Chapter 9, a summary: Sebastian Barry’s ‘A Long, Long Way’

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When Willie comes to, he finds Moran slumped at the bottom of the trench, and Father Buckley attending to the dead. Quigley is being stretchered away. Captain Sheridan, unable to telephone headquarters, gives Willie a message to be relayed to the battalion command. Willie makes towards the rear and stumbles on the HQ in an old barn. There he finds three officers seated at a shabby table: Two Majors, one of whom is named Stokes, and a Captain Boston. Major Stokes is incensed by the loss of men, and reacts aggressively to Willie’s presence, only mollified by the Captain. He tells Willie that he smells and insults the Irish. Willie replies that he shat himself in terror, and this momentarily disarms the major. News that 800 of the 1200 in the battalion are casualties further angers Stokes, and after promising supplies for the men able to remain in the front line, he turns again on Willie, calling him Little Willie, the Kaiser’s son. Willie is dismissed with a grudging apology, but as Willie leaves Stokes renews his attack. Willie makes his way back to the line with the insults ringing in his ears.

The soldiers left in the line set about burying the dead. Willie finds the German that he killed and personally makes to bury him, after collecting the man’s belongings for Captain Sheridan, though he keeps a small toy horse found on the man. Willie finds some solace in the act of digging, as O’Hara whistles ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ nearby. As he digs, lines from the Book of Revelation occur to him, and his thoughts turn affectionately towards his employer, Dempsey the builder. Willie finds himself strangely hopeful about the rebuilding of Dublin, and the broken world about him. Christy Moran snaps him out of his reverie. Willie finally says a Hail Mary over the body of the German in his grave. After the burials, he and the remains of the battalion find themselves taken out of the line and back to billets.

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