Exactly 100 years ago today, the war to end all wars started when Great Britain declared war on Germany because of the latter’s invasion of neutral Belgium. A tiny country whom Britain was bound to by the 1839 Treaty of London.
Over the coming days, much will be written and said about this important centenary and how this terrible war affected almost the entire world. For my contribution, I am re-publishing a story from the First World War which I first wrote on my blog two years ago Postcard from the Front – From your loving son.
But first, before my story…
If you are in the UK, then at 10pm BST on 4th August 2014, for one hour, please turn off all your lights except one single light (or candle). This is a mark of shared respect for those who suffered in that terrible war and its aftermath. The Lights Out event has been supported by the likes of the British Government and the Royal British Legion – with Westminster Abbey leading the way in this nationwide vigil.
For me, when my lights are out, I will be remembering my grandfather, George Parnall Cole, who joined up the day before his 18th birthday in April 1918. He survived, and came home to marry his childhood sweetheart. His cousins, Gordon Parnall Kemp and Harold James Parnall Kemp were not so lucky. Gordon was killed in action September 1917 in the mud and horror of the 3rd Battle of Ypres (forever known as Passchendaele) and his older brother, Harold, killed in action in German East Africa the May of the previous year.
I will also be remembering my grandmother’s adored big brother, Sergeant F. A. H., a long serving (pre-First World War) regular in the British army, who, for whatever reason (and we cannot possibly judge his actions from our modern-day lens) committed suicide by putting a gun to his head, just days after the Battle of the Somme, from the relative safety of the Somme’s HQ, which was well behind the front lines. An act which had been covered up for nearly 100 years by the powers that be, and his father (also a long-serving army man), until an internet correspondent read the war diaries and emailed me the truth of his fate a couple of years ago. We cannot possibly know what went through Frank’s mind when he realised the horror and tragedy that was the battle of the Somme. I have absolutely no idea if he directly sent men to their death at the Somme, or if he was just a pen-pushing high-ranking clerk who couldn’t cope with the unrivalled horror and endless slaughter.
His reasons are not for me to ever discover or even try to investigate. His reasons died with him.
And so, I will respect his reasons and so will never investigate his “story”. But so very very sad that his death became a secret that “the powers that be” kept to themselves for nearly 100 years until the internet finally yielded up my family’s darkest and longest kept secret.
I will also be remembering the combatants on the other side. In particular, my son’s paternal great-grandfather and his family who were all members of the Austro-Hungarian army in 1914. They lived in that most troubled and much-fought over area within the Hapsburg empire which became known as Poland during the course of the 2nd World War, then the USSR post-Second World War, and is now known as the Ukraine. Today one of the most deeply troubled areas on this planet.
To the members of my family who fought for Great Britain, and to my son’s family who fought for the Austro-Hungarian army, to you all I salute you.
Who will you remembering on today’s anniversary?
Please tell me about your family in the comments box below.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Remembering Harold James Parnall Kemp, died May 1916;
F.A.H, died July 1916; and
Gordon Parnall Kemp, died September 1917
Postcards from the front – from your loving son…
I have long been a collector of old postcards – those evocative images conjuring up a bygone era. Originally, I was only interested in the pictures and scenes depicted on the front of the cards. But over the years my interest has switched to the messages on the back. Who are all those faceless people with their messages of ‘I’ll be home for tea’ and ‘I will be catching the 2pm train’?
Many many years ago, I bought a collection of First World War silk post cards. Within that collection are 12 cards all from the same man and are addressed to either his mother or his father. Each postcard is signed, ‘Your loving son, Fred’ and were sent to 101 Manor Road, Leyton, Essex in 1916.
It is interesting how Fred’s tone is different to his father than it is to his mother. To his mother, he writes of the weather in France and his sister, Winnie. To his father, he writes of ‘the line’, peace and Zeppelin raids (in 1916, there were several Zeppelin raids over Essex). The postcards cover the period from May to December 1916 during Fred’s time in France. So they cover the period of the Battle of Somme which started on 1 July 1916. I do not know if Fred took part in the battle – his postcards do not reveal this or any information on the trenches or the battles he took part in or the terrible conditions he lived through.
Read Fred’s cards and wonder at the sacrifice his generation made.
Just a card to let you know I’m all OK. Hope you are the same. We are having lovely weather, today sweltering hot. Will write and tell you all the news soon.
Heaps of love & kisses. Your loving son, Fred
In the top left corner is written: Just this minute received parcel thanks very much
Just a card to let you know I’m still around & well. Have you been getting my letter safely of late? Have just heard from Nancy that she hasn’t had a letter for about 10 days. I rather think the mail has been held up somewhere. Haven’t any news so thought you’d like a card.
Best love & kisses to all. Your loving son, Fred
Still another card for your collection. Do you like these? We are still having rotten weather, showery all the time. Hope all are well.
Best love & kisses. Your loving son, Fred
Received Winnie’s letter safely yesterday. How’s everything at Leyton. Was very glad Nance managed to get down on Saturday. Would not have minded if I could have strolled in during the afternoon. Was too bad though. Winnie was disappointed at not seeing her beau. Hope everyone is well.
Best love to all Your loving son, Fred
Thought you might like a card from this side. Are you keeping well? Markers are beginning to look quite cheerful all along the line aren’t they? Guess they’re going to rob you of August Bank Holiday this year. Never mind. I expect everyone will make up for it when peace is declared. Please thank Winnie for her letter. Will write her later. Weather here is still rotten but am getting used to that now.
Best love & kisses to all. Yrs etc, Fred
Just a card to let you know I’m all OK. Weather a little better for a change. Did John manage a visit to Winnie this week? Hope all are well.
Best love & kisses to all Yrs etc, Fred
Hope you are keeping well. Did you get a glimpse of the Zepps during this last Raid? Am still keeping OK but wouldn’t mind a few days holiday. Guess you’ll miss Winnie for the next week or so.
Best love to Mother & yourself Yours etc, Fred
Hope you & Dada are well. Do you miss Winnie very much? I had a letter from her the other day & seems to be having a good time apart from a few mosquito bites. Have been having some lovely weather lately the best this year.
Best love & kisses Yrs Fred
Just another card to put in the album & to let you know I’m OK. The weather here is fierce nothing but rain. I wonder whether its any better over home. Will be writing you soon.
Best love to all, hoping everyone is well. Yr loving son, Fred
Hope this card will find you in the best of health. The weather here is nothing but rain all the time. I haven’t had very much time lately for writing so must forgive me for keeping you so long without a card.
Best love & kisses to all at home Yr loving son, Fred
This card is going to bring you good news for I am leaving for the Base today. I may have some better event than that a little later. Don’t write again till you hear from me. Hope all are well. Have been enjoying contents of Winnie’s parcel.
Best love & kisses to all Yr loving son, Fred
A card to wish you all a pleasant Xmas. Its too bad I could not get home but still cheer up. I shall be with you very soon now. Expect to be spending the day with some residents in town so won’t be so badly off.
Best love & heaps of kisses Your loving son, Fred
I have not been able to track Fred in the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour, so hopefully Fred survived the Great War and returned home to his loving mother, father, and sister Winnie. A Frederick H Sargeant married Annie F Page, West Ham, September quarter 1917 – is this our Fred? In the death indices, the only Frederick Sargeant with (nearly) the correct age and location died in March quarter 1954 aged 63 in Romford. Is he our ‘loving son, Fred’? I wonder why he was in Hastings at Christmas 1916 – perhaps this a convalescent home – had our Fred been wounded?
1891 Census – 31, London Lane, Hackney
Alfred Sargeant, Head, aged 43, born 1848 Shoreditch, occupation Fancy Cabinet Maker
Amelia Sargeant, Wife, aged 37, born 1854 Marylebone
Alfred J Sargeant, Son, aged 5, born 1886 Westbourne Park
Frederick H Sargeant, Son, aged 2, 1889 Hackney
1901 Census – 101 Manor Road, Leyton, Essex
Alfred Sargeant, Head, aged 50, born 1851 Shoreditch, occupation Cabinet Maker
Amelia Sargeant, Wife, aged 43, born 1858, Marylebone
Alfred Sargeant, Son, aged 16, born 1885 Kensington, occupation Printer Compositor
Frederick Sargeant, Son, aged 12, born 1889 Hackney
Winifred Sargeant, Daughter, aged 6, born 1895 Hackney
1911 Census – 101 Manor Road, Leyton, Essex
Alfred Robt Arthur Sargeant, Head, Married, aged 62, born 1849, occupation Carpenter
Amelia Elizabeth Sargeant, Wife, Married, aged 57, born 1854
Winifred Sargeant, Daughter, Single, aged 16, occupation dressmaker
Frederick H Sargeant to Annie F Page, West Ham, September quarter 1917
Alfred Joseph Sargeant, aged 22, died September quarter 1908 (West Ham)
Amelia Elizabeth Sargeant died in 1926 (West Ham)
Alfred R A Sargeant died in 1927 (West Ham)
Who will you remembering on today’s anniversary?
Please tell me about your family in the comments box below.
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