Chapter 16, a summary: Sebastian Barry’s ‘A Long, Long Way’

The 16th find themselves back in the line in a quiet sector. It is the frozen winter of 1917, and the front is frigid with snow. The composition of the regiment is changing; fewer Irishmen are volunteering now, and the regiment sees an influx of English volunteers. Willie finds that the new men are much alike his Irish fellows.

The platoon has a new leader, second lieutenant Biggs, who proves an efficient leader. Willie meets a young Londoner named Timmy Weekes, who introduces himself with a funny joke about his surname. A Hampstead boy, Weekes is well read, and introduces the other men to Dostoevsky and Whitman. Willie, like the other men particularly enjoys Dostoevesky’s ‘the Idiot’. For Willie, however, the murderous destruction of the war weighs ever heavier upon him, and the winter is prolonged and awful.

Eventually spring arrives and the men are moved once more in preparation for a new attack. Willie receives more letters from home, but still awaits a letter from Gretta. Before decamping, Father Buckley takes confession from Willie about his visit to the prostitute in Amiens. He then talks to Buckley his troubles with his father, and witnessing the shooting of the Rebel soldier on the streets of Dublin. Buckley is a Redmondite, and explains the war to Willie as a fight for Ireland and Home Rule. Willie is doubtful and upset by his variance with his father on the matter. He receives his penance, and with a word of good luck for the following day’s attack, is dismissed.

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