READ: Stark yet poignant letter to World War One Belfast soldier’s family after he is killed by German sniper

A new podcast on the role of Belfast soldiers during the First World War reveals a stark but poignant letter sent to the parents of a young man killed in the trenches from a “shot through the head”.

Friday, 5th November 2021, 5:37 pm
Updated Friday, 5th November 2021, 5:46 pm
A trench on the Western Front in WWI
A trench on the Western Front in WWI

The latest offering from the Historical Belfast Podcast by Jason Burke is the first of three episodes where the history enthusiast looks at ‘Sandy Row and the Great War’.

The 34-year-old delves into the history of the area’s World War One involvement, revealing the human stories behind the horrifying statistics.

He reads a letter sent to the family of Rifleman Robert Dickson, an apprentice plumber and member of the South Belfast UVF, who died aged just 19.

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Historian, walking tour guide and podcaster Jason Burke

Dickson’s senior officer in the 10th Royal Irish Rifles, Captain Gregg, wrote a letter to his father in Sandy Row.

It said: “It is with deep regret that I write to inform you of the death of your son.

“He was shot through the head by a German sniper on Thursday the 25th of November while on duty in the front line trenches.

“At about 6.20am on Thursday I spoke to him, 10 minutes later I passed him at his post.

“The bullet passed through his brain. Death was instantaneous.

“Your son was a nice boy, very cheerful and bright and a very obedient soldier. His very sudden death in the battlefield has come as a very sudden shock to every man in his platoon, he being a favourite with his comrades.

“The one consolation you have is that your son met his death while at his post serving his King and country. You will be pleased to know that his body was laid to rest in a grave at the rear of the battleground.”

Jason tells the stories of other men from Sandy Row who lost their lives on foreign soil. Men like Gunner James McVeigh, one of 1661 men who died when the HMS Monmouth and HMS Good Hope were sank during the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile, and Rifleman Joshua Brush, a 43-year-old with the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles who had previously served in the Boar War and was killed in the frontline trenches.

He also tells of tragic tale of Naval officer Robert Lees, who came back to Sandy Row on a “flying visit” to see his wife, and having spent the day with her in Belfast, shot both his wife and himself dead.

Jason said: “We’ve now emerged from a four or five year period of the First World War centenary and there’s been an abundance of research – books, projects, events and commemorations – moreso than at any other time since the war has ended, but as [Ulster historian] Keith Jeffrey has suggested we will never know the precise reality of what happened in the Great War, the scale is just too large for us to comprehend.”

Find out more by searching for ‘Historical Belfast’ on Facebook or find the podcast here

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