Letter from James O’Grady Delmege (26) sent to his sister Caroline (Lily) of Castle Park, Co. Limerick. James was a Lieutenant with the 4th Dragoon Guards and was stationed near Ypres. He brought his own horse from Limerick to the Front. An alumnus of Trinity College Dublin, his letter is well written, descriptive and witty. As an officer, he comments on the strategic elements of the upcoming battle. He also writes how he randomly met a fellow Limerick man (Thomas Manifold) who he knows from civilian life back home. James was the victim of a chemical weapon attack, a war crime. His unit suffered a direct hit from a German poison gas offensive. He died of his wounds on the 27th May 1915 and is commemorated at Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France. His name is on a memorial tablet in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.
4th Dragoon Guards
2nd Cavalry Brigade
British Expeditionary Force
Ypres, April 27th 1915
I dare say you have been expecting to hear from me the last few days but we have left our billet and are on the move. I sent a [pic?] yesterday which I hope you got. One of the biggest, if not the very biggest, battles of the campaign is now going on: it is simply terrific! The Germans appear to be making one last desperate effort all along the line to break through before Kitchener’s army arrives on the scene.
We were hustled out and off last Friday morning and had hardly any time with the result that we left most of our small personal belongings behind; besides we thought we would be returning again, and that it was only another false alarm!!
Of course we have no transport, but carry what we got in wallets and on our second horse. I have got my nice little horse with me, of whom you have the picture; he is afraid of nothing. During the first night we slept in an open field on the ground around fires, and it was all night so it was fine. Next day we left our horses behind and marched to — on foot. It appears the French native troops had run and the Germans made a big advance. Besides they used poisonous gas which smothered the gunners, so that they walked right up to the guns!
The French territorial troops are also not much good unlike their other troops. When the French retired the Canadians were left out on their own and had a terrible time but they fought like tigers for three days till they were relieved. They put up a great show, but must have lost very heavily!
On our way up we had to pass through a desolate village which the Germans shell every day with big guns in the hope of damaging reserves coming up of men or ammunition. We were in it some little time and had barely got clear when a big shell landed slap in square where we had been: this was followed by a good many more. We halted and lay down in a field just outside, and they went over our heads, but a few fell short among B Squadron, who were less than 50 yards from us, and killed 4 and wounded 7 men.
Poor Lieutenant Brown was blown to bits, but Capt. De Wiart who was talking to him was only knocked flat and not hurt at all! Luckily it was a very soft spot it fell in, for if it had hit the road a few yards away half the squadron would have been done for. Brown was a topping fellow and by far the nicest of the subalterns and awfully like Harry Read to look at. We then moved on a short way and dug ourselves into trenches to act as a kind of second line in case of emergency.
We spent the night in them and it was not very pleasant as it rained most of the time. In the middle of the night a bit of the side of my dug-out collapsed and fell in on top of me!! The French guns all round us kept up a terrific bombardment and the Germans replied with “Jack Johnsons” but without much success as the French guns fired about 6 shots to their one. Their 75 cm guns are simply marvellous, and can fire at a terrific rate, and do a lot of damage.
We left our trenches at 3am and retired to our horses and came [..] here. As we were moving along the road a soldier was overtaking and riding past us, and leading a very nice second horse which was rather fractious and bumped into me. I looked round at the man and to my astonishment who was it but William Manifold!! He looked as fit as could be, and the horse he had was one he brought from Limerick for Capt. MacFarlane who he is with in the 7th Reserve Signalling Corps.
We are now in a small wood and have made small huts with branches and waterproof sheets to sleep in. I am sharing one with Lt. Gibb, a topping fellow. We have by far the best of the lot as we managed to get a few [hops?]-poles and some wire, and we call it the “Star and Garter”!! Of course we may get the order to move off at any moment, so I have to scribble this quickly in our palace with the aid of a candle and a pencil which is much worse than Eyre’s!!
The aeroplanes are very busy and some of ther German ones are flying very low and daring trying to locate the French guns which are scattered about us as thick as bees but very well hidden. By jove you should hear them firing, the noise is deafening. The big shells fairly give one a shock. You can hear them coming and they make a queer noise like a goods-train rattling along.
I suppose you read about the fight for Hill 60 it must have been fierce. I saw the shrapnel fire from some distance and it was awful. It would amuse you to see the French Algerian Cavalry. They are regular Moors dressed in extraordinary flowing clothes all the colours of the rainbow. They ride on very small ponies the majority of which are white and have saddles exactly like baby arm-chairs and stirrups like coal-scuttles!!!
Did you see CQ. Martin has now got the V.C. as well as the D.S.O. When he was at Bath he was so small that he was cox of our 2nd boat and we called his “the Squirt.” Bland says he has now shot up and is a huge fellow. He was in my house and [is] a very amusing chap. I got a letter from Father yesterday and another from Mother. Sorry you didn’t win at Cashel, I hope you have better luck at Limerick.
We look like having a spell of decent weather now, if the big guns don’t bring the rain, which is good luck indeed. I must close now but I will write again whenever I have time. I don’t know when this [letter] will go, I hope without delay. This battle will go on for days. The Germans have evidently got a push on before we are ready to do so.
I met another TCD fellow called [O’ Leary?] who used to play cricket with me, when I was in -a few days ago. I hope everyone is going strong also the horses and the dogs and old Stark and his estates!
Your Loving Brother,
P.S: You cannot send me anything except perhaps a little chocolate as it is easy to carry. We will soon be getting rid of our winter clothes, which is a good job.
P.S.S. I wonder if you could send me a pair of those canvas leggings as they are much better than puttees for riding and marching and you can take off your boots without taking them off too. They should be fairly large as well as I have a big leg; and canvas is fine and soft and cool.