Sweetbriar Dreams

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Saturday, 9 August 2014

A First World War Mother's Torment

With the Centenary of the beginning of the First World War, I started to think of the men that were lost and those who survived with my own family.  Recently Mumsy gave me a photocopy of a letter which was to my Great Great Grandma, whose sons were sent to War.  Can you imagine life one hundred years ago and watching your young son leaving?  I look at my own 16 year old and just can't comprehend that this would have been a fact a century ago.  The sickness fills my stomach and tears sting my eyes as I try to put myself in those angry, anxious, loving mother's minds.

The letter is almost 100 years old, dated 26 May 1915, regarding one of her sons.  With age, the letter is incredibly fragile but its words can be photocopied for safety and its ink saved for generations to come.
The words contained within this thin and fragile paper are heart breaking.

Dear Madam

Your letter of the 7th inst, and addressed to General Woodruff, has been passed on to us to send you what little news that we can concerning your son who has been missing since March 23rd.

When the enemy attacked us on March 21st we lost practically the whole of our Battalion and two days later when the enemy broke through again, all details including the Band, were sent up the line to try and check his advance.  I myself were with these people, and I am sorry to say we were driven back with rather heavy losses again.

I would very much like to give you some hope that your son was captured and perhaps he was, but the only men who were taken prisoners that day were those who were wounded too badly to get away.

I myself was the last to leave the position and certainly nobody was captured unwounded, so either your son is severely wounded and in a hospital somewhere in Germany, or he was killed.

I tender to you, on behalf of the Battalion the deepest sympathy, and although we ask you to be brave and hope a little that he is alive, we have very grave doubts.  I regret that this is all the news that I can give.

I can only imagine the pain and anguish that the family went through as they waited throughout the war for any snippet of news, holding on to whatever hope they could.  The heart wrenching and uncertainty would have been too hard to bare.  However thankfully, her son (my Great Grandad) survived!  He had been captured and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp but he was alive.  Amongst the family's papers I hold, there is a small slip of paper that shows the medals he collected up until the late 20's when he was discharged. 
Even though his body was constantly shaking from the results of War injuries and he never left anything on his dinner plate (a result of being in a Prisoner of War camp where there was hardly any food), he continued to collect his medals through being a soldier with the Coldstream Guards and then the Police.

Here he is in 1940 (the one with the pipe!) and his brother.
A survivor, a man who kept the horrors of war firmly in his mind and never off loaded these to his family, which was a common thing for those heroes that lived through these awful times.  I only knew him for a few months of my life, held by him in his safe arms as a baby, but this man who was initially thought to have been killed in the First World War lived until he was the grand old age of 85, knowing that his family were safe through the actions of him and his colleagues, where most had made the ultimate sacrifice.  He was a kind and respectful man (even though this photo of him looks quite stern and serious!).
We are off to London next week to see the Tower of London's poppy installation, the link is here, and I have ordered a poppy from this display to proudly remember all my family members that lost their lives and also the ones who survived this awful war such as my wonderful Great Grandad Christopher.

So, another thought provoking trip out next week which I hope you will join me on dear Readers.

Take care.

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  1. Wow, thank you for sharing. What a powerful piece of family history.

  2. It must have been an awful time for his family not knowing for so long if he was alive or not, but thank goodness that he was. It is an amazing story. Send up a little prayer or good thoughts for all of those who lost their lives when you go to the tower. xx

  3. An amazing story, Chel. Thanks for sharing.

  4. How wonderful that he survived and made it home. My husband's grandfather lost two older brothers in the Somme. Those were sad days for so many.

  5. What an amazing story, with thankfully a happy ending. No, I cannot image the pain those mothers felt when they sent their sons off to war, and the heartbreak when they received terrible news.

  6. I had two great uncles in this war. We have ones dog tags, he died before I was born but the other I remember.
    Uncle Jim came ever summer to visit his brother my grandfather.

  7. What an incredibly profound and amazing post. How wonderful that he survived. This is an incredible part of your family history.

  8. Thanks for sharing this Chel. My grandfather was at the Somme and he too came back home. I also remember that he also ate everything on his plate, he would also let his meal go almost cold as well and I think this was also a part of the legacy carried over from the war. They were wonderful men, these battlers from WWI.


  9. What a wonderful post, I thank you so much for sharing this! How heartbreaking it would have been to have received that letter, but how joyous it would have been to find out that he was alive!
    Thanks again for this post. I had tears in my eyes when I finished reading it.

  10. I'm so glad there was a happy ending, at least for this young soldier who came back from the war. The anguish and heartbreak of those parents losing their sons in combat must have been unbearable.

  11. encouraging blog ...i found you thrue other bloggers...blessings

  12. What a wonderful story Chel. It certainly does bring home some of the reality of war, 100 years on. Have a good trip.

  13. i just imagined what his mother felt when she found out he was actually alive. I'm guessing it was three years of uncertainty

  14. Thanks for sharing this amazing story and how wonderful he survived.

  15. That was a very intersting and moving story to share with us. My grand-father, who starved during the Second World War, never left anything on his plate either.

  16. That's a good story, Chel; thanks for telling it. He looks quite a man, too. I can recommend Lyn Macdonald's books on WW1, if you haven't come across them: masterpieces of editing diaries, letters etc. Like your story here, little windows on the past.

  17. oh wow, what a story. I can imagine not many families have these documents to tell the tale and the photos to accompany them, thank you for sharing. xxx

  18. What an amazing story. It was wonderful to read that he survived and went on to live a very full life. I will be sharing this with my son, he will be intrigued to read your Grand Grandads story. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Enjoy London, I can't wait for your photos of The Tower of London display.
    Ali xx

  19. Nice post memory remembering

  20. How relieved they must have been to learn he was alive. It must have been the best day ever to learn this.

    How many young men died, I can't bear to think about it.

  21. What a treasure you have in that letter and even better that he survived. I can't imagine life back then and all the uncertainty.

  22. It's a sobering message...and I am so glad to hear that there was a happy ending for your family. How very remarkable to think that he managed to survive, and get to a great age.


  23. What an amazing piece of family history. Such tragedy. War is so senseless and leaves devastation in its wake, not only the grief of those who lost beloved sons and daughters, but of the horrors revisited by those who never spoke of what they saw yet carried on. Truly, we must not forget.

  24. Oh Chel what a MOVING story!!! I have the chills right now and am completely choked up. I can not imagine receiving a letter like that and not knowing if my son was alive or dead. God Bless your Great Granddad!!!! Thank you so much for sharing this story of courage and strength. So many could stand to learn from that generation as they were strong beyond words! God Bless! Nicole xoxo

  25. I can't imagine receiving a letter like this about my own son. How brave his mother must've been to have dealt with the uncertainty of his welfare. It would also have been a horribly draining experience to have written so many of these letters by the commanding officers. Thanks for sharing this incredible piece of family history Chel. Wendy x

  26. I had seen that you had written this and I waited until now to read it because I wanted to properly sit down and absorb it, I knew I would love it, I just knew it, and I thank you for sharing this. I have 4 sons and I could not imagine a day when they would all have been sent to war.
    That letter is an amazing thing to have in your family.
    I'm also always in love with the handwriting back in the day.
    Much love to you my Londoner friend!
    Tammy x

  27. Thanks for sharing such an amazing letter and what a fabulous ending, x

  28. Wow Chel, what an amazing story and letter. I can't imagine living during those times back then and the war. Yes I'm glad it had a happy ending. Good luck with the trip to London. Take care.


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