On the night of 12-13 July 1917, the Germans introduced a new devastating weapon of chemical warfare: mustard gas. So named after its distinctive, mustard-like smell, it was not so much a gas as a thick viscous substance with a low boiling point. An insidious weapon, mustard gas did not cause any immediate symptoms apart from light sneezing, lulling affected soldiers into a false sense of security. It was not until several hours after exposure that victims began to vomit and develop excruciatingly painful blisters all over their bodies. Mustard gas also caused severe inflammation of the eyes, leaving victims blinded for days, and respiratory problems such as bronchitis. Mustard gas was rarely lethal – only some 3-4% of those affected by it died as a consequence – but the enormous numbers of casualties it caused paralysed the enemy. Not only did victims remain incapacitated for several weeks, once mustard gas was released from artillery shells it settled into the ground and remained there for months, polluting the battlefields and rendering military operations impossible.
Monday 9 July
We took photographs in the morning & ate strawberries, then the others went down the woods. After lunch Heppie told fortunes, & then Poppy, Ione & Tom took Cecil in to the train. Muz & I read. After tea Tom & Poppy went for a walk. We went to bed at about 10-30.
Tuesday 10 July
We all wrote letters, & then Muz & Tom read. Muz, Ione & Tom went for a drive after lunch, & Poppy & I went up to the hay. Then Miss Ryan & Miss White came for tea, they went back at about six, then Muz & I went for a walk.
Harvest time in Moyaliffe
Wednesday 11 July
Poppy & I went up to the hay & then Muz & Tom followed us up. Ione wrote letters. After lunch Ione & Tom drove into Thurles in the pony trap, & I went up to the hay with Poppy again, & Muz wrote letters.
Thursday 12 July
We all wrote letters in the morning. Poppy went in to Thurles to meet Mr Clifford, & he came for lunch, & looked at the cattle. Tom went for a ride on her bike, & Muz, Ione & I went for a walk up the woods, & went to see Mrs Bryan, & then sat in the woods, but the mosquitoes ate us, so we had to come in. After tea Tom, Poppy & I went for a walk. Poppy went to shoot after dinner, & we went to bed at about 10-30.
Friday 13 July
We left here at about 9-30, & motored to Nenagh for the assizes. Poppy is one of the Grand Jury but they had very little to do, so went off to the club, but we stayed to see two cases tried, it was awfully funny, one was about a stream in a man’s field. We had lunch at the hotel, & had tea in Nenagh too. We met Henry Dunalley for a few moments, & then he had to go off to the train. We got back at about five thirty. I read for a bit & Muz wrote letters. Went to bed at about 10-30. We walked about in front of the house, after dinner.
Saturday 14 July
Tom & I washed our hairs, & sat out in the sun & read while they dried. After lunch Muz, Tom & I went for a drive, & went to see Ned Maher, Tony Mang [?], Mrs Fitzgerald, Mrs Tom Hayes, & Mrs Dan Ryan. She was out, but the boy showed us his brother’s photograph & his D.C.M,1 but we are going to see her again. Ione, Tom & Poppy went to look at the cattle after tea. Muz wrote letters, & I did a lot of mending. Finished reading “Boundary House”.2
Jack and Denis Ryan
Sunday 15 July
I mended all morning, & Muz wrote letters. Johnnie Knox came for lunch & the others went out with him, in the garden, & I wrote a lot of letters. He stayed for tea, & afterwards I did more mending. Then went out with Poppy, & played with the dogs, & Dus got very wet in the river, so Muz & I took her for a walk, over to the style [sic], to get her dry, then Muz came & gave her her supper with me. After dinner we played about with Poppy in the front, then talked to Ione for a bit, & went to bed at about 10-30. It rained a good bit in the morning & was lovely in the afternoon.
Letter from Gretta Pakenham, Carrick, to Mrs Armstrong, undated but written at around this time.
Poor little soul,
“If only you could cry”
I have tried so hard to know why he was taken & I can’t think, perhaps it was dear Rose because he was so dear & good, that God wanted him to come while he was happy & in the flower of his youth, perhaps pet, he might have got unhappy, he might have married & found himself miserable, one can’t know, one cannot even guess, but I do think darling Rose, everything is done for some good reason. It would have been harder for you, had you seen him unhappily married, he had a splendid life dear pet, but the pity of it, oh Rose the pity of it. Every one says he would have been a very big man, & I am sure he would he had that lovely quickness & gentle manners that makes a man, just look how he has got on? Isn’t it wonderful to think of?
We showed Win all the General’s letters, she loved seeing them, & she cried, a thing I did not think she could do, & she told me once, that they were taught from young babies never to cry, but she couldn’t help it this time. Sweet girl she is, we would love to see more letters Rose those ones were perfectly wonderful, even Pak says he could hardly believe how the boy was loved, he was surely a good all round boy, & such a lovely boy to look at, I can hardly believe he is taken, but sweetheart of all deaths, his was the most splendid, you have a lot to be thankful for dear Rose, he can’t have had one pain or ache, just off to sleep as I have felt twice under ether; no coming back, just everything that you would want for a dear one’s end, yes darling pet, if you could have a good cry & try. As I write I am pouring it helps, I know it does, have the house to myself no one to push away tears for, & it helps, Oh! Rose dear if only you could cry – I expect just you are very near him, I think you will be able to feel his nearness later on when things are not so fresh & you slowly realize he is not on earth, just now you want to see him walking in, & when you realize he won’t I expect the power to see him as he is will be given to you. Wee dear pet I am so glad you are at Moyaliffe, & the boy wanting you to go there will make it double blessed; poor Marc I am glad he has you.
Your loving sister
Mary & Ned come tonight, I do hope they will be happy here
Distinguished Conduct Medal. Jess is mistaken in her comment; Denis Ryan had not been awarded a DCM but a Military Medal, the professional ranks’ equivalent to the Military Cross ⇑