Letters from the Front

Read the letters of Lt. Col. R.G. Hely-Hutchinson, sent uncensored from the Front, to his family in Swords and his wife in Foxrock, between 1914-1918. Imagine what it must have been like to receive his increasingly detailed accounts of life in the trenches.

Each month we will feature at least one letter, showing both a scan of the original, and a transcript or extract. The letters will be displayed with photographs, some of them taken by Hely-Hutchinson himself in France, and never before seen. All originals can be viewed, along with an exhibition, at Fingal Local Studies and Archives, Clonmel House, Forster Way, Swords, Co. Dublin. 

In November 2009 Fingal County Council Archives received the generous donation of the papers of the Hely-Hutchinson family of Swords and Donabate, from the surviving descendants, Ms. Caroline Harlow and Ms. Fiona Selway.Hely Hutchinson family at Seafield, Donabate, Co. Dublin.

Aug Letter

Consisting of over 100 boxes of material, including thousands of photographs, a very small portion of this collection relates to the experiences of two members of the family, both decorated British Army Officers, Lt. Col. Coote Hely-Hutchinson, O.B.E, and Lt. Col. Richard Georg Hely-Hutchinson, D.S.O.

The latter served at the Front for four years, with the Royal (City of London) Fusiliers, was wounded three times, and mentioned in despatches. Fortunately, “Dick” was an avid letter-writer, and as an officer, his letters arrived home to Seafield in Donabate, to his father, mother, and sister Cissy, uncensored. His wife Alice, and young daughter Pam, rented a house in Foxrock while he was away, and his letters to Alice also survive.

These letters, and the accompanying photographs and other documents, form the basis for a major historical exhibition which was launched by Fingal Mayor Cllr. Mags Murray, and Big House expert, Dr. Terence Dooley, on June 10th, at Fingal Local Studies Library & Archives, Clonmel House, Forster Way, Swords. The exhibition is free and open to the public Mon-Fri 10-1.and 2-5.

‌‌The entire collection, which includes records dating back to the early 18th century, is available to researchers who make an appointment by contacting Fingal Archives at [email protected] or contacting the Archivist at 01-8704496.

This month we are focusing on Major Richard Hely-Hutchinson letters from July and August.   

July 1916

On the evening of the 13th, we went down & there was hardly a shell bursting & we got dug in without losing a man, which put all their tails up, we had a lot of fatiguing work previous to the attack, making forward dumps of string etc. a very trying time for the men & officers, but they did A1 & their discipline was real good & the Brigadier complimented us on the good job of work we had done. The attack was most successful; our bombardment was terrific, & the 1st line trench of the Germans was completely blotted out, the prisoners said they had only been in the trenches half an hour & when it commenced, they were held by the Fusiliers of the Prussian friend; we also captured a village, & a German General with his staff

  July 29th Dick to Coote - Letter transcript

Lt. Col. Coote Hely Hutchinson


August 1916

We are still out mending, & I hope we shall be out some days longer. It takes a certain amount of squaring up after a modern battle, as things are so complicated, there are your bombers, signallers, orderlies, stretcher bearers, machine gunners, all trained specialists, who have to be fitted up, besides your fighting men in the corps. Also snipers, & scouts. All these have to be made up & uploaded which takes time. I have just come back from 72 hours leave in Paris & I had a top notch time there, & lived at the rate of several thousands a minute; but got great value for it. We stopped at the Ritz, who gave us beautiful rooms, with a bathroom attached for 10 francs. [….]; & we ate of the best and a good deal more & we saw no kaki & my mind was free of all care & worry, & nobody wanted to know what I am to do about this and that, & all the French ladies all said, vive les braves officers Anglais, & the entente was very good. The one nasty part was coming back but it did one a power of good. 

Aug 8th Dick to Cissy - Letter transcript

Cissy Hely-Hutchinson and dog at Seafield, Donabate



Click the link below to listen to the Hely-Hutchinson podcast from the History Show on Radio 1 broadcast on the 15th Feb