First World War

MacGill in the First World War

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, MacGill volunteered for military service at Chelsea barracks, London. Joining the London Irish Rifles as Rifleman No. 3008 of the 2nd Battalion of the London Regiment, he was wounded at the battle of Loos.

During this time MacGill wrote a collection of essays entitled The Amateur Army (1915), recording life as a raw recruit. Giving a journalistic account of war, the sequel, The Red Horizon, was published in 1916 and describes his first days at the war front.

Reflecting the horror of war, The Red Horizon also records the unique experiences of the ordinary soldier. In particular, in the chapter 'The Dug-Out Banquet' MacGill describes the memorable dinner of Section 3 in "The Savoy"(8) trench, which took a whole day to prepare and where food was acquired at great risk to life.


Lentil rifle Oil
Mess Tin Wash Out


Pinched pommes-de-terres

1 Frog (hopped away)
Cerises-a-la Crème (Suisse)

God Save the King
Gott Strafe the Cooks
Music by Casey Court

In the foreword of this book, Lord Esher addresses MacGill and writes:

You had much to give us. The rare experiences of your boyhood, your talents, your brilliant hopes for the future. Upon all these the Western hills and Loughs of your native Donegal seemed to have a prior claim.(9)

Recollecting his early life in Donegal, in the chapter 'Peace and War', MacGill recalls with his comrade:

Stoner was sitting on the bank of La Bassee canal, his bare feet touching the water, his body deep in a cluster of wild iris. I sat down beside him and took off my boots. I pulled a wild iris and explained to Stoner how in Donegal we made boats from the iris and placed them by the brookside at night. When we went to bed the fairies crossed the streams on the boats which we made. 'Did they cross on the boats? Asked Stoner. 'Of course they did', I answered, 'We never found a boat in the morning'. (10)

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