Wednesday 4 November 2015

Letters from the Western Front: update is Archive of the Month at RCBLibrary

RCBLibrary's Susan Hood meets Kenny McKeague,
grandson of William James Milliken, one of the letter writers
To mark Remembrance 2015, the November Archive of the Month from the RCB Library in Dublin follows up on a previous online exhibition and short documentary film about a collection of letters written on the Western Front at Christmas 1917.

The letters were written by ten soldiers who were parishioners of the Church of Ireland parish of Dundela in east Belfast. While other letters written from the Front are found in other repositories and in private custody, the survival of a collection in a parish context is rare.

Subsequent collaboration between the Library (where the letters are now in permanent safekeeping) and local historians from the “East Belfast & the Great War Project”, has confirmed these letters to be the only known surviving letters relating to soldiers from East Belfast.

Thanks to the ongoing research work of the team, in particular the painstaking efforts of historian and genealogist Dr Hilary Kennedy, the stories of what happened to each of the ten letter writers (all of whom returned to Belfast at the end of the War) have been tracked, and in a few cases living descendants have been traced.

One such person is Kenny McKeague, a trainer and part of the backroom staff with the first team at Linfield Football Club, and the grandson of William James Millikin.

Now in his 80s, Kenny continues to live in Belfast and is a parishioner of Dundela, like his grandfather, whose poignant letter, written in France, on 12 February 1918, specifically thanked his rector, Revd Arthur Barton, for the pastoral care he was giving his family at home.

William’s concern for his wife and young children was clearly assuaged by the safe knowledge that Barton as rector paid them regular visits, so as well as thanking Barton and the parishioners of St Mark’s for their gifts, he specifically acknowledged the former ‘for your own kindness to my wife and children as the letter I get from home from my wife says that you are very attentive …’.

The content of the letter, an image of William in full military uniform and his meticulously-researched family history which links him directly to his grandson Kenny (compiled by Dr Hillary Kennedy) is available in the new Archive of the Month presentation (link above).