Messines to Carrick Hill: Writing Home from the Great War by Tom Burke

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British sappers digging a communication trench to Messines Ridge. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

British sappers digging a communication trench to Messines Ridge. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

Sat, Jul 8, 2017, 00:00

   
 

Book Title:
Messines to Carrick Hill: Writing Home from the Great War

ISBN-13:
978-1-78117-484-5

Author:
Tom Burke

Publisher:
Mercier Press

Guideline Price:
€9.99

19-year-old Michael Wall, from Carrick Hill near Malahide, was a clever, sensitive young man who had a scholarship to UCD, loved his pipe and his Irish Times, and was killed at the Battle of Messines Ridge in June 1917.

His letters from the Front, lovingly preserved by his brother Barney, form the basis of this meticulous account of one Irish soldier’s experience of the first World War.

“One can hear the shells flying overhead and bursting,” Michael writes to his mother. “Lights are soaring all round and machine guns and snipers keep up a continual fire while the bullets zip-zip over the parapet.”

Messines has become famous as the first time the two Irish divisions, the 16th (Irish) and the 36th (Ulster), fought side by side; here, military historian Burke uses Michael’s letters to set the battle in its historical context in a manner that is both informative and engaging.

Michael’s is a personal story, but also a universal one, told with all the poignancy befitting “a lost generation of unfulfilled potential”. As Burke puts it, “this is my anthem for their doomed youth”.