It has been moving to read stories from families across the country and, in my role as an Ambassador for the commemorations, I wanted to share mine.
Below is a letter from my great-grandfather Edmund Burke (Ned), a Private in the King’s Liverpool Regiment, sent in the summer of 1916 to his brother Walter back at home in Liverpool.
Ned was married to my great-grandmother Ellen Burke, who lived off Commercial Road, with their three daughters, Mary, Ellen and Katherine (my late grandmother). Her last memory of her father was from his final time on leave. He went to Goodison Park in the afternoon and she, with her sisters, did Irish dancing into the evening.
His letter is written in pencil and incomplete in places. It is telling for what it doesn’t say, with plenty of reassurance for his brother that things are fine. But Ned doesn’t hold back on one of the main controversies of the day – Ireland’s involvement in the War – and perhaps reveals a flash of the political streak that his great-grandson was to inherit.
The most poignant part of the letter comes towards the end, when Ned anticipates the forthcoming Battle of Guillemont. He was captured in that battle and held as a prisoner of war for the remainder of the war. He died in a concentration camp on October 28, 1918 – two weeks before the end of the war. Knowing what happened, it makes the letter hard to read and intensely moving.
I have visited Ned’s grave in the immaculate Cologne Southern Cemetery and, on behalf of my family, wish to thank the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the outstanding work they do honouring the memory of the hundreds and thousands like this humble and ordinary man from Liverpool who never returned home to his family.
RT HON ANDY BURNHAM MP
Monday 4th August 2014
LETTER FROM PRIVATE EDMUND BURKE TO HIS BROTHER WALTER
Friday July 27th
My loving Brother
Just a few lines to let you know that I am fine, hoping that you & your dear wife & children are the same. I wrote to you Walter during the week, I sent you a card, and you should have it by now.
Well Walter I saw Jack Mac yesterday and he looks fine to me, had a good laugh together all afternoon. I also saw Bartley Duffy & we were delighted to see each other, he is my old training pal. They look fine & in the 9th Kings, so you see Walter we are all in the pink. I could not see Joe Leatherbarrow, think he is in hospital with his arm. Johnny Westoff the Bookie looks fine & I am looking for Charlie Henry out of the 10th Scottish.
Well Walter I am in touch with Irish Division, Dublin & Connaughts & I had a good talk over Old Ireland. Walter, there’s thousands of Irish boys here & I may tell you it is God help the Boche if they come across them & then they say Ireland is not doing her share in this War. Also the Jocks are fine fellows here. I saw English nurses here last night with their steel helmets.
I hope you are exempted Walter. You will be sorry to hear about poor Tom Kiggins. Joe [ ] is fine and always asks about you.
I hope you are [unclear] Walter, the Boche will get the greatest thumping he ever got in this War.
I hope Liza is well and give her my best love also your fond children. Remember to the old boys, especially George McCarthy.
Mick Murphy is fine & glad to see that Joe is discharged. Mick is a toff Walter & smart soldier, full Corporal.
Well Walter by the time you get this letter big things will have happened here so I ask you to pray for me that God and his holy mother will protect me from all danger and that I may soon see you Walter is my sincere wish. Don’t worry Walter, my love to Liza & kids. God bless you & them.
I remain your loving brother,
PS Remember me to Bridget, she should have my letter. Sorry about Jack.