Jim Haughey's letter to his sister, May 1945
Updated, Feb. 27th 2007
I had taken the first version of this letter online from another source, but on checking my own notes noticed that a few lines were left out for reasons of space, but this is now the complete letter. CC
My dear Sis,
You can’t tell how delighted I was to receive your letter this evening. Although it made me kind of homesick, its nice to know that some people at home have not forgotten me, and I intend to do a lot of writing tonight. I felt almost tempted to go to the immigration authorities and tell them that I was here illegally so that they could send me back to no. 82 Lower North Street.
I arrived here about 10 days ago (that is, Vancouver), and since then I have made a host of friends. They are nice people, these Canadians. This is a marvellous country and I feel it in my heart and soul that I can be successful here. I have not as yet started to work as the doctors tell me to take it easy for a week or town. But I won’t be jobless, that’s a certainty.
I arrived in Spain on the 13th of May 1938 and after I had been there for a few weeks I had to go to a hospital with malaria. I had a pretty tough constitution then so I was fully recovered within 20 days. Then I went up to the front. Our battalion went into the line 700 strong, 50 odd returned. We were in the trenches for 63 days without rest. God, Veronica, it was terrible. We had only rifles and machine-guns against hundreds of German and Italian aviation, tanks, artillery and Italian and Moorish troops. In this battle, the battle of the Ebro, Franco had more than 100,000 causalities while we had 40,000. I had umpteen narrow escapes from death which would take too long to describe. I was blown up 4 times, had my shirt and pants ripped to pieces with machine-gun bullets and was lost for three days in no-mans-land without food or water. This may seem fantastic, but it’s true. On the twenty-fourth of September our company was in a position on the top of a small hill. I was in command of about thirty men, the total remains of two companies (full strength, 150 men to a company). I saw that we were completely surrounded by the enemy, we had only rifles and a few revolvers so we couldn’t put up any resistance. (By the way, I was a confirmed sergeant at this time, and discovered since, that on the day I was captured, my lieutenant’s papers came through. Lieutenant Jim Haughey, how does it look, pretty good, eh? Age doesn’t matter in the trenches.) Well, we were finally captured by this time only 8 of us were left. (The Captain of the bunch that captured us ordered his men to shoot us. Our hands were tied and a bandage placed over our eyes. This I refused in the good old traditional style. While our grave was being dug I asked this Captain would it be possible to see a priest as I was a Catholic. As he was a Catholic himself, he said yes, after some conference with his superiors. This saved our lives as it was taken for granted that my fellow prisoners were Catholics also. But he was so enraged because we wouldn’t snivel or whine for mercy that he bent a colt 45 over my head. I lost all interest in proceedings for a few hours after that. It would be impossible to describe the humiliations we suffered after that until we arrived in the concentration camp. Here we meet some more international prisoners of war. There were 36 different nationalities including Irish, British and Americans. (Some time I will describe this camp, it was very interesting.) Here I had my head dressed and settled down patiently to await the day when we should be liberated. There were 400 of us in a room which would hold 50 comfortably, no smokes, no books, 1 toilet and one water tap for 400 men, abundance of lice, very little food, beans twice a day. For the last 3 months before we were released we were fed on bread and water, nothing else.
There were some Basque and Asturian priests. In one part of this 200-year-old building there were some nuns prisoners also. There are several hundred priests and nuns in Franco’s prisons because they want to tell the truth about this ‘saviour of Christianity’ who is merely the tool of Hitler. I hope and pray that some day the truth will come out about this. Veronica dear, it would take hours to describe all I have seen and experienced in Spain.
By the way I did write to [his brohter] Malachy when I was in England. In fact, I called at 108 Kings Road. But you can see for yourself the mistake I made. I also wrote about 20 letters home while I was in prison, you can guess what happened to them.
Give my regards to everyone, especially Nos 82 and 84. In the extremely near future there is going to be an epidemic of letters from yours truly hitting Lurgan. And Veronica, please send me some photo of the family and if possible, the Lurgan Mail and Wolfe Tone weekly as often as you can. I appreciate all you said in your letter about money and the door of No. 82, but Veronica I don’t think it will be necessary. I’m grateful just the same. I was delighted to hear about Father McIntyre and I will certainly look him up. I can’t understand why Mac [?], Nuala and Hugh don’t write to me. Wish Hugh [his brother] a belated ‘many Happy Returns’ from me.
I pray for you all every night and ask Mummy to watch over you and take care of you. I hope and trust that you won’t forget me in your prayers.
Your affectionate brother,
PS This letter contains some things that sound as if I’m drawing on my imagination, but every word is absolutely the truth.
PPS. Write as soon as possible, your papering and painting ought to be finished by now. I thought that your last letter was never going to come.
A 38 page pamphlet on Jim Haughey is available on our publications page CC, Nov. 2007
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