Charlie Payne, born in 1883, was a finance clerk from London who left an extraordinary legacy of letters and diaries. Recently discovered in a Victorian hatbox, these documents form the basis for the poignant story of Charlie's life. Nothing expresses better a period in history than the contemporary voice. It is my intention in the forthcoming book to ensure that Charlie's 'voice' can be heard clearly through edited extracts from his letters and diaries which will be set within the wider social and political context of the period. His story starts with a peacetime childhood in London. Educated at Emanuel School, Wandsworth, he started work in the City of London as a clerk at the age of 16. This was followed by a transfer to the newly-established American Express office in Genoa, Italy. When his short overseas contract was terminated he returned to the UK, found a new job, married, became the father of four boys and ultimately served his country in the Great War with the Yorkshire Regiment (during training), and the 2/5th and 5th battalions of the Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment on the Western Front. His letters to his wife, Ida, reveal his experiences of military training and warfare. When in France during 1917-1918, he fought as a Lewis gunner at the Battle of Cambrai, the Defence of Bucquoy (during the 1918 German Spring Offensive), at the Second Battle of the Marne and the Advance to Victory before entering Germany as part of the British Army of Occupation in the Rhineland after the armistice. The unexpected emerges when his letters make reference to family friendships with Billy Hughes (William Morris Hughes), the Australian Prime Minister. Ultimately, 'Charlie's Hatbox' will be about family life in London in the early 20th Century, love, friendships, and the Great War and its consequences.
A relatively short article that I wrote on Charlie's wartime experiences was published in "Emanuel School at War" in 2014 (Daniel Kirmatzis and Tony Jones pp.66-77)
Charlie's War Video Podcasts
Charlie Payne was 33 years old when he was conscripted into the British Army during the First World War. After being called up in November 1916, he was sent to a training battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment based at Clacton, Essex. In May 1917 he was moved to the 3rd Battalion at West Hartlepool for final training, before being sent to France in July 1917. Here, he was transferred to the 2/5th Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment. Specialising as a Lewis gunner he was based in France until the Armistice in November 1918.
Charlie's wartime story lives on through the surviving letters and cards that he sent home to his wife Ida, and their four sons in Tooting, London. This correspondence forms the basis of my research for a book describing his experiences and the military and political context of the time.
To illustrate Charlie's time as a soldier, I have assembled three short video-podcasts, which can be opened by clicking on the appropriate links:
Podcast 1: Introduction and Background to Charlie Payne's wartime experiences (2 mins 23 secs)
Podcast 2: Narrative of a letter written in December 1916 describing some of Charlie Payne's experiences during training (3 mins 40 secs)
Podcast 3: Narrative of a letter written in October 1917 describing Charlie Payne's first experience of the front-line trenches in France (3 mins 48 secs)