Austin Tumilty was born in 1897, the son of Patrick and Ellen Tumilty. A clerical student he enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1916, aged 19. .The letters transcribed here give an interesting glimpse into the day to day life of a junior officer with the British Army and begin in October 1917 just after he is commissioned into the Dublin Fusiliers. Later correspondence was sent from the front line, the final letter here sent on 9 November 1917, the day before he was killed in action. His body was not recovered following the war and his name is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.
11th Dublin Fusiliers,
Oct 4 1917
I am not being exactly overwhelmed with letters from Durham or anywhere else. I have had about two in a weeks and a half. So hurry up and let me have one or two. I am finding this kind of life hopelessly stale. We have nothing at all to do and spend most of time lounging around the officers’ quarters or walking round Dublin- -In spite of all descriptions Dublin is a squalid, dirty, smelly little town and has nothing to boast about at all. Scavengers are an unknown quantity and the slightest breeze blows half the City about. The streets are so rough that clinging to the top of a tram is an art only to be acquired by constant and diligent practice.
The weather is fearful at present and you never saw such a dull, grey, monotonous sight in all your life. I would give anything to be trench digging at the Gogs and in default of that I am looking forward to my next move. I received the slacks quite safely on Monday afternoon. It seems to take ages for a letter or parcel to cross from England to Ireland.-
I have not been able to get my banking account opened yet but I am expecting it now any day. Sunday last being the end of the month the Mess bills were given out to the officers. Mine was 1-3-4 I thought was not bad for 6 days. They are charging me a month’s subscription besides the daily messing bill. One piece of unpleasant information I have acquired recently – that we are living in furnished barracks and therefore we get our bare 7/6 per day without an allowance.
The letter that was forwarded on was from Sharp of the Lincoln’s. He says he is having a fairly decent time. At least they have a certain amount of work to do which is a great thing.
Lunch is very near so perhaps I had better conclude with love to all.
11th Dublin Fusiliers,
Oct 8 1917
Here I am at the same old game, Commander of the Guard. This time however, it is much more important business than of yore. I am guarding the Irish Command Headquarters in Phoenix Park and have 26 men under me to say nothing of a Sergeant and Corporal. This guard is a relic of the rebellion and it is not posted for show as is testified by the number of bombs, gas helmets, gas bombs, sandbags and ammunition. Of course I am only on for 24 hours, for which fact I am very sorry.
I have a room to myself fitted with a nice fire, a washing stand with jug, basin etc., a table the cloth of which is composed of last Sunday’s Irish Times, pen and ink and a chair. I have just had a rather decent supper of cold meat as much as I could eat although I am afraid that half of it was intended for my lunch tomorrow, and tea. The tea which was made by my solider servant was absolutely great and lost nothing by being brought in a teapot and taken from a cup. How different to my guards at Sutton. The night is to be spent in a camp bed and I have been given orders to be wakened at 8.30 a.m. The great secret in the Army is not to get up a minute sooner than necessary for it is an awful business hanging round waiting for breakfast or work.
I hope you received the cheque for 17.10.0 all right. You must think it was jolly mean of me to only send the amount you asked but to perfectly honest by the time I had sent Stone a cheque for 10.12.6. Roper one for 1.12.6. and had paid my mess bill for 1.3.4. which by the way was extortionate but I had just been a member long enough to pay a whole months subscription besides the weeks messing allowance and had paid my servant his 5/- for the two weeks, 1/- for washing I was beginning to see visions of the bankruptcy court. You see it all came with a crash on the same day and I think you will admit it was enough to destroy my nerves even if I had never smoked a cigarette. However I expect to be home shortly and matters will resolve themselves then. I have decided that here in Dublin on my bare 7/6, without being extravagant nor yet to stingy, I can manage to save 1 per week. What it will be like in France on 10/- I of course do not know but I have hopes.
On Sunday last, that is yesterday, McBrierty, a relation of Fr. McBrierty. D Coy 5th O.C.B. manned my present bosom pal and I took the tram to Howth. It is a delightful 9 mile ride along the sea coast. sometimes we seemed to be almost hanging over the sea.
It was terribly windy but to give Dubliners their due they are weather proof and the top of the tram was crowded with young ladies, ladies being used in the correct sense. Howth is only a house or two and a walk along the cliffs but the scenery is delightful and the tram ride must be heavenly in summer.
Today at McBrierty’s instigation I had my photograph taken. I went to a good place and was taken in four different attitudes so I am expecting something good even good enough to be hung up in the sitting room.
Dublin as a city is not improving but I am getting to know my brother officers better and my thoughts are becoming quite roseate and present day. I am also becoming quite an adept at skinning boiled potatoes without using my fingers.
This is quite a long letter and I hope it is not boring you.
By the way I have discovered Dawson Street but I have not been in it yet. It is 11.30pm and I think I will pay the 7 sentries a visit before turning in so au-revoir.
1st Royal Dublin Fus.
Here I am, settled down in the officer’s mess at the base. The journey was quite a pleasant one except the sea part. I am always uncomfortable on sea although mind you I was not sick this time very nearly so, however.
The latter part of my journey was done by motor and was not at all unpleasant. I find that I am posted to the 1st Dublins although of course I am not with them yet nor have I the remotest idea when I will be so don’t write until I tell you where I am. I don’t expect it will be long.
With love to all,
1st R. Dublin Fusiliers,
A.P.O. Section 17
At present I am resting after my first days work. It started at 7.30 a.m. and ended at 4.15 p.m. and during it we did nothing but gas drill. It was pretty stale and we had nothing to eat during that time it was not exactly satisfactory.
We were in the ‘bull ring’ and lunch was sent down but only 4 out of 36 discovered it, however the weather was delightful so we really had nothing to grumble about.
I have been fitted out with a ‘tin hat’and two gas helmets and I expect to get field boot tomorrow. By the way Burns has not turned up yet with my revolver nor has McBrierty put in an appearance. Two other Dublins are still on the way they and Burns also crossed over to England on Friday night. It is rumoured that we are going up the line during the next few days but nothing definite or official has been said.
The mess here is not bad, the anteroom being fairly comfortable and the food also the price of messing being on a par with Dublin. We are under canvas but I enjoyed last night immensely despite the fact that a certain amount of rain came down on to of me.
I have just learned that Burns has turned up and has my revolver so I am now terse content.
I will conclude for the present.
25th October 1917
I intended writing to you yesterday but circumstances prevented me. I got up at 5am an awful hour when the wind is whistling round one’ legs, and set off up the line. At 3.30pm we arrived at a rest camp where we were to remain a week or so and so I got out my note paper and prepared to write when I was informed that at 6 p.m. I had to proceed right up. I had just time to get a hasty meal. I had had but a few dried biscuits since breakfast when the motor lorry turned up. Now I am with my battalion at least 5 miles behind the line.
We are not due for the trenches for 10 days and then we do 6 days in the reserve trenches, 6 days in the front line then 12 days out and then it starts all over again, 6 in reserve, etc.
Taking everything into consideration we are jolly comfortable here. We are in huts which are, in spite of their draughty condition a great improvement on the tents we had at the base. The food from what I can see is not bad and despite the c rudeness of everything we are not badly off. This part of the line is rather quiet and I am given to understand the trenches are quite good and not to many casualties. Of course there is not the slights danger present and I don’t suppose there will be for ages so don’t worry. By the way cigarettes are less than half the price they are in England and there seems to be tons knocking around.
You can write now as soon as you like, the sooner the better.
28th October 1917
Life is very pleasant here in France. I have just come back from taking a Church parade to Mass. I felt very proud to be marching at the head of 400 of the smartest men I have ever seen. The band, of course, played us there and back. Mass was celebrated in a hut, which had only half a roof and no sides to speak of. Kneeling was out of the question except for the Consecration but I can assure you it was great having Mass even under those conditions.
Living here is like being in a desert. The nearest habitation is 12 miles away and one never sees a civilian at all.
Yesterday I travelled by goods train to the nearest town. It was only and hour and forty five minutes run. The town had been badly knocked about by the Germans and the inhabitants are just creeping back. I went into every shop in the place, trying to get something to read. English or French would have done but the whole town could offer nothing but last Tuesday’s English papers. So you see that a few books, ordinary novels or magazines would come in jolly handy.
This afternoon I am going to try my luck on a horse. I believe I am getting a quiet thing that is getting to fat. I will let you know how I get on.
Yesterday Cardinal Bourne inspected this brigade but I was away writing and so did not see him. I believe he made a nice speech but his voice has not been trained a lá army and very few heard what he said. I am not going into the line for another two letters or so.
30th October 1917
I have just come from Confession and feel in a wonderful peaceful mood despite the fact that the good padre rushed me out before I have quite finished. However all the intentions were there. I expect to get Holy Communion tomorrow morning if I am lucky. This is a preparation for going into the line for 12 days. I had better not tell you yet when we are going up but I will write again on that day and besides, as far as I can ascertain I will be probably be able to write from the line because this part of the line is extraordinarily quiet except for raids and such like. Life here is not all bad. Plenty of rough weather etc. you know but nothing to complain about except a slight atmosphere of monotony. You see we are all miles away from everywhere, all newspapers are at least six days old and we have nothing to talk about except ourselves and our life. We know nothing at all about the war except that it is not yet finished and that fact is fairly apparent to us.
I was on a horse on Sunday last and I did not manage to badly for the first time. I have not however recovered from the unusual exercise and I have no intention of having another try until we come out again.
By the way I have not received a letter since I landed in France but I am not surprised for I know that it takes 5 or 6 days for a letter to travel from this outlandish place to England. You may perhaps just be receiving my first letter today although I sent it on Thursday last.
I will conclude. I shall be in the line again before you receive this if it takes the usual time.
Same Old Place
Sunday 4th November 1917
I have just finished censoring my company’s letters and really I am just a little fed up with letters belonging to other people. Some of them are however really amusing. One priceless man sent three letters by today’s post. One an awful sloppy love letter to a girl letting her know how much he loves her and how he will always do so. Number two is to a friend telling him to keep an eye on this girl and report any flirtations with other chaps and number three is to a brother asking to be congratulated on at last having acquired a girl.
This is my fourth day up the line and I am still in the land of the living which on examination is not very surprising fact considering that nothing has come within 500 yards of my precious body. Life is still the same old pleasant slightly monotonous thing with sleep, meals and work intermingled. I am jolly glad I did not have to come out here in the ranks for the men have a rather poor show. Their food is not up to much whereas ours is not at all bad. We never have less than a five course dinner even up here and lunch usually consists of four courses. So you see I am not existing on bully beef and biscuits or anything like that.
O’Connell, do you remember me telling you about him? Is in the same brigade as myself although not in this battalion. I have met him twice. I met one or two Cambridge chaps down at the base but I have seen no one I know up here which is not very surprising seeing that this place is so isolated.
I must go out and inspect the men’s rations so au revoir.
With love to all,
Your loving son Austin
1st R. D. F.
6th November 1917
Don’t worry about counting the days it takes for your letters to reach me. I received yours, Mother’s, Uncle Austin’s, the collars, the forwarded letters which, by the way, was from Mrs Webb and a post card from the above mentioned lady this evening. They all came together. Ours remember, is not a regular postal service; for miles and miles there are only heaps of ruins which mark the place of once prosperous towns and villages. Instead of fast mail trains one sees the letters dragged through two feet of mud by patient but weary mules. You can imagine, I think, the pleasure my vast mail gave me and how I am waiting for the next.
I have nothing unusual to report about this spot. No danger, its an absolute fact; weather not to bad and very comfortable “dug out”. Of course when I am standing I have to bend my knees and head but that is nothing.
Plenty of rats and mice, but being a sound sleeper they do not trouble me.
M. Barr must becoming an awfully amusing and witty young lady but I am rather surprised you did not put the word pleasure in inverted commas.
I am jolly glad I remembered the lap-dog yarn because it seems to have come in very useful. I do not often remember about it but I shall tell it in this dug-out during dinner tonight. I shall let you know if it was a success.
I am really awfully sorry to have been the cause of shocking Miss O’Docherty. What a loss she has suffered in not being able to meet me in Dublin. I am afraid however, I should have been the officer on duty and confined to camp on the day of the meeting.
Z. Coy, that by the way is my Coy, has gained a huge success today, i.e. the officers have discovered last year’s Nash’s magazines.
Today I visited a dismantled grave-yard which is only a quarter of an hours walk from here. I was down in the vaults looking for some valueless souvenirs but discovered nothing, which is not surprising since the Germans had possession of this place before us.
I don’t think I want you to send anything out except an occasional novel.
Mrs Webb, on her pc., begs for me to get a nice wound and get sent to Cambridge hospital. She promises to visit me every day and to invite me to tea every day when I was well enough. Some hopes!
I must conclude now with love to all.
How is grandfather standing the inclement weather? Well I hope.
McBrierty is in the 1st but he arrived after we came up the line so I have not seen him.
1st R. D. F.
9th November 1917
Just a few lines to let you know that I am quite well and that it would be rather surprising if I were not. Even my cold is slightly improved, much to the relief of my servant, who has to wash my handkerchiefs. At present I am sitting in a dug-out umpteen (an Army expression for anything over 50,000) feet below the surface which, if it does not contain a grand piano or a set of arm chairs still decidedly comfortable and as safe as being at home. We enjoy ourselves very much down here and that is a tribute to the character of my brother officers. Living alone as we do, one very quickly finds out the weak and disagreeable points of our characters but we are not sick of each other yet and we are keen to do one another little disagreeable services. The last phrase seems to have gone wrong somehow, but you know what I mean. For instance, I had to get out of bed last night and go to Headquarters. Another officer offered to get up and go instead of me despite the fact that neither of us had the slightest idea what was wanted. Of course I went and it turned out that the C.O. simply wanted some information. With chaps like that one cannot help enjoying one’s self.
Tea is ready so perhaps I had better conclude with love to all.
You loving son,
I am awfully pleased to hear you are praying so hard.
1st R. Dublin Fus.
23rd November 1917
Dear Miss Tumilty,
Very many thanks for your letter of the 15th inst., which I only received today. You doubtless have had further news from the War Office ere this.
On the night of the 8th your brother, with a Sergeant Fenton went out into No Man’s Land on patrol. It was very dark and doubtless they lost their bearings.
It is a hard task to give you the bad news but I think I am doing my duty to you if I give you all the information in my possession, which is, after all, second-hand and not always reliable.
A few nights after we captured a Hun and he informed us that your brother had been killed, shot through the head, and the sergeant wounded and taken prisoner. He said that they ran into a strong Bosche patrol.
Do not give up hope but write to Sgt. Fenton, 1st R.D.F., Prisoner of War, Germany.
Every officer and a man in the 1st Dubs. Liked your brother and our deepest sympathy goes out to you at the present time.
I am noting your address. Should I obtain any further news I will immediately write to you.
I regret I am not able to give you better news.
Yours v. sincerely,
Sergt. J. Fenton 9247
Gefangenenlager Dulmen I Westf.
327 Coy. 36B Gruppe 11
Dulmen February 24th 1918
In reply to yours of the 29th Nov., I regret to say that your son was killed outright. I am sorry to say that I can offer very little consolation beyond the fact that his death was instantaneous and consequently he did not have to lie in the open in agony as so many of our boys have to do. As regards his subsequent burial I have no doubt the Germans would look to that as he was lying immediately in front of their trench.
There exists between the two sides an understanding that the last rites and respects, when possible, will be paid to the dead.
Your son did not enjoy a long reign with my battalion but I can assure you that during his time he earned a respect that will always be cherished in memories of those above and below him.
Meanwhile, accept my sincerest sympathy in your bereavement.
I am sincerely yours,