Rue du Bois on 8 May 1915.
Two web pages are presented to the subject of the Last
Absolution administered to the 2nd battalion Munster
Fusiliers by the Rev. F. Gleeson on 8 May 1915 at Rue
du Bois, namely a brief
history of the painting followed by directions to the
location of the event.
About the painting.
The painting of the Last General Absolution was the work of WW1 artist Fortunino Matania, he was noted for his
extraordinary finish and detail and to achieve this he visited the Western Front on many occasions.
However he did not witness the Last Absolution ceremony. According to one
informant, Monsignor John Moran, former Principal
Roman Catholic Chaplain (Army) -
the scene was well captured on canvas by Fortunino Matania from a
description obtained by
It was such a poignant scene, the officers and soldiers from all walks of life, thinking of loved ones back home,
making their peace before entering battle. The ambiance of this peaceful looking scene broken only perhaps by the distant sounds of
artillery from the battle-front.
The original chapel was built by the Leroy-Pottier family in
1867 and was destroyed during the ebb and flow of battle
in the early part of the Great war. It would seem no
photo or illustration of the original chapel has been
found. The chapel was rebuilt in 1929 and once again suffered the fate of being demolished to make way for road realignment works
during the 1970's. There
is general consensus among some very elderly locals of
Richebourg area, that the shrine rebuilt in 1929 was along the lines of the original
Some research was commenced in
1971 to identify the actual site of the Last Absolution.
Little was known outside of France other than the site was somewhere on Rue du Bois.
Initially the following
publications and photocopies of articles were researched, only one clue was
found from Mrs. Victor Rickard's History of The Munsters.
McCance history of the RMF published 1927.
history of the 2nd Munsters in France published
1922 reprint 1998.
Diary summary, 2nd Bn. by Capt. T. Filgate,
written up13 May 1915.
Extract from Rev. Father
Gleeson's diary for 8th May 1915.
from 'Story of The Munsters' by Mrs. Victor
from 'Irish Sword' - journal of Military History
Orange Green & Khaki' by Tom
Extract from history of the 1st & 2nd battalions
RMFby McCance & Jervis.
17 March 1915.
St. Patrick’s Day was spent at Les Choqaux, the Battalion proceeded to Locon for church service,
which was conducted
by the Rev. Father Gleeson, Chaplain to the Battalion..2
8 May 1915.
The Munsters marched through Rue
du Bois on their way to the trenches, and halted
on the side of the road about 500 yards away from them. In
front of each company was a green flag with
the Irish harp and the word 'Munster' embroidered
on it. These were the gifts of Lady Gordon..3
8 May 1915.
Father Gleeson, on horseback, and
wearing his stole, turned and faced 'A' Company,
Lieut.-Colonel Rickard and Captain T. W. Filgate
(the adjutant) behind him, also mounted.
Just behind them stood a broken shrine enclosing
a crucifix. Father Gleeson gave a General Absolution.
Company by company, the Munster's, bareheaded,
and listening devoutly, held the short but impressive
service as the shades of night gathered fast..4
Extract from 2nd Bn. War Diary May 1915.
Extract from Chaplain Rev. Father Francis Gleeson
8 May 1915.
We march out from Tombe Willot (Locon)
about 900 strong, our Commanding Officer being
Major Rickard and the Adjutant, Captain Filgate
- two of the kindliest men I have come across.
We leave about 7.00 pm. The scenes of enthusiasm
are outstanding. I ride my horse. Give Absolution
to Batt. during rest on road. Opposite La Couture
Church between the shrine of 'N.D. de la Bonne
Mort' and another shrine we have another rest.
The men all sing hymns 'Hail Great St. Patrick'.
I go further up - near the trenches and bid
good bye to all. So Sad !!. (Chaplain
Extract from Story of the Munsters by Mrs
J. Rickard 1915.
About a mile from the market-place
of Neuve Chapelle, and above Festubert and Givenchy,
is the Rue du Bois, a street lying east and west,
some 500 yards behind the British trenches... At
the entrance to the Rue du Bois there stands a broken
shrine, and within the shrine is a crucifix. About a mile from the market-place
of Neuve Chapelle..6
The Last Absolution site was somewhere on Rue du
Bois, however 'about a mile from the market-place
of Neuve Chapelle' was incorrect as the distance
was more like 3.6 miles (5.8 km.)
Extract from Irish Sword - journal
of Military History Society of Ireland.
(no date on photocopy)
In September 1971 some 50 members of the Military
History Society of Ireland toured the 1914-18 battlefields
of France and Flanders and other areas of interest,
they also made inquiries about the Last Absolution site
however the article did not mention any specific location.
It is never very easy for the military
historian to relate ground to narrative of a
bygone action, but we were determined to find
this spot, if we found no other. Enquiries elicited
“Ah, oui, Monsieur, vous devez . . .“ and Non,
elle se trouve. . .“ and our French had some
of the rust knocked off it as we searched. However,
we happened on an estaminet—we needed it at
this stage—and Jimmy Magee ferreted out a guide,
who led us to our objective.
It is not only in St. Stephen’s Green
that development threatens the vestiges of our
past. The shrine is gone. . bulldozed into
a pile of rubble to make way for a road, not
a particularly good one, at that. However, the
owner of the nearby cottage reverently guards
the plaque from the shrine..7
Extract from Orange Green & Khaki.
On the evening of 8 May, under command
of Lt.-Col. V.G.H. Rickard, 2nd Munsters once
again marched towards the front. At a French
wayside shrine, Rickard halted the battalion
and formed a hollow square before it. On three
sides were the rifle companies, and facing them
on horseback were Col. Rickard, his adjutant,
Capt. Filgate and the chaplain, Father Gleeson.
Gun flashes added to the semi-light of a spring
evening; gunfire and shell explosions reminded
all of the ordeal to come. All bared their heads
and the light breeze ruffled hair and caused
to flutter the green company standards. Father
Gleeson’s stole made a splash of soft colour.
The chaplain raised his right hand and intoned
general absolution and all sang the Té Deum.
Then, to the barked commands of RSM Ring, the
march resumed towards the sound of the guns..8
Research was a stop-go effort until August 2005 when it gathered momentum after an article was
posted on the Great War Forum (GWF). Sample extracts
GWF August 10 2005.
As a matter of interest has anyone ever established the exact location of the blessing of 2nd Munsters in
the Rue De Bois, prior to their attack on Aubers Ridge, as immortalized in the painting by Fortunino Matania? (Mark Hone).
GW August 13 2005.
GWF 2nd January 2007.
With the hazard of the purchase
of a book devoted to the area of "the béthunois",
I discovered a heading devoted to the Chapel
of Notre Dame de Seez, located at Richebourg
The chapel is located at the hamlet of
"l'Epinette" with Richebourg l'Avoué.
The history of this chapel is related to that
of the regiment of 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers
ordered " by Lt-colonel Victor RICHARD
who received on Saturday evening May 8, 1915,
of his chaplain the Reverend Father GLEESON,
a last absolution before entering the battle
of the ridge of Aubers, where he was to find
death with a great number of his men.
In 1935, his widow, Lady Colonel RICHARD,
offered the painting representing the scene
of "the last absolution of the Munster’s",
according to the artist MATANIA, it hung inside
Chapel Notre Dame de Seez. (French
Artefacts from Chapel Notre
Dame de Seez.
A number of artefacts
from the Chapel Notre Dame de Seez was traced and
found to be in the safe-keeping of descendants of the
original family. The family hope one day to rebuilt
The Location of the Last Absolution site.
The subject matter attracted wide interest on the
in numerous posts amounting to 34 web pages, as
a result this subject was classified as a 'Classic Thread'.
above are simply a sampling of some of the posts.
Eventually due to excellent detective
work by Michel Knockeart of La Couture, the the
actual site and interesting artifacts were discovered.
Michel also added an interesting number of photos to illustrate
his Forum posts and his input and personal time devoted to the subject
is highly valued and acknowledged by the Royal Munster
Fusiliers Association and those with an interest in
the Munster Fusiliers history.
1. Orange Green
& Khaki by Tom Johnstone. p436 ref.23.
2. History of the Royal Munster
Fusiliers by Capt. S. McCance p126 vol.2
2nd Munster in France by Lieut.-Colonel H. S.
Jervis M.C. p18.
4. History of the Royal Munster
Fusiliers by Capt. S. McCance p127 vol.2
War Diary 2nd Munster
Fusiliers. 95/1279 - 3 Infantry Brigade:
2 Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers,
Archives, Kew. Date range: 1914 - 1918.
6. The Story
of The Munsters at Etreux, Festubert, Rue du
Bois and Hulloch by Mrs. victor Rickard.
The Irish Sword, journal of the Military History
Soc. of Ireland.
8. Orange Green
& Khaki by Tom Johnstone. p82 ref.23
The Great War Forum, 1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php
Re reference note 23 from Orange Green
& Khaki by Tom Johnstone.
The scene was well captured on canvas by Fortunino
Matania from a description obtained by Mrs Rickard.
The original painting was presented to the Royal
Army Chaplains’ Department (RC) by Maj. Henry
Harris, author of The Irish Regiments in the
First World War. Informant: Mgr John Moran,
former Principal Roman Catholic Chaplain (Army).
Ownership of the Original Painting
the ownership and whereabouts of the original painting,
I was presented with two different versions.
I was advised by
the Documentation Officer Department of Art, Imperial
War Museum, Lambeth Road, London as follows-
to our records, the painting was destroyed by
fire during the Second World War. It was one
of a number of Matania First World War works
that were in the hands of the Illustrated London
News and other publications. Matania was an
artist who produced work for use in such publications
and as a result much of his original work was
purchased by, or belonged to, these publications.
It was whilst with them that they appear to
have been destroyed during the Second World
War. Our Matania collection consists of two
original works, one poster, several lithographs
and four reproduced prints. We have an old newspaper
cutting relating to his painting of the Munster's,
but this contains only a small black and white,
poor quality image of the work. (Imperial War
This differs from the statement by Mgr John Moran,
former Principal Roman Catholic Chaplain (Army).
(Some years ago the author of this
web page presented a high resolution colour copy to
the IWM taken from his own personal copy of the