Two Brothers, Two Wars
By: Thomas McAlindon
“Quite the best description of the life of a front line infantry soldier in the period 1914-1918 that I have read . It shows this pre-war soldier goes on to become commissioned and gains the Military Cross for single-handedly, armed only with a revolver, clearing a German machine gun pillbox. The remainder of the account of this uncle of the author is both enthralling and highly moving. There are also very impressive scenes of life on a remote Ulster small farm and a portrait of a grandmother who comes across as a heroine in her own right. The second brother’s experiences as a missionary priest cut off by the Japanese in Burma in World War II should be made into a film. ”
– Squadron Leader W. Caulfield
The author’s namesake uncle, Tom McAlindon, joined the Royal Irish Rifles in 1908 aged seventeen and fought on the Western Front from August 1914 until late 1918. He died agonizingly from dysentery in a military hospital in the south of England, to which he had just been sent from France. His mother and eleven-year-old brother Denis had made the grim journey from Armagh to be with him. The sight of his beloved and admired brother dying in such distress seemed likely to haunt Denis forever.
Years later Denis became a missionary priest in Burma. In 1941 the Japanese routed the British army there and captured his fellow priests, but his remote mission station remained undiscovered. In that sense he was untouched by World War II; yet this war recruited his active compassion in such a way that he finally laid to rest his ghost of Tom.
Drawing on family recollections, letters, military records and memoirs, and the archives of the Columban Missionary Society, the author tells a strange and moving story about the early life and war experiences of his two uncles, from the rat-ridden horrors of the Flanders’ trenches to the leech-infested jungle tracks of Burma. Their intertwined lives reach a symmetry seldom found in the haphazard progression of events, and find resolution in this masterly and consoling narrative.
THOMAS MCALINDON, born in Belfast, is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Hull. He is the author of six books on Shakespeare and his contemporaries, including Shakespeare’s Tragic Cosmos and English Renaissance Tragedy (1991). These, and his critically acclaimed Bloodstains in Ulster: The Notorious Case of Robert the Painter (2006), have prepared the ground for this very different family memoir, Two Brothers, Two Wars.
PRAISE FOR BLOODSTAINS IN ULSTER
‘Riveting writing from start to finish – a terrific book.’ Bernard MacLaverty, Irish Times Books of the Year 2006
‘A historical work that’s electrifying, dispassionate and original.’ Eugene McCabe
‘A brave, well-written book – and a moving, personal journey for the author.’ Thomas Kilroy