Continuing our narrative today, it is hard not to be struck by the extraordinary good humour of Fr Doyle. The “cathedral” to which he refers was, of course, just another dug out or shell hole somewhere in a battlefield. His final comment about being glad not to be asked to say the rosary with bombs falling around him is classic Irish wit. It is important to remember that these letters were sent home to give comfort to his worried father. By putting such a brave face in circumstances that it is clear that he loathed, Fr Doyle once again shows us something of his virtue. It also shows that his life of penance did not deprive him of his charm one bit.
Also of note is the devotion of the other soldiers in carrying out the corporal work of mercy of burying the dead, at some risk to their own lives.
Here are the events of 8 August 1917 in Fr Doyle’s own words…
There is little to record during the next couple of days except the discovery of a new cathedral and the happiness of daily Mass. This time I was not quite so well off, as I could not kneel upright and my feet were in the water which helped to keep the fires of devotion from growing too warm.
Having carefully removed an ancient German leg, I managed to vest by sitting on the ground, a new rubric I had to introduce also at the Communion, as otherwise I could not have emptied the Chalice. I feel that when I get home again I shall be absolutely miserable because everything will be so clean and dry and comfortable. Perhaps some kind friend will pour a bucket or two of water over my bed occasionally to keep me in good spirits.
When night fell, I made my way up to a part of the Line which could not be approached in daylight, to bury an officer and some men. A couple of grimy, unwashed figures emerged from the bowels of the earth to help me, but first knelt down and asked for Absolution. They then leisurely set to work to fill in the grave. ‘Hurry up, boys’, I said, ‘I don’t want to have to bury you as well’, for the spot was a hot one. They both stopped working much to my disgust, for I was just longing to get away. ‘Be gobs, Father’, replied one, I haven’t the divil a bit of fear in me now after the holy Absolution’. ‘Nor I, chimed in the other, I am as happy as a king’. The poor Padre who had been keeping his eye on a row of crumps which were coming unpleasantly near felt anything but happy; however there was nothing for it but to stick it out as the men were in a pious mood; and he escaped at last, grateful that he was not asked to say the rosary.
Later today we shall also have the first in a series of 9 special posts which examine the virtues in the life of Fr Doyle, as we mark each of the 9 remaining days before Fr Doyle’s anniversary.