War Experiences

Just as MacGill had used his experiences in the potato fields and navvying to write novels, so too he used his army service to produce autobiographical novels, fulfilling the public's demand for accounts of war.

One of the legendary episodes of the First World War, The Great Push was written in 1916. With a vivid descriptive power earned from actual experiences, The Great Push gives an insight into the advance of the London-Irish at the mining town of Loos, France in September 1915. This was the battle in which MacGill was injured in the right arm and after which he returned to London. MacGill wrote most of the book in the scene of action, in the trenches, capturing the frenzy of attack. This immediacy of experience led to MacGill's wartime novels being a huge success.

For a video presentation on his war experiences, right-click here

and choose 'save target as' (Internet Explorer' or 'save link as' (Firefox) to download. Alternatively click on the link to view online, however, please note that the video is 18 megabytes in size and is best viewed by downloading, though due to the size, it may take some time to download.

The same year, while on sick leave in London, MacGill married Margaret Gibbons, a grandniece of Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore. Gibbons was well connected in London Society of the day and they regularly appeared in the newspaper society columns.

In 1917 MacGill was transferred to the Middlesex Regiment, then to the Labour Corps, the Gloucestershire Regiment and various Corps in London. Publishing his fourth war novel, The Brown Brethren in 1917, MacGill "carries over into his fiction a poetic pen and a poet's eye for detail"(11). His Soldier Songs, a collection of poetry also of 1917, reflects a patriotism displayed through poems such as 'Spoils of War' and 'A Lament'. Revealing MacGills' inherent shrewdness, 'A Lament' features at the First World War Ulster Memorial in Thiepval, France:

I wish the sea were not so wide
That parts me from my love;
I wish the things men do below
Were known to God above.

I wish that I were back again
In the glens of Donegal,
They'll call me coward if I return
But a hero if I fall.

'Is it better to be a living coward,
Or thrice a hero dead?'
'It's better to go to sleep, my lad',
The Colour Sergeant said


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