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Remembered Today:

Platoon leader letter in the field


doogal

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I have a letter from the platoon leader of my Great Grandfather which was sent to his wife notifying her that he had been KIA. I've searched the forum for other posts regarding this kind of letter, and have not found anything - If there are any useful threads, I'd be grateful for the link.

The letter was sent five days after my Great Grandfather had been killed, stating his death, but also stating that he had been buried. Was there any form letter that the platoon leaders copied from or did they have a free hand here?

The letter is interesting in that there is no known grave for my Great Grandfather, and the sign off (which I can't transcribe, as I am at work at the moment) seems to have been very specifically chosen for this letter: "please believe me", which could hint at any number of possible white lies, truths - or standard letters.

These must have been the most difficult letters of all to write, so I wonder if, after a week or so in the field, emotions would often take over when writing out long lists of letters, even if about soldiers they barely knew.

With thanks for any advice/information that this post may prompt

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Guest Desmond6

Letter sent to Mr. Sam Haughton on the death of his brother Lt. Thomas Haughton, Cullybackey, on July 1 1916. The firm of Frazer and Haughton were cloth manufacturers in the village which is outside Ballymena, Co. Antrim.

Dear Sammy - I know Dempster Wilson has written to you about Tommy, but I just want to write a line and say how awfully sorry I am for you all. I have lost practically all my best friends, and can, perhaps, realise just a little what his own people are suffering.

Tommy died like a hero leading his men in a grand charge for the German lines. I think he would have liked that death best. His name will never be forgotten by his friends in the battalion.

I went up the night before last with the adjutant to try and find him but we couldn't get out, the shelling was too heavy. The adjutant and I both got hit but not badly.

If I can find out any more or get up there again I'll let you know.

Lt. Robbie Hanson, 12th Royal Irish Rifles

and further, from Sam Haughton:

I quote freely from a letter which has drawn a veil of comfort over the great sorrow of our loss, in the hope that those same words may help many another aching heart throughout this countryside.

My brother's servant, Rfn. Jack Anderson, has written home from a hospital, Lonaghan Lodge near Sheffield and gives a wonderful account of what took place.

he was in my brother's platoon which met such deadly machine gun fire. Rfn. Anderson actually reached the German lines but, as he puts it, so few of his comrades were left that he immediately missed my brother.

regardless of the ruthless fire he went back into the open and after searching for some time, found his officer. Bending over his master to bandage his wounds, he himself was hit and I now realise intensely with what justice Tommy often said that Anderson was 'one of the best'.

Having done everything he could and realising that all need for human aid was passed, Rfn. Anderson thought of his own hurts.

he reached the wire in front of the British trenches and being flat on his back he pulled himself under, finally being brought into safety when utterly exhausted.

No medals or words can repay in full such things and we can but hope that the inner knowledge of real self sacrfice brings with it an ample measure of recompense.

From Ballymena Observer. July 14, 1916

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Doogal

I've come across a fair number whilst researching the local war memorials. I don't think there was a standard format, as such, nor, particularly a particular rank that had to send the letters. The letters are intended to ease the grief of the relatives and, as such, may not be strictly true in the account. A common theme is "he wouldnt have felt a thing". One I came across, sent by a nursing sister to a wife, noted that the casualty, who had been brought in some 24 hours before, appeared not to be in any pain or discomfort and, in fatc had asked for a book to read before they died. This soldier had been mortally wounded in the belly!!

The statement that your relative had been buried may well have been accurate. There were many burials where the graves were lost in subsequent battle. My own great uncle (Ben Hartley - mentioned in my signature) was buried at Hannescamps and, presumably, at sonme point, had a marked grave. But all that is now recorded is that he is one of 19 "unknowns" in the cemetery

John

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I have had the privilege to own several condolence letters, from American Civil War, WWI, and WWII. As alluded to by John, condolence letters generally all seem have the same themes--all designed to comfort the bereaved: the deceased was either "killed instantly and was spared all pain" or was wounded and "quietly passed away,feeling no distress (often with the name(s) of his loved ones on his lips)." In my experience, the deceased is universally described in some manner as being a model soldier, beloved & missed by all his comrades, and someone on whom his leaders could always depend.

Chris

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Guest Desmond6

John's point about the nature of wounds is very true. I have a letter in which an officer describes a man as being wounded in the foot but goes on to say how cheery he was etc. This letter is sent to the wife at home. Several days later, the same officer has to write and tell the wife her husband has died ....

'Best soldier in the platoon, always did his duty, will be missed by all his friends' are very typical phrases.

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Dear All,

Many thanks for all the responses - having now read the letter in detail, it falls firmly into the 'dependable' category.

It was written on 3rd April 1918, with the KIA on 27th March 1918. My Great Grandfather was in the 2/5th Duke of Wellingtons, apparently involved in heavy fighting from 21st march - 2nd April 1918 (see this site's section on the 62nd Division)

Quote:

"He was a popular cheerful and courageous NCO, and set an example of devotion to duty which will be remembered..."

Even so , it still sends a shiver down one's spine...

thanks to all again

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Just to add to the above, I have a pile of papers which I found stuffed in a Soldiers Small Book that I bought from a car boot sale. The book belonged to Private 23084 Edward TITLEY, 3rd Bn. Grenadier Guards. One of the letters was written by a fellow soldier in Titley's platoon to his Sister outlining the circumstances of her brothers death:

"..........I take it as my duty to lay before you what information concerning him, is within my power, having known him well, from the very commencement of his military career and was serving in the same companies all the time. The last I saw of him was on the morning of the 15th Sept about half an hour previous to an attack, we were chatting together in the usual good spirit, he was later seen by others of the company to fall wounded in the neck or head; and as it was not possible for him to fall into the hands of the enemy and the ground was thoroughly searched for all wounded a few hours afterward I regret to say we can draw only one conclusion............

I tender you all my deepest sympathy and you have comfort in the fact that he gave his very best for the cause and always proved himself a man even in the "tightest corner"."

There is also a card from his former employer, the Customs House at Liverpool, offering their condolences to his mother.

Hope the above is of some interest; I suspect that letters such as these from fellow soldiers in the same platoon or section were relatively common place. There is also a "standard" letter from the adjutant although, not surprisingly, this is fairly brief. Sadly, such items of ephemera do not survive the passage of time as well as medals or plaques.

Ed

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Even so , it still sends a shiver down one's spine...

Doogal,

By my post, I in no way meant to lessen the historical/social value of any condolence letters that anyone was caring enough to write. I just wanted to point out that these letters generally have common themes and often contain similar phrases. It must be remembered that each letter is, in fact, different, no matter how it is worded simply because it commemorates the sacrifice of the unique individual soldier to whom it pertains and that, in itself, makes it a powerful part of the historical record.

Chris

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