Archive of the Month
The Boys from East Belfast
Archive of the month – November 2014
THE BOYS FROM EAST BELFAST
A TIM HOOD PRODUCTION
for the Church of Ireland Historical Centenaries Working Group
Available online at this link from 1 November 2014
In collaboration with the Church of Ireland Historical Centenaries Working Group, and appropriate for the forthcoming remembrance tide in this the 100th anniversary year since the start of World War 1, the RCB Library has commissioned a short film documentary: The Boys from East Belfast, as November’s Archive of the Month.
Filmed and directed by Tim Hood, it re–enacts the full story of how a small collection of letters written by ten soldiers serving at the Western Front (who were also parishioners of the Church of Ireland parish of Dundela in East Belfast) ended up in an old tea chest in Kilmore See House, and their subsequent transfer for permanent safekeeping in the RCB Library, Dublin. Here, in 2014, a group of local historians viewed them for the first time – almost 100 years after they had been written.
As the Library’s initial presentation of the letters in December 2012 made clear here, their survival in a parish context is rare. Having viewed them in situ, the local research team from the “East Belfast & the Great War Project”, (www.facebook.com/EastBelfastWW1) led by Jason Burke, was able to provide further information to put the letters into their local context. So far they have tracked what happened to two of the letter writers – both of them poignant stories in their own right.
In the case of Robert Algernon Brewis, he returned from the front in poor health and was discharged from the army on the grounds that he was ‘no longer physically fit for service’ on 28 September 1918, having been diagnosed with tuberculosis of the lung. His address on discharge was 25 Cheviot Avenue, but he died just over a year later in Whiteabbey Sanitorium at the age of 29, on 8 November 1919. The full story is available on this link.
By contrast, William John Sterritt continued to live in Belfast after the War. He became a postman, married and had several children. However, tragedy was to strike him during the Belfast Blitz on 5 May 1941. It appears he went to help his family during the air raids, only to be caught up in the bombing, and his tragic death is recorded in the civilian register of deaths on that night – not far from his home, at Seascape Parade. His post–War story is provided on this link.
The Boys From East Belfast film conveys some of the awfulness of the Great War conflict that Brewis and Steritt (along with the other eight letter–writers) endured. It also confirms that the letters in this collection are the only ones to survive anywhere that were written by men from East Belfast.
Covering the finding of the letters and their unique content, the film reveals what they tell about life at the Front and in East Belfast during the Great War, and captures their poignant impact on people from this local community handling them for the first time almost 100 years after they were written.
To view The Boys From East Belfast click here.
Thanks to: East Belfast and the Great War Project; Jason Burke; Seaneen Bell; Matthew Gamble; and Paul Harron.
Archival sources: Representative Church Body Library; Imperial War Museum, Somme Heritage Centre.
Belfast voices: Aaron McAlister.
Research: Susan Hood; Karen O’Rawe.
Script & Voiceover: Susan Hood.
Sound EQ: Sam Jackson
Filmed and directed by: Tim Hood, 2014.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood