War bravery of Irish hero priest celebrated in film
THE extraordinary story of Fr Willie Doyle, the Irish Jesuit who died at Passchendaele while serving as a chaplain in the British Army during the First World War, has been made into a film.
Bravery Under Fire, directed by Co Down film-maker Campbell Miller, vividly depicts how Fr Doyle, who served in the 16th Irish Division, repeatedly risked his own life to save others - including enemy German soldiers - during some of the war's bloodiest battles.
In particular, Fr Doyle routinely ignored the advice of his superiors and disregarded his own personal safety by repeatedly going into no man's land to drag soldiers to safety as well as to administer the Last Rites.
The film was produced by EWTN, the world's largest religious media network, and will premiere on Sunday August 12.
Mr Miller said he took on the project, which was filmed in Ireland, London and Belgium, because he believes that Fr Doyle is a forgotten hero.
"While other soldiers have got the Victoria Cross for showing one act of bravery, Fr Doyle performed miraculous acts of bravery each day he was on the front line," he said.
"In this secular age there is a lot to be learned from his actions."
Fr Doyle was born in Dalkey, trained in England and worked in Scotland - a varied background that helped set the stage for his decision to join the British Army, when he was 42 years old, as a Catholic chaplain after the outbreak of the First World War.
"All denominations loved him and knew that he looked out for them," said Mr Miller.
"They knew no matter what happened, even if they were out in no man's land and left for dead, Father Willie would go out for them.
"He did this time and time again. He would drag that soldier back if injured or, if they weren't going to make it, he would lie down beside them and give them the Last Rites."
Soldiers wanted to be in Fr Doyle's dugout because it appeared to them that no-one who fought near him was killed.
However, that changed in August 1917; he ventured on to the battlefield at Flanders to rescue two men, and was caught in a mortar attack.
"Father Willie always wanted to give the men that passed away a dignified Christian burial," said Mr Miller.
"It feels very odd that this could not be awarded to him because they never actually found his body. He was blown to bits."
Fr Doyle was awarded a military cross for his actions, and recommended for a posthumous Victoria Cross.
He was also proposed for canonisation in 1938, though this was not followed through.
This may be reconsidered, following Pope Francis's decision that Catholics who freely accepted a certain and premature death for the good of others may indeed be candidates for sainthood.
Fr Doyle's letters to his father - preserved by the Irish Jesuits - certainly suggest that the priest knew that a sudden and violent death was a real possibility.
Aidan Gallagher, the CEO of EWTN Ireland, said Bravery Under Fire would "bring the story of Fr Doyle and his selfless heroism to a wider audience".
:: Bravery Under Fire airs on EWTN at 4pm on Sunday August 12. In Ireland, EWTN broadcasts on Sky 588, Virgin Media 815 (Republic only) and streams on www.ewtn.ie.