Monday, 28 August 2017

Dear Mrs Fitzpatrick



These are the opening words of a letter to my great-grandmother sent 31st August 1917. Her first husband, and father of her three children, George Goodwin, had drowned in Cardiff’’s East Dock back in 1881 when baby George was 2 and my grandmother not yet 1 year old, and she had remarried a Thomas Fitzpatrick.  The letter continues...



“It is with deep sympathy that I write to tell you of your son’s death, G.Goodwin, 23232. A short time ago he gave up his three stripes at his own request.  Just before he went into the Battle in which he was killed, he came to confession to me, and I gave him Holy Communion, so he went well prepared to meet Our Divine Lord, and I know this will be a great solace to you in your grief.

Always brave and regardless of danger when a stretcher was required to carry a wounded comrade, he immediately volunteered and started to cross to the Aid Post over the ground which was absolutely swept by machine gun bullets.  Thus he was killed by a bullet, and so gave his life for a comrade.

I shall offer Holy Mass for him the first time I have a chance.

     Yours in sincere sympathy

          M. Mac Kenna C.F.[Chaplain to the Forces]”



And so the body of great-uncle George was lost in the mud of Passchendaele, the 3rd Battle of Ypres on 27th August 1917 – 100 years ago today. You may have seen on TV a few weeks ago events to remember this appalling battle which claimed about 500,000 lives from both sides. Some 35,000 bodies of British soldiers, including George, were never found, and are commemorated on a great wall monument at Tyne Cot Cemtery.

These kind of numbers can be just that - figures that numb. George was just one - but he was my great-uncle, and like all those others he was not just 23232, but somebody, an individual with a loving mother and family back here in Cardiff. This Sunday I offered Mass for him, and remembered all those lost in the mud of Flanders. 

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