I found Alan Linfield’s article in our last newsletter on that terrible battle of the 1914-18 War – the Battle of the Somme – very stirring. I have often wondered what happened. I read the account of the young lives so freely given, with much feeling. My own dear father suffered – no, not more than – but with, thousands of other fond parents.
He had married at the age of twenty and he and his dear wife were justly proud of their “pigeon pair”. But sadly, as my brother and sister reached school age their mother died. My sister was taken by her maiden aunt and lived with her, as she cared for her ageing parents in the old home. But Israel Charles John remained with his father and was the ‘apple of his eye’.
After some six years Father married again and I believe it was a real love match. Soon another baby girl was born and cherished, of whom Issie became so fond that he told his Dad: “Don’t ever tell her she isn’t our real sister”. But when this little sister was only four, again sorrow entered the home and her dear mother died of cancer! Needing help my father advertised for someone to care for them and she who was to become my own dear mother saw the advert and applied. “Never shall I forget that dear little child in her little black frock, clinging shyly to her father”, she has told me since. “It went to my heart!”
This was 1914 and the War was commencing. Business was becoming more and more difficult. For convenience they moved to smaller premises. Then came the threat of conscription! My brother – then 22 – felt he could not wait for conscription and be forced to “go”! So like many other loyal men, he volunteered! This was in February 1916. Training followed and he was stationed near Dover. By July they were given “over-seas” leave. Knowing this was the real thing, he came to say “goodbye” to his dear ones – he made his will and visited the old haunts – for as he said – “this may be the last time?” He had always been very fond of horses and on the front cover you see him with his favourite pony “Greybird” driving his Dad around as he said “goodbye” to his friends.
There was I think one letter from him before he left for France. That was all. The next was a note from the War Office: “Wounded and Missing”. They waited – and waited – but no more! Days passed into weeks. All that could be said was “missing”. How were his dear ones to know the carnage of that awful month? Hope sometimes revived as hope will. Was he a POW? Nobody knew.
However as the days passed a little diversion occurred which perhaps helped to distract their poor minds. In September I was born! Dad had married the loving housekeeper who so lovingly took my little sister to her heart! And now, she too had produced yet again a baby girl. I was born into that home of sorrow and I like to wonder if my coming did in anyway comfort their sorrowing hearts? I only hope it was so.
Months passed and I grew into a toddler but still there was no news. “Is he a POW or will they ever find the body?” was always a background thought.
When I was four years old yet another sorrow entered our home: my sister, the one at home, developed cancer, evidently passed on from her late dear mother. My mother nursed her tenderly night and day to the end. She was thirteen.
But still there was no news! Newspapers often produced long lists of POWs being released from Germany, even as late as the mid 1920s. I can well remember the eager way my parents would search down the names. Once there was a name! The number was slightly wrong, but the initials were nearly right! Oh what conjectures! What agony! In my childish way I did not understand! I vaguely wondered what it was all about.
Then in 1925 I remember being told my elder sister had had a stroke! I remember how when visiting her with Father – he leaned over her to say “goodbye” as we were about to leave – he said “I wish I could bear the pain for you dear!” I remember thinking: “How could you say that? I don’t want to be ill!” I was an active child, bubbling over with energy and it seemed so awful to be willing to be ill. Callous little thing that I was! Two years later she had another stroke and died. But of Issie there was no word till 6th May 1930 when a buff envelope from the Imperial War Graves Commission came with the news that “it has now been possible to identify the burial place of Private I.C.J. Avery. The soldier’s grave was found at a point north of Beaumont Hamel and the remains were identified by portions of his kit bearing his regimental particulars”. So now we knew. The remains were re-buried at No 2 Beaumont Hamel Cemetery.
How many hundreds of households have suffered in the same way?
"They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old!
At the going down of the Sun and in the morning
We will remember them".
My brother Israel Charles John Avery (Royal Fusiliers 27651) was born on May 16th 1894 and died on August 4th 1916.
He was a son of Israel Avery and grandson of Martha Avery (nee Lindfield), great grandson of William Lindfield of Huggetts Farm, Chailey. He was a descendant of John Lindfield of Dean House, Hurstpierpoint.