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Remembered Today:

A Cautionary Tale!


Paul Johnson
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At the NA on Tuesday I happened to overhear an elderly gentleman proudly saying that his Father had been "killed in the fighting at Hill 60" and that he had not been able to find anything out about him.

Intrigued, I thought, with every good intention, that I may be able to help and offered assistance.

Firstly, I asked his fathers name, fully expecting it to be Smith, Jones etc. The gentleman told that his fathers name was Arthur Suddery. Without delay I looked up the CWGC website and found just one entry.

SUDDERY A E

Rank: Sapper Regiment: Royal Engineers Unit Text: 238th Army Troops Coy.

Date of Death: 09/08/1916 Service No: 147426

Grave/Memorial Reference: Bay 1. Cemetery: ARRAS MEMORIAL

He was delighted to find the entry and surprised that his father served in the RE. I was a little bemused as to why he thought his father had been killed at Hill 60 and wanted to know more.

With a now somewhat swollen chest and head, I announced that we could find his MIC to see if we could find out when his father arrived in France. Again, the gentleman was delighted and asked me for some further help. So I typed in his details, pulled up his MIC and then downloaded it to the screen.

SHOCK & HORROR!! - In rather bold letters it said Died Of Wounds (nothing wrong in that, I thought). Under this was written SELF INFLICTED under which was written INSANITY DEATH. My jaw dropped, what had I done!!! I felt terrible.

In my over zealous rush to help this man I had, in front of numerous people, completly destroyed the illusion of his fathers heroic death in the Great War.

I solomley printed off the MIC and found the WO95 reference for him so that he could established where his fathers unit was at the time of his death. He was very grateful but I could see he was still completly deflated at the cause of his fathers death. I left him to it, feeling rather deflated myself.

Was I right to offer help in the first place?, or should I keep my nose and size 15 boots to myself in the future.

Your views please.

PAUL J :(

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I am sorry for the shock he must have felt, but another part of me says that if you go digging around in your family's history, you have to be prepared to learn about it all, including the skeletons hidden in cupboards, horse thieves hanged and suicides.

Nobody said it all had to be "nice", with your ancestors all living in cosy cottages in the country, with a picket fence, lupins in the garden and roses round the door.

And of course, soldiers suffering from "shell shock" were much more likely to be diagnosed as "insane" by the MO than shot at dawn, whatever we hear to the contrary. This may be what happened. It was not regarded as a disgrace by the army.

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An unfortunate turn of events Paul & not one any of us would like to have been party to,as with all genealogy; caution must always be taken regarding "Received Family Knowledge" I am sure however the Chap in question will,once he has got over the initial shock be extremely grateful for your assistance,& will still be proud of his dear Old Dad,who no doubt had been through more than enough to have had the inclination to go for a "Blighty One" that went wrong.

I wouldn't feel too bad,even if you hadn't done the research for him,it would still have been there,for him or another to discover another day..........That type of negative information is one of the risks run when ever we delve into anothers past.......Had the information been in connection with a man you were researching for yourself it would no doubt have been seen in a different light,as something a bit special & different.

I suppose you could say that @ worst you have learned a valuable lesson......Always warn any future "helpee" that the information they may discover might not be what they expect or indeed want! ;)

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Angie,

You are, of course, completely right.

I just felt really bad that within a few minutes I had shattered the illusion he had so proudly being telling other people about.

If it ever happens again, I shall make sure that I advise the person of a possible negative outcome before starting anything.

We live and learn.

Seperately, this was the first time I had ever found an MIC with so much detail about the cause of death. Usually, you get a KIA or DOW or some similar notation. This was really specific and quite a shock.

HARRY; You must have read my mind. Ever seen an MIC like this?

PAUL J

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Paul

I understand the dilemma and how you must now feel.

But let me ask - how would you have felt if you had been able to discover that his father died a hero, winning the MM in the process? Very different than this morning?

It's the problem (and the associated risk) with every piece of research. As you know, I've researched the guys on four local war memorials. Almost all of what I've discovered is on my website for the world to see. But not all of it. There's a couple of pieces of information that would serve no usefull purpose in being displayed (and would possibly cause upset for the families of the guys - both WW2).

End of the day, you gotta do, what you gotta do. And what we do is research.

John

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Paul - you were right to offer to help this gentleman if you could.

As we go through life we sometimes open cans of worms without intending to, and through no fault of our own. The elderly gentleman knows this, too.

I hope that you'll continue to offer to share your knowledge and expertise when you can. You did a good thing.

Tom

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Angie,

I just felt really bad that within a few minutes I had shattered the illusion he had so proudly being telling other people about.

PAUL J

Paul,

You may empathise with the chap's position, but you need feel no sense of guilt. Sapper Suddery's son was seeking the facts of his father's service, and you were kind to assist. You have no control over those facts. There is no shame in this death, only great sadness. If Mr Suddery wishes to explore further, that is his decision.

Good samaritans cannot be blamed for the road conditions.

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John,

Thanks for the response.

Like yourself, I have researched the local memorials in my area and have come up with some blinders (not least, a man who has DCM next to his name on the memorial but was never awarded one). My version is only in print but I hope to put it onto a website one day, soon.

You are quite right, I have found some disturbing truths when carrying out research but this is the first time I was face to face with a direct family member whilst doing so. Usually, you find out what you can and you email/post the stuff to the enquirer, who is normally quite grateful. You don't see their reactions. Equally, if he had been a recipient of a gallantry award and died in action I would doubtless be crowing about.

It was simply the dismantling of a myth right before his eyes that I felt distinctly uncomfortable with. This was no spring chicken and there I was, a complete stranger, suddenly telling him about how his Dad had died from self inflicted injuries.

Thanks again.

PAUL J

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Paul, I agree with most of what has been said. The gentleman concerned was happy to receive your assistance with the research, and after all he could well have found this out himself, all that you were doing, with your expertise, was to find out the information quicker. At the end of the day although the guy was "self inflicted wounds" we shall never know the circumstances of this. I am sure there were many indicted with alleged "self inflicted wounds" who were quite innocent of this and the wound was gained otherwise. Who knows.

As you say perhaps all you can do in the future is to warn that delving into the past can bring out nasty finds. I don think it is a matter you should allow yourself to dwell on or be worried about.

Patrick

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Paul

You have acknowledged it, other pals have unanimously said it, and I can only echo what they have said. What you did was right. The shattered illusions of the elderly gent, if such was the case, were the result of research - not of your generous assistance.

Regards

Jim

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Tom/Kate/Patrick/Jim,

Thank You for your thoughts.

Simply put, I just needed to get it off of my chest. I know there is nothing I can do about the truth, it would have just been nice to let him down gently.

It is a sad fact that many men could not cope with the conditions they faced, or the acts that they witnessed on the Western Front and so chose to injure themselves in an effort to escape their situation.

It has, of course, taught me a valuable lesson.

Regards

PAUL J

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You can't change the past, and - one way or another - Sapper Suddery's son was going to find out. In a way, maybe (once he's got over the shock), maybe he will feel even closer to his dad - having to cope with intolerable conditions, away from home and family.

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Paul,

I feel for you, not a very nice thing to present someone with. However, you did absolutely right in my mind. As a previous post has pointed out, if you go digging into your family past you must be prepared to be faced with a few skeleton's in the cupboard.

It is amazing how family myth has been passed on in some cases.

Andy

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Paul I sympathise with you and with the gentleman concerned

Your intentions were good, and that is all that you need to concern yourself with

Regarding the use of the word ‘insanity’

It should be remembered that in those days the sciences of psychology & psychiatry were in there infancy. In my youth it was not uncommon to here a coroner’s report stating that the deceased took his own life ‘while the balance of his mind was disturbed.’

Today, and quite correctly I believe, we are beginning to recognise that an individual should have control over his or her own life and that includes the right to end it if they should wish so to do.

I sympathise with the soldier concerned here – who knows what horrors he felt? Alas, not all of us are strong enough to shrug off such nightmares

Regards

Michael D.R.

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Steve/Andy/Michael,

Thank you for your responses, they helped to reinforce what was said earlier.

Today, and quite correctly I believe, we are beginning to recognise that an individual should have control over his or her own life and that includes the right to end it if they should wish so to do.

Michael,

Without the wish to digress, my brother has MS and is currently in hospital. Your words on being able to end ones own life support my personal view on this matter. Whilst he has seen no active service, as Sapper Suddery had, he does live in a continual daily nightmare, from which he should be allowed to escape if he choses to do so.

Thanks again everyone.

PAUL J

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I wonder what this man went through up until the moment of his alleged "self inflicted" wound. It may have been just as heroic in its own way.

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In my youth it was not uncommon to here a coroner’s report stating that the deceased took his own life ‘while the balance of his mind was disturbed.’

Regards

Michael D.R.

I once acted for a guy who decided life wasnt worth it any more (and it wasnt our fees !! ) and hanged himself. The Death Certificate merely said in very large hand written words " HE KILLED HIMSELF"

I thought that even if the Coroner/Doctor disapproved of suicide he could have been a little more tactful particularly since the guy had a 6 year old daughter who might one day see the Certificate

Patrick

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Paul

That must have been a real awkward moment for you, but as every one else has stated - you kindly offered your help and you weren't to know the outcome.

I remember looking up a great great grandfather on ancestry for a friend of mine and we found he was still fathering children in his mid seventies :lol: - his wife was 30+ years younger.

Digging into family history - all sorts of outcomes.

Glyn

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How nice it would be if Mr Suddery's son came across the Forum and read this topic just to show what a caring, thoughtful lot the Pals are. Well done Paul for helping him - as others have said, you had no control over the outcome.

By the way, the incident in which my uncle, Harry Chaplin, was killed (shot in the head by a sniper) resulted in the Sergeant in charge of the post being court martialled for withdrawing without orders to do so. I would like to find the papers to find out more.

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Paul,

What else could you do ? You offered to help the gentleman find out about his father, he took up your kind offer.

Can you imagine how he'd have felt if you then having found out what you did, held it back from him to spare his feelings. He may then have got more research done (or even done it himself after being inspired by you). Then when the truth came out, how would he have looked upon you ?

The legend of his father, could have been passed on wrongly to his kin, and it all discovered at a later date. This way the truth is out, Sapper Suddery was just one more tragic victim of the disaster that was WW1.

Presuming Suddery was a fairly normal bloke, who knows what traumas he may have been through to reach the state in which he took his own life. To me that's bravery, pure and simple and the only hint of wrongdoing was the person who felt it necessary, at the time, to add the words INSANITY DEATH to the Self Inflicted part. How cruel.

I think you have been much more honest and brave yourself , than perhaps I might be, in similar circumstances.

You have been true to the concept of research and should think no more about the matter. One day the descendants of Sapper Suddery will have reason to thank you.

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Guest Simon Bull

Paul

I do not think you have the slightest thing to reproach yourself about. Far from it. Your offer of help was generous and kind and it is in no way your fault that the facts turned out to be as they did.

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Paul,

I've been there too. A colleague in the TA had a grandfather killed in bomber aircrew in WW2. The family story was that he, as a F/Sgt pilot, struggled with a crippled aircraft until it became unflyable and then it crashed, all killed. A quick check of squadron records showed that 1. this aircraft turned back short of the target 2. it got lost in fog back over the UK 3. pilot had what they now call 'a controlled flight into terrain', and all bar one were killed on impact, the survivor taking three days to die. Him.

The plane wasn't crippled; the crash was his fault; he died horribly in the full knowledge that he killed six other men. No, it isn't all neat. I was lucky enough not to have him standing over my shoulder watching me find it and was able to finesse it.

I think of my first lecture at university in 1980. We were posed the question about the presentation of military history: "What is truth? Truth is what we want to believe. Truth is what we NEED to believe."

You have my complete empathy, and you did nothing other than you could and should have done. Sir, I salute your moral courage.

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Paul

You did what you did out of great kindness and in the spirit of this forum. Something we all would do.

I have a slightly different angle on this. A branch of my Fathers family is notably snobbish, for no other reason than one had a shop and one went to work in an office, though when I said I would like to trace the family back they could not be more helpful - apart from info on an Aunt who had been for some reason missed from family occasions and the photos, they told me everything. It turned out that she was born out of wedlock after the father was killed in rail accident. So she had a different Father and wasn't one of them. My Dad said she was a lovely old girl - kind to him as a kid and always generous and hard working. Everything I found was positive about her, she got on with my Mum and her children were good sorts, though shunned a little.

Imagine my glee when I got back to the 1820 - 1850 period to find above all

BASTARDY RECOGNIZANCE, not one - BUT SEVEN. The faces of some of the older ones told their own story, they were a picture. As I laid the paperwork out on the dining table I said 'Good old Ambrose - he must have had a bike', I could almost hear her laughing. I know my old Mum and Pop did. Good Old Great Auntie Edith .

Lee

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Thank You everyone for your replies.

Some of the stories made very interesting reading and all of the responses helped to make me feel a whole lot better about the matter.

Thanks Again.

PAUL J

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