutality drag Him to His feet with coarse jibes and mocking laughter, with kicks and blows they drive Him on, pulling Him now forward, now back, striving if possible to add to the sufferings of the patient victim.