I think about my grandfather every day. Not surprising as I’m currently writing a book about him. However, as he served in the British Expeditionary Force during the latter stages of the Great War, the 100th Anniversary of Britain’s entry to that war (on 4th August 1914) adds a particular poignancy to my thoughts about him. Later today I will be giving a brief talk about one of the letters that he wrote home just before he went into the front line on the Western Front, for the first time. This letter, which he addressed to his four sons, he placed in a sealed envelope and sent to his wife Ida, asking her only to open it in the event of his death. Today seems the right time to introduce it into the public domain for the first time, together with some pictures that I will be using during my brief talk this evening.
France 23 August 1917
My darling Boys
As the time is now drawing nigh, for me to be sent up to the trenches, where of course I shall be in hourly danger of death (not that I have any presentiment of my death; far from it I go with a good heart and in the firm belief that God will restore me to you, my boys, & your dear mother), but if God wills that I should fall, I should like to leave behind me this little letter which as you grow older I know you will always remember & act up to.
I have not very much to ask of you, my dear boys, and if it is God’s will that I should not return to you, it will afford me great comfort at the last to know that I have left this letter behind as I know it will help you through life & in some degree serve to take my place.
Firstly it will be your sacred duty, my boys, to take my place towards your mother. Be to her all that you can; love her always as she will love you. She has worked & suffered much for you my boys, & should I fall will work for several years in bringing you up without a father’s aid, until such time as you can support yourselves & her.
In due time perhaps you will marry & it is only right and proper that you should, but I know, my dear boys, you will always love & help your Mother.
Then again, boys, never never quarrel amongst yourselves. You will find life hard enough, but remember that “Unity is Strength” and if 4 boys such as you will pull together you will overcome all obstacles & get on in the world well; therefore, never quarrel, my boys; but should any differences take place between you, always make them up, shake hands & be “pals” for my sake & your Mother’s.
You, my dear little Ted, will remember me quite well I trust and also my little John, and my dear old “Bighead” too; and I know you will oftentimes talk of me amongst yourselves so that little Rupert may grow up and I shall not exactly be a stranger to him.
Remember always that wherever duty takes me in this terrible War & no matter what dangers I may be called upon to face, you and your dear Mother will be always in my thoughts.
Should any one of you have to go abroad, always keep in touch with & correspond regularly with your brothers & Mother.
Always obey your Mother as you grow up for she will teach you to lead clean & manly lives & in due time to become fine young Englishmen.
I would ask of you, dear boys, always to believe in God & to pray for help & strength to fight the evils of life & to avoid all profanity.
Now my boys, I think this is all I have to say to you & I have little doubt but what you will find some very good friends in the world (your “Nannie” and Grandfather have always been good to me & will continue to be so to you – also my own dear Mother). It is not possible for me now to give you much advice with regard to your future careers but I trust you will find several people willing to help you to get on (your uncles Harry, George & Norman & Bill may be of some assistance to you in this direction. Should you have to be either soldiers or sailors for any length of time – be sailors.
Finally, boys, always remember that “a boy’s best friend is his Mother”. Therefore be good to her, love her & consult with her upon everything & you will not be wrong.
I would like you to understand, my dear boys, that I have written this not because I have any presentiment of being killed at the front, but because I think it my duty as your Dad & knowing all the dangers ahead of me, to write such a letter which I know will help you in your lives, even although I may be taken from you & I also know that you would like a letter from your Dad.
At the time of writing this (under difficulties in a tent & no pen or ink handy) I am in good health & quite ready to face the dangers that lie before me with a good heart & firm belief that I may be spared to return to my boys and their dear Mother whom I love so well.
May God bless you all.
Your loving Dad
(Pte Chas F. Payne No 25318 2/5th West Riding Regt. (Duke of Wellingtons) B Company)
Charlie survived the hostilities but died on February 11th 1919 from pneumonia (probably initiated by Spanish Flu), contracted while he was serving in the British Army of Occupation of the Rhineland. He remains “Ever in Our Thoughts”.
My grateful thanks to Neville Sisson for restoring most of the individual photographs presented in this article.
To read more about the Great War experiences of Charlie Payne go to http://chrispaynebooks.com/blog/category/the-great-war/ . My biography of Charlie Payne is currently being written under the working title of ‘Charlie Payne’s Hatbox‘.