Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Last Hundred Days


The Hundred Days Offensive is the name given to a series of battles leading to the end of the First World War. As this is the hundredth edition of Sepia Saturday, Alan gave us the figure 100 as a prompt for this week’s post. The day after this milestone edition is Remembrance Sunday, when we vow never to forget the fallen of the Great War, and the many men and women who have died in subsequent conflicts. The significance of the timing was too strong to ignore. 
There is a wealth of information about the Hundred Days Offensive on the internet, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice to say that it brought to a close four years of bitter fighting and an end to human misery on a scale never before known. Families were torn apart, and my grandmother’s was no exception. I had three great uncles who died in the First World War, and in ‘Dulce et decorum est’ I told the story of  the middle one, George.
In my previous post I related how my family and I undertook something of a pilgrimage in April 1984, whilst stationed in Germany with the Royal Air Force. At the beginning of that trip we went first to Caudry British Cemetery in Nord, France where we knew my Grandmother’s older brother Edward was buried. 


Caudry British Cemetery, Nord, France

We know very little about him, except that he was adored by my Gran. He was five years old when she was born, and we can imagine that he would have been very much the big brother to her and his younger siblings. Because he was unmarried there were no children and grandchildren curious to find more about him, and so he became something of a shadowy figure. We know even less about him than George, but since my initial research it has become easier to search records and I hope that in the future I will be able to fill in some of the gaps so that the shadow begins to take a more human form.
We have only one photo of him, and written on the back is the name and address of his mother, alongside the inscription ‘Edward Brandon. Eyes brown. Hair black.’ He looks somewhat apprehensive, with huge soulful eyes  and I always thought the photo was of a sad young man. My Gran used to say he was the quiet one of the family. There is no date, but if it was taken post-1916, he would already have lost two brothers and would be wondering about his own chances of surviving the war. Enough to make anyone look solemn.
We know that Edward was a private in the Royal Army Service Corps attached to 84th Army Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. 
“The ASC was one of the Cinderella units of the Western Front and it received little in the way of commendation, or entries, in the official reports of the Great War. Although the 200,000+ officers and men of the ASC who served on the Western Front could not normally be considered to be combat soldiers, many were exposed daily to the capricious dangers of the battlefield as they moved around it performing their varied duties of supplying and transporting the fighting man.” ( Dr David Payne, The British Army Service Corps on the Western Front, in The Great War. The Western Front Association website)
Perhaps this suited the quiet, young man, who would serve his country not as a combat soldier, but as a member of a large support force which kept the army supplied with vital equipment and provisions.We don’t know where he spent the bulk of the war, but it would appear that he ended up with his unit in those closing days at Caudry, a town 10 kilometres east of Cambrai. Caudry had been in German hands for most of the war until October 1918 when it was the base for successive clearing stations. 
My Great Auntie Mary told me in a letter in 1984, that she remembers Edward coming home on leave and that when he returned to France he was ill. Perhaps it was the beginnings of Spanish Influenza, which was to have such a devastating effect on both military and civilian populations at this time. She believed that, shortly after his return to his unit, he succumbed to pneumonia and died on February 28th 1919. She also had a photograph of the original grave with this date inscribed upon it. 
Over 700 casualties are commemorated at Caudry British Cemetery, but with help from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission we were able to find Edward’s grave and pay our respects.  My mother, who never knew her great-uncle, was able to write in the Book of Remembrance on her own mother’s behalf.
In Memory of an Uncle

His great-great niece, my six-year old daughter, spontaneously laid some daisies she had picked, in front of the headstone. Even my four-year old son stood quietly and reverently by, as if aware of the emotional impact of the moment. 
Edward’s grave shows the badge of the RASC
The picture shows Edward’s grave at the time of our visit. The date is different to that given by my aunt. The mystery deepens when we find that according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission he died on 21st October 1919. The Ministry of Defence helpfully carried out an extensive search but told me that they lost many records in enemy air action in 1940. They did find Edward on the Medal Rolls however, where the date of February 21st was given but this time two years earlier in 1917. I do hope that this was a typing error as it confuses matters even more. I’m inclined to go with his sister’s date, as it would have been etched on the collective memory of his immediate family. I’m assuming they would have received the standard telegram informing them of his death and on each anniversary he would have been remembered by his parents and siblings. The Historical Secretary at the Royal Artillery Institution agreed with me that October 1919 was unlikely as there were so few troops remaining in France at that time.
The Regimental Headquarters in Aldershot told me that Edward’s name did not appear in their lists of members of the Royal Army Service Corps who had died in the First World War and the Imperial War Museum said that in the Official publication ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War', Edward is not listed. This would support the fact that he died after the armistice. 
In that final hundred days Edward was no doubt carrying out his duties in France and would have been anticipating a return to Blighty as soon as the army allowed. Edward may be an enigma now, but back in 1919 he was a much loved son and brother. As the oldest boy he would have been the one his father  would have shared a pint with at the pub when he was home on leave, putting the world to rights, or discussing a game of football. His mother would have relied on him to help keep his nine siblings in check. The six girls would all have looked up to him, and the one remaining son, little Charlie who was only eight years old, would have turned to him for brotherly advice. On the hundredth day, the armistice was signed. At 11.00. o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the thundering roar of the big guns ceased, the last shot was fired, and Edward’s family would have breathed a sigh of relief to think that having lost two sons, their eldest had been spared. Instead we can only imagine the heartbreak that telegram must have brought. So many false hopes raised, so many dreams for the future lost. It is my privilege to honour his memory, and ensure that he is never forgotten.





23 comments:

  1. Beautifully put together, beautifully written - a perfect Sepia Saturday post for this special occasion. I have so enjoyed all your Sepia Saturday posts since you joined us - thanks Nell for taking part - long may you continue to do so.

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  2. I have to agree with Alan, a beautifully written tribute. I feel privileged to have been introduced to Edward.

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  3. I agree that your post is beautifully written. The picture of your mother is very poignant.

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  4. beautifully expressed,like it

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  5. A Lovely Tribute.Nell your labour of love keeps a unique flame flickering.

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  6. Very dedicated post. For Remembrance, I visited my Dad at the Nursing home and give him a big hug and kiss. Rosie.

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  7. What a lovely, deeply heartfelt post, for this special blog post. My own post pales in this fine choice you have so excellently presented ....bravo for your posting, and I value your continued friendship here, in bloggersville!

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  8. A beautiful tribute Nell. My father was in the ASC in WW1 - he was just 20 when the war ended. Like many, he never talked about his experiences.

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  9. This is so sad. His photograph does look as though he knows something of what is to come.

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  10. It is amazing how our hearts are drawn to those ancestors who died at young ages. And we want them to be remembered. This was an excellent tribute to Edward and a good choice to post for SS 100, Nell. I hope you can continue to find more information about him. Thanks for sharing.

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  11. Such a beautiful post Nell. I'm not sure I'd ever considered the poignancy of those who died without children having no direct descendants to keep their memory as alive as those who are researched by grandchildren and great-grandchildren. You have gone a long way to redressing the balance.

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  12. Such a moving tribute. I can only imagine the grief felt by Edward's family

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  13. It's always sad to think of so many young men cut off in their prime...I had an Uncle Arthur who was killed aged 21, long before I was born...

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  14. A very moving post, Nell, and I agree that Edward looks sad in the photo. The deaths of so many men left huge gaps in families everywhere. Very sad. Jo

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  15. Nell, you do such an excellent job on your articles. Thanks so much for introducing us to your Uncle Edward. This post makes me very sorrowful to think of him dying so young and for your grandparents losing three sons in the war. All of the devastation that WWI and other wars have brought to the world. This is a wonderful post for Veteran's Day and much appreciated.

    Take care,

    Kathy M.

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  16. Thank you for telling Edward's story. I feel so blessed to have read your post today. Both your wonderful words and photographs are fitting tribute to his sacrifice and that of his family.

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  17. I add my thanks for such a memorable tribute.

    Recently I have finished a first-rate book on the Great War: To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild. The author uses the perspective of several personal lives to describe the enormity of the conflict. Your excellent story reminds us of the horrible way that war changes lives.

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  18. So sad. I'm glad I got to know Uncle Edward. And I'm glad he is being remembered.

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  19. A touching tribute, and most fitting with the theme. Indeed, he did look sadden in the picture. Maybe he knew only too well what awaited him...
    :/~
    HUGZ

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  20. A fitting post in memory of your great-uncle. My grandfather, too, was badly injured by a machine gun bullet in the offensive of those last Hundred Days.

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  21. A perfect contribution to Sepia Saturday 100. A sad and touching tale. Thank you for sharing Edward with us and insuring he will live on.

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  22. My great grandmother's sister Emma is much like your Edward...a mystery with very little information. All we know is that she drove an ambulance during the war. Perhaps Edward and Emma are somewhere where the ghosts of The Great War go and are keeping one another company.

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