Rediscovered letters from Irish soldier give flavour of Western Front

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A collection of letters written by a young Irish man serving on the Western Front has been rediscovered in Belfast.

There are more than 180 letters, including many from Patrick Dixon to his parents, telling the story of an Irish officer’s life during the First World War.

He was a medical student during the First World War, having volunteered to serve just after the 1916 Easter Rising when republicans attempted to overthrow British rule in Ireland.

His letters were discovered in an old suitcase at the historic Clifton House by staff at the Belfast Charitable Society.

War letters unearthed in Belfast
One of Patrick Dixon’s letters from the First World War (Brian Lawless/PA)

However, Mr Dixon refers to the beauty of the surrounding countryside and how interesting his work is before mentioning the famous armistice which ended the war.

“Of course today we are all rather excited over the armistice,” he wrote.

“Nevertheless the ‘war’ will carry on just the same for a bit, except that there will be no firing.”

War letters unearthed in Belfast
Belfast Charitable Society archive and heritage officer Aaron McIntyre with some of the items (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He was actually right, he isn’t demobilised until June the next year, which is of great frustration to him, and his last letters show that frustration quite plainly,” Mr McIntyre told the Press Association.

He said Mr Dixon’s letters reveal that he was “not your average Tommy”.

The serving lieutenant appeared to be very well-informed, making commentary on the 1918 conscription crisis in Ireland, the impact of the Spanish Flu pandemic and the torpedoing of RMS Leinster.

He expressed disappointment in a letter dated May 1918 that conscription had not been introduced in Ireland.

“I was very sorry to hear the Catholics had been so successful in resisting conscription. It looks as though it may be defeated altogether … Still conscription is nothing like as good as volunteers,” he wrote.

Plans to introduce conscription in Ireland were abandoned amid a political storm.

War letters unearthed in Belfast
A letter written on Armistice Day by Lieutenant Patrick Dixon of the Royal Garrison Artillery (Brian Lawless/PA)

He also appeared to have sent home a number of items from the war, including a bugle, which he described as “the best souvenir I got”.

“He’s involved with the Royal Artillery, he’s also involved in what looks like intelligence work, he’s quite obtuse about what he would send back to his family in terms of information,” Mr McIntyre said.

“So we are not too sure exactly what he was doing. If you read between the lines you get a feel for the type of life he was living, he wasn’t your average Tommy.

“He was getting regular food parcels, he was getting home made jam and butter, he actually requested that no more butter be sent out because they can’t use it quick enough.

“It is that sort of higher echelon of military service.”

War letters unearthed in Belfast
The collection also included a pantomime programme and a Ludendorff Fund for Disabled Ex-Servicemen receipt (Brian Lawless/PA)

It is not clear how the collection of letters came to be in storage at Clifton House.

The Belfast Charitable Society believes Mr Dixon did not have a family. However, his sister Margaret Wynne’s husband had been involved with the society and the material may have been deposited at Clifton House for safekeeping.

They have issued an appeal for help in tracing any members of the Dixon or Wynne families to shed more light on the discovery of the letters.

Clifton House is hosting a symposium on November 15 to mark the end of the First World War. It will include historical talks and an exhibition of the Dixon War Letters.

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