Rifleman 3/8826 Edward Donnelly (1891-1916)

1/Royal Irish Rifles

Albert, Somme, France, 1916

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1/ Royal Irish Rifles, Albert, Somme June 1916

There are no photos of Edward Donnelly in uniform. My painting of him shows him wearing standard British army 1902 Pattern Service Dress, with black buttons for a rifle regiment, with 1908 webbing equipment and he is armed with the Lee-Enfield MKIII Rifle.

His service cap sports the Regimental badge of the Royal Irish Rifles, a drawing of which is above.

The Basilica of Notre Dame de Brebières in Albert with the leaning staue of the Virgin is in the background.

Edward Donnelly (1891-1916)

Born on the 8th November 1891, Dublin
Died on the 1st July 1916, Ovillers, Somme, aged 24

Edward Donnelly was born on 8 November 1891 in Dublin, the youngest in a family of 6 children. An electrician he had sailed to the USA in May 1911, but was too homesick and within months had returned home. On 19 June 1912 he married Mary Ellen Devereaux in Dublin.

Edward enlisted in the army in October 1915 following an incident in a bar in Glasgow in that month where he was working on an electrical contract with two friends. A group of women had approached them and presented them with white feathers acusing them of cowardice for not being in the army.

Initially with the 3rd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles at Portobello Barracks in Dublin for training, where he got caught up in the Easter Rising, he was subsequently posted to 9 Platoon, “C” Company, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and by May 1916 was in Albert on the Somme.

In May 1916, he wrote home describing the Albert Basilica: ‘I wish you’d seen this place where we were. There is a chapel and it had a spire of the Blessed Virgin holding our Lord in her arms. The Germans shelled it and the Blessed Virgin got struck. She is bent over with her face towards the ground still holding our Lord.’

In an other letter he wrote: ‘I am still alive thank God. We had a very bad night on Saturday. We were out digging when the Germans shelled us. I don’t want you to think that they were bursting all around me; none came near, no. You should have seen our artillery at them. It was interesting looking at the shells going over to them. We could see them going through the air. This place is nothing like what I expected. There are times you would think there was no war on at all. Just now there is some artillery firing but it is over our heads. Fellows that have been here a long time say this place is one of the worst. It is nothing like what you would read in the newspapers; but maybe I have not been here long enough for to see it. The only thing I miss is dry ground. Everywhere, without telling lies, is covered with mud. In the trenches we are standing in about 2 foot 6 inches of it.’

In action on the first day of what was to be known as the Battle of the Somme, Edward was killed in action at Ovillers on 1 July 1916. A comrade reported that he was hit by shrapnel in no-man’s-land during the attack and lost part of his foot. He was placed in a shell-hole but was buried alive by a subsequent explosion. His body was not recovered and he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial,  Pier 15 Face A and B. He was 24 years old.

He had a daughter who he never saw, Alice Ellen, who was born on 26 November 1916 but she sadly died of bronchitis on the 12th December 1918.

Text courtesy of James Taylor

  • Taylor, James W. (2002). The 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War. Four Courts Press. ISBN 1-85182-702-1.
  • Taylor, James W. (2005). The 2nd Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War. Four Courts Press. ISBN 1-85182-952-0

A poem about the  “The Golden Virgin”, the statue leaning precariously at the top of the tower of the  Basilica of Notre Dame de Brebières,  in Albert .

The Virgin of Albert

“Shyly expectant, gazing up at Her,
They linger, Gaul and Briton, side by side:
Death they know well, for daily have they died,
Spending their boyhood ever bravelier;
They wait: here is no priest or chorister,
Birds skirt the stricken tower, terrified;
Desolate, empty, is the Eastertide,
Yet still they wait, watching the Babe and Her.

Broken, the Mother stoops: the brutish foe
Hurled with dull hate his bolts, and down She swayed,
Down, till She saw the toiling swarms below, –
Platoons, guns, transports, endlessly arrayed:
“Women are woe for them! let Me be theirs,
And comfort them, and hearken all their prayers!”

George Herbert Clarke, ed. (1873–1953).  

From : A Treasury of War Poetry.  1917

Edward Donnelly (1891-1916)

Born on the 8th November 1891, Dublin
Died on the 1st July 1916, Ovillers, Somme, aged 24

Edward Donnelly was born on 8 November 1891 in Dublin, the youngest in a family of 6 children. An electrician he had sailed to the USA in May 1911, but was too homesick and within months had returned home. On 19 June 1912 he married Mary Ellen Devereaux in Dublin.

Edward enlisted in the army in October 1915 following an incident in a bar in Glasgow in that month where he was working on an electrical contract with two friends. A group of women had approached them and presented them with white feathers acusing them of cowardice for not being in the army.

Initially with the 3rd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles at Portobello Barracks in Dublin for training, where he got caught up in the Easter Rising, he was subsequently posted to 9 Platoon, “C” Company, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and by May 1916 was in Albert on the Somme.

In May 1916, he wrote home describing the Albert Basilica: ‘I wish you’d seen this place where we were. There is a chapel and it had a spire of the Blessed Virgin holding our Lord in her arms. The Germans shelled it and the Blessed Virgin got struck. She is bent over with her face towards the ground still holding our Lord.’

In an other letter he wrote: ‘I am still alive thank God. We had a very bad night on Saturday. We were out digging when the Germans shelled us. I don’t want you to think that they were bursting all around me; none came near, no. You should have seen our artillery at them. It was interesting looking at the shells going over to them. We could see them going through the air. This place is nothing like what I expected. There are times you would think there was no war on at all. Just now there is some artillery firing but it is over our heads. Fellows that have been here a long time say this place is one of the worst. It is nothing like what you would read in the newspapers; but maybe I have not been here long enough for to see it. The only thing I miss is dry ground. Everywhere, without telling lies, is covered with mud. In the trenches we are standing in about 2 foot 6 inches of it.’

In action on the first day of what was to be known as the Battle of the Somme, Edward was killed in action at Ovillers on 1 July 1916. A comrade reported that he was hit by shrapnel in no-man’s-land during the attack and lost part of his foot. He was placed in a shell-hole but was buried alive by a subsequent explosion. His body was not recovered and he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial,  Pier 15 Face A and B. He was 24 years old.

He had a daughter who he never saw, Alice Ellen, who was born on 26 November 1916 but she sadly died of bronchitis on the 12th December 1918.

Text courtesy of James Taylor

  • Taylor, James W. (2002). The 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War. Four Courts Press. ISBN 1-85182-702-1.
  • Taylor, James W. (2005). The 2nd Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War. Four Courts Press. ISBN 1-85182-952-0

A poem about the  “The Golden Virgin”, the statue leaning precariously at the top of the tower of the  Basilica of Notre Dame de Brebières,  in Albert .

The Virgin of Albert

“Shyly expectant, gazing up at Her,
They linger, Gaul and Briton, side by side:
Death they know well, for daily have they died,
Spending their boyhood ever bravelier;
They wait: here is no priest or chorister,
Birds skirt the stricken tower, terrified;
Desolate, empty, is the Eastertide,
Yet still they wait, watching the Babe and Her.

Broken, the Mother stoops: the brutish foe
Hurled with dull hate his bolts, and down She swayed,
Down, till She saw the toiling swarms below, –
Platoons, guns, transports, endlessly arrayed:
“Women are woe for them! let Me be theirs,
And comfort them, and hearken all their prayers!”

George Herbert Clarke, ed. (1873–1953).  

From : A Treasury of War Poetry.  1917

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