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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Catholics’ role in crisis revealed in letters

Rediscovered letters from a young Irish man serving on the Western Front have revealed his disappointment at the 1918 conscription crisis in Ireland.

In a letter dated May 1918, Patrick Dixon expresses his disappointment that conscription had not been introduced in Ireland and particularly highlights the Catholic opposition to the British Government’s efforts to impose conscription in Ireland in April 1918.

‘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.

The conscription crisis of 1918 arose when, in March 1918, Lloyd George’s UK government attempted to extend to Ireland the conscription that was already in place in Great Britain because of the First World War.

However, John Dillon, a nationalist MP who was the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, warned Mr Lloyd George not to do so, as Ireland would rise against them.

The Mansion House Conference to oppose conscription was organised by Irish nationalists, including Sinn Fein, the Irish Parliamentary Party and the Catholic Church. Tens of thousands of Catholics signed the Anti-Conscription Pledge.

Mr Dixon’s letter is part of a collection of more than 180 letters, including many from Mr Dixon to his parents, telling the story of an Irish officer’s life during the First World War.

Mr Dixon was born in Wales in 1899 to Irish parents and the family moved to Dublin in 1903. 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.

One of the letters is dated 11th November 1918, and sent to the family home in Grosvenor Road in Dublin 4.

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.’

Aaron McIntyre, archive and heritage officer for Belfast Charitable Society, said Mr Dixon’s assessment seems to have been correct as he was not demobilised until June 1919.

“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, as well as commenting on the 1918 conscription crisis in Ireland, Mr Dixon also provided commentary on the impact of the Spanish Flu pandemic and the torpedoing of RMS Leinster.

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 15th November to mark the end of the First World War.

It will include historical talks and an exhibition which wil feature the Dixon War Letters.

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Picture: One of the letters from Patrick Dixon to his mother (pictured on photograph).