Saturday, 5 October 2013

Zeppelin Destroyed

These photographs and text were published in ‘The Illustrated War News, on November 18th 1914.

It was no doubt comforting reading for the ‘Home Front’ to see pictures of the remains of a Zeppelin, destroyed near Belfort.


Debris of the shattered framework;

Wreckage of the cars.

Considering the amount of discussion—not to say, in some quarters, apprehension—to which the Zeppelins have given rise, singularly little has been heard of them so far during the war, and, apart from the Antwerp exploits, they have done practically no damage. On the other hand, several have been destroyed: the number has been variously estimated from two to six.

One, said to be the "LZ10," was brought down in October at Grandvilliers, ten miles from Belfort. Our photographs show:

(1) debris of the shattered framework;

and (2) wreckage of the cars.

Another Zeppelin was destroyed in October by the fire of Russian batteries near Warsaw, and its broken remains were taken to Petrograd to be examined. The British air-raid on Düsseldorf also accounted for one or possibly two.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Gillette's Blades

In 1895 King C. Gillette had a wonderful idea. He was fed up with having to use a cut razor every morning so he set about designing a wafer thin, incredibly sharp blade that could be held together by a safety clamp. It took him eight years to perfect the design and when it went on sale in 1903, he thought he had been wasting his time for in that year only 51 razors and 168 blades were sold. The following year, however, he knew it had been worthwhile, 90,000 razors were sold and 12,400,000 blades.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Harrods Escalator

Harrods, one of the smartest shops in London, has always prided itself on caring well for its customers – pandering to their every need. In 1898, Harrods installed the very first escalator in Britain in their Knightsbridge store.

But in case any of their wealthy customers found the moving staircase too much for their nerves, liveried attendants were positioned at the top to offer smelling salts or brandy to anyone who wished.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Cricket and Whisky Don't Mix.

Mr A.K. Grabham of Bickenhall, recalls that between 1920 and 1939 Bickenhall had a very good cricket team at staple Fitzpaine, Curland and Bickenhall. The Rector, Rev. Cooke, played himself and took great interest in the team. Lord, Portman, the president of the club, often played himself and arranged games, sometimes getting County players to come and play such as Mr. John Daniell (Somerset Captain) and Mr. Robertson Glasgow and others. Mr. Sammy Woods, an old Somerset player would come and umpire.

“In one match I had made 60 runs, Lord Portman was so pleased that he sent his butler out to the wicket with a drink for me. The butler said, “It won’t hurt you,” so I drank it. I was out the next ball. It was whisky!”

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Sunday School Outing

A woman from Enmore, Somerset, remembers a Sunday School Outing to the Quantocks. They set off in a horse drawn wagon prettily decorated by the children towards Will’s Neck Quarry, where they had a “Cold Meat” dinner at the Blue Bell, finishing the meal with Christmas Pudding. The Rector, the Rev. Montgomery, an uncle of the Field Marshall, who had a sense of humour, was in good form – she recalled him serving a slice of cold Christmas Pudding liberally garnished by him with mustard to one of the prim Sunday School teachers.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Building Folies

About 1866 there was much poverty in Yeovil and the surrounding districts. Many poorer people being near to starvation and begging at the larger houses. The Messiter family of Barwick House caused four follies to be erected – ‘Jack the Treacle Eater’, ‘The Fish Tower’, ‘The Ball Tower’, and ‘The Needle’ – preferring to give employment rather than alms; thereby helping to restore dignity.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Sign to Pedwell

Mrs Lily Tapscott was born in 1893, in Stout, a hamlet of High Ham, Somerset. She remembers when there was a signpost on the village green which read “Beer” in one direction, “Stout” in another and “Pedwell” in the third.

The village lads naturally altered the word to “Peedwell” so regularly that the County Council took the sign down. 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Doctor's Car

The Red Flag Act was repealed in 1896 and Mrs. Grimstone of Halse, Somerset remembers seeing the first car in Bishop’s Lydeard bring driven up the Minehead Road, preceded by a man carrying a red flag. One fine Sunday afternoon she and a friend were going for a walk dressed in their Sunday best when the local Doctor offered them a ride in his car. Very excited to be travelling in a motor – practically unknown in this quiet country village – they accepted, but as they had to get out and help push the car up every slight incline, She said that it took a month of Sundays to get their gloves, hats, scarves all clean again. 

Monday, 6 May 2013

Letters for Just One Penny

An elderly lady recalls life before the First World War. She remembered that while in service in London her mother regularly sent her the Somerset Herald. 

The postman took the Newspaper by bicycle from Halse in Somerset to Bishop Lydeard station two miles away, then it went by train to Taunton, where it was sorted at the Station; letters then arrived at Paddington and were delivered the same day. If they were taken to Norwood, it meant being sent from Paddington to Victoria, then to Crystal Palace Station and the journey completed by a postman cycling out to them at about 9.00 p.m….all for just one penny.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Six Trains a Day

An entry in William Margery’s school book (circa 1930) shows that there were six trains a day from Taunton to Yeovil and eight in the opposite direction, the journey taking a little over one hour. Fares from Matlock were 1 shilling return to Yeovil and 2 shillings and 3 pence to Taunton.

There were eight stations on the line all serving the surrounding villages. The line is now closed and there is no longer any direct public transport between Matlock and Taunton except via Yeovil.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Getting home after a few jars of ale

Recalling conversations just after the First World War of how to get home after a few jars of ale:-

In 1919 I remember my elders discussing how a farmer got home after market and drinks in the pub, when he was tipsy. The relative merits of the familiar pony and trap or the new-fangled car were aired and I remember it being said that the farmer’s own pony was a good conveyance home for him, for they just clicked the word to the pony, which would then take him several miles safely home – but it was not like this with the car. I also remember being driven in a pony and trap and the only protection from the rain was a big umbrella held over all the occupants of the trap – a pleasant idea on a sunny summer day, but very cold on a cold wet day.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

ANZAC Day - Shrapnel Gully an Account

For ANZAC Day - An personal account of 26th April 1915 in Shrapnel Gully :-

Corporal Robson D.C.M., 4th Battalion, AIF, saw ‘a young fellow get shot in Shrapnel Gully while putting a cross over his brothers grave’. Another time he offered to help ‘a young fellow crawling down to the beach with his hand and half his leg off but he said there were plenty more needed help more than be did and, “Anyway,” he said, “I don’t think I’ll last more than an hour.”

Robson was awarded the D.C.M, “For carrying water and ammunition under heavy fire, taking charge of 50 men, and shooting 13 Turks with a rifle.’ 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Queen Victoria's Carriage Horse

In the 1890’s Queen Victoria paid a visit to Bristol. Driving up Park Street, one of her carriage horses cast a shoe, which cab cause irreparable damage to the horse’s foot. The situation was saved by Herbert William Smith, a young farrier, perhaps still an apprentice, who, travelling between jobs, was watching the scene. He had the tools of his trade with him and volunteered to shoe the Queen’s carriage horse. This he quickly did and was rewarded with half-a-crown, a tidy sum in those days. Mr. Smith, who was born in 1878, cherished the coin for the rest of his long life.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Salvation Army Riots

There were ‘Salvation Army riots’ in Worthing, East Sussex in the 1880’s and in Eastbourne in the early 1890s as the evangelical movement clashed with publicans and members of the public who resented the attack on their drinking habits.

In Eastbourne the authorities attempted to enforce a law banning the Salvation Army from ‘marching bands’ on Sundays, but the brave Salvationists carried on anyway – being physically attacked by angry mobs and then being thrown into prison. They were vigorously opposed by the major, William Epps Morrison, who went so far as to ask the home secretary for permission to leave the ‘Salvationists’ to the mercy of the ‘Skelton army’ organised to attack them, but this callous approach was refused. The case of ‘unlawful assembly’ against the Salvationists eventually reached the High Court in London, and was thrown out. In 1892, Parliament repealed the clause in the Law which had caused all the trouble, and the Salvationists were able to claim a great and hard-won victory.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Railway Arrived In Brighton

The railway arrived in Brighton, East Sussex in 1841, four years after Queen Victoria came to the throne, and it changed the town for ever.

On a day in October 1833, a fleet of stagecoaches had bought 480 visitors to the town from London. That seemed a prodigious figure at the time, but on Easter Monday a single train bought all 1,100 holidaymakers down from London Bridge.

This is how Brighton’s population exploded

1841        47,000
1861        78,000
1881        99,000
1901     123,000

Friday, 19 April 2013

Barbed Wire in the German Trenches

In his book The Old Front Line, John Masefield describes the German trench defences in the Somme battlefield and their use of barbed wire.

Dug-outs and barbed wire in La Boisselle. Usna-Tara Hill, with English Support Lines in Background. At Extreme Left is the Albert-Bapaume Road.

"The defences of the enemy front line varied a little in degree, but hardly at all in kind, throughout the battlefield. The enemy wire was always deep, thick, and securely staked with iron supports, which were either crossed like the letter X, or upright, with loops to take the wire and shaped at one end like corkscrews so as to screw into the ground. The wire stood on these supports on a thick web, about four feet high and from thirty to forty feet across. The wire used was generally as thick as sailor's marline stuff, or two twisted rope-yarns. It contained, as a rule, some sixteen barbs to the foot. The wire used in front of our lines was generally galvanized, and remained grey after months of exposure. The enemy wire, not being galvanized, rusted to a black colour, and shows up black at a great distance. In places this web or barrier was supplemented with trip-wire, or wire placed just above the ground, so that the artillery observing officers might not see it and so not cause it to be destroyed. This trip-wire was as difficult to cross as the wire of the entanglements. In one place (near the Y Ravine at Beaumont Hamel) this trip-wire was used with thin iron spikes a yard long of the kind known as calthrops. The spikes were so placed in the ground that about one foot of spike projected. The scheme was that our men should catch their feet in the trip-wire, fall on the spikes, and be transfixed.

In places, in front of the front line in the midst of his wire, sometimes even in front of the wire, the enemy had carefully hidden snipers and machine-gun posts. Sometimes these outside posts were connected with his front-line trench by tunnels, sometimes they were simply shell-holes, slightly altered with a spade to take the snipers and the gunners. These outside snipers had some success in the early parts of the battle. They caused losses among our men by firing in the midst of them and by shooting them in the backs after they had passed. Usually the posts were small oblong pans in the mud, in which the men lay. Sometimes they were deep narrow graves in which the men stood to fire through a funnel in the earth. Here and there, where the ground was favourable, especially when there was some little knop, hillock, or bulge of ground just outside their line, as near Gommecourt Park and close to the Sunken Road at Beaumont Hamel, he placed several such posts together. Outside Gommecourt, a slight lynchet near the enemy line was prepared for at least a dozen such posts invisible from any part of our line and not easily to be picked out by photograph, and so placed as to sweep at least a mile of No Man's Land.

When these places had been passed, and the enemy wire, more or less cut by our shrapnel, had been crossed, our men had to attack the enemy fire trenches of the first line. These, like the other defences, varied in degree, but not in kind. They were, in the main, deep, solid trenches, dug with short bays or zigzags in the pattern of the Greek Key or badger's earth. They were seldom less than eight feet and sometimes as much as twelve feet deep. Their sides were revetted, or held from collapsing, by strong wickerwork. They had good, comfortable standing slabs or banquettes on which the men could stand to fire. As a rule, the parapets were not built up with sandbags as ours were.

In some parts of the line, the front trenches were strengthened at intervals of about fifty yards by tiny forts or fortlets made of concrete and so built into the parapet that they could not be seen from without, even five yards away. These fortlets were pierced with a foot-long slip for the muzzle of a machine gun, and were just big enough to hold the gun and one gunner.

In the forward wall of the trenches were the openings of the shafts which led to the front-line dugouts. The shafts are all of the same pattern. They have open mouths about four feet high, and slant down into the earth for about twenty feet at an angle of forty-five degrees. At the bottom of the stairs which led down are the living rooms and barracks which communicate with each other so that if a shaft collapse the men below may still escape by another. The shafts and living rooms are strongly propped and panelled with wood, and this has led to the destruction of most of the few which survived our bombardment. While they were needed as billets our men lived in them. Then the wood was removed, and the dugout and shaft collapsed. "

Monday, 18 February 2013

Saved from sailing on the Titanic

Emigrations to new counties were seen as a way for families who were very large and there was not enough work in villages. Just before the First World War in High Ham, Somerset a Mr Tapscott who was the youngest of four boys and all three of them emigrated, one to Australia and two to Canada.

In 1912, seven lads from High Ham were booked to sail to America on the “Titanic” but their passages were postponed because the guests for a big Astor wedding in America had priority passage. The Astor family paid all expenses which this delay entailed, and probably saved the lives of all seven from being drowned on the liner’s disastrous maiden voyage.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

The Sinking of the Lusitania

This story was published in “The Story of the Great War – Volume V. “

One of the most catastrophic events of the Great War was the sinking of the Cunard liner “Lusitania’. It was greeted with horror world-wide and anti-German feelings rose to a new height with riots taking place in many British cities and towns.

The "Lusitania" was on her homeward voyage from New York when she was met by the German submarine U20 off the Old Head of Kinsale, May 7, 1915. Having fired a torpedo, U10 rose to the surface, 300 yards away from the sinking ship, and stood by stolidly while 1,198 men, women and children met their death by drowning. Germany celebrated this naval victory by striking a special medal, and awarding the Commander the Pour le Mérite medal, the highest honour any officer could receive.

The Sinking of the “Lusitania”,

“On the 7th of May, 1915, came the most sensational act committed by German submarines since the war had started—the sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania. The vessel which did this was one of the U-39 class. In her last hours above water the giant liner was nearing Queenstown on a sunny day in a calm sea. When about five miles off shore, near Old Head of Kinsale, on the southeastern coast of Ireland, a few minutes after two o'clock, while many of the passengers were at lunch and a few of them on deck, there came a violent shock.

Five or six persons who had been on deck had noticed, a few moments before, the wake of something that was moving rapidly toward the ship. The moving object was a torpedo, which struck the hull to the forward on the starboard side and passed clean through the ship's engine room. She began to settle by the bows immediately, and the passengers, though cool, made rushes for lifebelts and for the small boats. The list of the boat made the launching of some of these impossible.

The scenes on the decks of the sinking liner were heartrending. Members of families had become separated and ran wildly about seeking their relatives. The women and children were put into the lifeboats—being given preference.

"I was on the deck about two o'clock," narrated one of the survivors, "the weather was fine and bright and the sea calm. Suddenly I heard a terrific explosion, followed by another, and the cry went up that the ship had been torpedoed. She began to list at once, and her angle was so great that many of the boats on the port side could not be launched. A lot of people made a rush for the boats, but I went down to my cabin, took off my coat and vest and donned a lifebelt. On getting up again I found the decks awash and the boat going down fast by the head. I slipped down a rope into the sea and was picked up by one of the lifeboats. Some of the boats, owing to the position of the vessel, got swamped, and I saw one turn over no less than three times, but eventually it was righted."

Not all of the women and children got off the liner into the small boats. "Women and children, under the protection of men, had clustered in lines on the port side of the ship," reported another survivor. "As the ship made her plunge down by the head, she finally took an angle of ninety degrees, and I saw this little army slide down toward the starboard side, dashing themselves against each other as they went, until they were engulfed."

Even under the stress of avoiding death the sight of the sinking hull was one that held the attention of those in the water. One of the sailors said afterward: "Her great hull rose into the air and neared the perpendicular. As the form of the vessel rose she seemed to shorten, and just as a duck dives so she disappeared. She went almost noiselessly. Fortunately her propellers had stopped, for had these been going, the vortex of her four screws would have dragged down many of those whose lives were saved. She seemed to divide the water as smoothly as a knife would do it."

Twenty minutes after the torpedo had struck the ship she had disappeared beneath the surface of the sea. "Above the spot where she had gone down," said one of the men who escaped death, "there was nothing but a nondescript mass of floating wreckage. Everywhere one looked there was a sea of waving hands and arms, belonging to the struggling men and frantic women and children in agonizing efforts to keep afloat. That was the most horrible memory and sight of all."

Fishing boats and coasting steamers picked up many of the survivors some hours after the disaster. The frightened people in the small boats pulled for the shore after picking up as many persons as they dared without swamping their boats. Some floated about in the waters for three and four hours, kept up by their lifebelts. Some, who were good swimmers, managed to keep above water till help came; others became exhausted and sank.

Probably the best story, covering the entire period from the time the ship was hit till the survivors were landed at Queenstown, was told by Dr. Daniel V. Moore, an American physician: "After the explosion," said Dr. Moore, "quiet and order were soon accomplished by assurances from the stewards. I proceeded to the deck promenade for observation, and saw only that the ship was fast leaning to the starboard. I hurried toward my cabin below for a lifebelt, and turned back because of the difficulty in keeping upright. I struggled to D deck and forward to the first-class cabin, where I saw a Catholic priest.

"I could find no belts, and returned again toward E deck and saw a stewardess struggling to dislodge a belt. I helped her with hers and secured one for myself. I then rushed to D deck and noticed one woman perched on the gunwale, watching a lowering lifeboat ten feet away. I pushed her down and into the boat, then I jumped in. The stern of the lifeboat continued to lower, but the bow stuck fast. A stoker cut the bow ropes with a hatchet, and we dropped in a vertical position.

"A girl whom we had heard sing at a concert was struggling and I caught her by the ankle and pulled her in. A man I grasped by the shoulders and I landed him safe. He was the barber of the first-class cabin, and a more manly man I never met.

"We pushed away hard to avoid the suck, but our boat was fast filling, and we bailed fast with one bucket and the women's hats. The man with the bucket became exhausted, and I relieved him. In a few minutes she was filled level full. Then a keg floated up, and I pitched it about ten feet away and followed it. After reaching the keg I turned to see what had been the fate of our boat. She had capsized. Now a young steward, Freeman, approached me, clinging to a deck chair. I urged him to grab the other side of the keg several times. He grew faint, but harsh speaking roused him. Once he said: 'I am going to go.' But I ridiculed this, and it gave him strength.

"The good boat Brock and her splendid officers and men took us aboard.

"At the scene of the catastrophe the surface of the water seemed dotted with bodies. Only a few of the lifeboats seemed to be doing any good. The cries of 'My God!' 'Save us!' and 'Help!' gradually grew weaker from all sides, and finally a low weeping, wailing, inarticulate sound, mingled with coughing and gargling, made me heartsick. I saw many men die. Some appeared to be sleepy and worn out just before they went down."

Officials of the Cunard Line claimed afterward that three submarines had been engaged in the attack on the liner, but, after all evidence had been sifted, the claim made by the Germans that only one had been present was found to be true. The commander of the submarine had evidently been well informed as to just what route the liner would take. Trouble with her engines, which developed after she had left New York, had brought her speed down to 18 knots, a circumstance which was in favor of the attacking vessel, for it could not have done much damage with a torpedo had she been going at her highest speed; it would have given her a chance to cross the path of the torpedo as it approached. No sign of the submarine was noticed by the lookout or by any of the passengers on the Lusitania until it was too late to maneuver her to a position of safety. A few moments before the white wake of the approaching torpedo was espied, the periscope had been seen as it came to the surface of the water. From that moment onward the liner was doomed.

The German admiralty report of the actual sinking of the ship, which was issued on the 14th of May, 1915, was brief. It read: "A submarine sighted the steamship Lusitania, which showed no flag, May 7, 2.20 Central European time, afternoon, on the southeast coast of Ireland, in fine, clear weather.

"At 3.10 o'clock one torpedo was fired at the Lusitania, which hit her starboard side below the captain's bridge. The detonation of the torpedo was followed immediately by a further explosion of extremely strong effect. The ship quickly listed to starboard and began to sink.

"The second explosion must be traced back to the ignition of quantities of ammunition inside the ship."

One of the effects of the sinking of the Lusitania was to cut down the number of passengers sailing to and from America to Europe on ships flying flags of belligerent nations. Attacks by submarines on neutral ships did not abate, however, for on the 15th of May, 1915, the Danish steamer Martha was torpedoed in broad daylight and in view of crowds ashore off the coast of Aberdeen Bay. “

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year 1917 from Harry Lauder

Here is an account of Christmas 1916 and New Year 1917 by the star of the music hall stage Harry Lauder from his book “A Minstrel in France.”

I think it is one of the most moving stories of that Christmas 1916. Harry’s son Captain John Lauder of the First 8th, Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders was killed in France on 28th December 1916.

Here he recounts with heartbreak the Christmas he had and devastating news that followed.

That winter I was in the big revue at the Shaftesbury Theatre, in London, that was called "Three Cheers." It was one of the gay shows that London liked because it gave some relief from the war and made the Zeppelin raids that the Huns were beginning to make so often now a little easier to bear. And it was a great place for the men who were back from France. It was partly because of them that I could go on as I did. We owed them all we could give them. And when they came back from the mud and the grime and the dreariness of the trenches, they needed something to cheer them up--needed the sort of production we gave them. A man who has two days' leave in London does not want to see a serious play or a problem drama, as a rule. He wants something light, with lots of pretty girls and jolly tunes and people to make him laugh. And we gave him that. The house was full of officers and men, night after night.

Soon word came from John that he was to have leave, just after Christmas that would bring him home for the New Year's holidays. His mother went home to make things ready, for John was to be married when he got his leave. I had my plans all made. I meant to build a wee hoose for the two of them, near our own hoose at Dunoon, so that we might be all together, even though my laddie was in a home of his own. And I counted the hours and the days against the time when John would be home again.

While we were playing at the Shaftesbury I lived at an hotel in Southampton Row called the Bonnington. But it was lonely for me there. On New Yea r's Eve--it fell on a Sunday--Tom Vallance, my brother-in-law, asked me to tea with him and his family in Clapham,
where he lived. That is a pleasant place, a suburb of London on the southwest, and I was glad to go. And so I drove out with a friend of mine, in a taxicab, and was glad to get out of the crowded part of the city for a time.

I did not feel right that day. Holiday times were bad, hard times for me then. We had always made so much of Christmas, and here was the third Christmas that our boy had been away. And so I was depressed. And then, there had been no word for me from John for a day or two. I was not worried, for I thought it likely that his mother or his sweetheart had heard, and had not time yet to let me know. But, whatever the reason, I was depressed and blue, and I could not enter into the festive spirit that folk were trying to keep alive despite the war.

I must have been poor company during that ride to Clapham in the taxicab. We scarcely exchanged a word, my friend and I. I did not feel like talking, and he respected my mood, and kept quiet him self. I felt, at last, that I ought to apologize to him.

"I don't know what's the matter with me," I told him. "I simply don't want to talk. I feel sad and lonely. I wonder if my boy is all right?"

"Of course he is!" my friend told me. "Cheer up, Harry. This is a time when no news is good news. If anything were wrong with him they'd let you know."

Well, I knew that, too. And I tried to cheer up, and feel better, so that I would not spoil the pleasure of the others at Tom Vallance's house. I tried to picture John as I thought he must be--well, and happy, and smiling the old, familiar boyish smile I knew so well. I had sent him a box of cigars only a few days before, and he would be handing it around among his fellow officers. I knew that! But it was no use. I could think of John, but it was only with sorrow and longing. And I wondered if this same time in a year would see him still out there, in the trenches. Would this war ever end? And so the shadows still hung about me when we reached Tom's house.

They made me very welcome, did Tom and all his family. They tried to cheer me, and Tom did all he could to make me feel better, and to reassure me. But I was still depressed when we left the house and began the drive back to London.

"It's the holiday--I'm out of gear with that, I'm thinking," I told my friend.

He was going to join two other friends, and, with them, to see the New Year in in an old fashioned way, and he wanted me to join them. But I did not feel up to it; I was not in the mood for anything of the sort.

"No, no, I'll go home and turn in," I told him. "I'm too dull tonight to be good company."

He hoped, as we all did, that this New Year that was coming would bring victory and peace. Peace could not come without victory; we were all agreed on that. But we all hoped that the New Year would bring both--the new year of 1917. And so I left him at the corner of Southhampton Row, and went back to my hotel alone. It was about midnight, a little before, I think, when I got in, and one of the porters had a message for me.

"Sir Thomas Lipton rang you up," he said, "and wants you to speak with him when you come in."

I rang him up at home directly.

"Happy New Year, when it comes, Harry!" he said. He spoke in the same bluff, hearty way he always did. He fairly shouted in my ear. "When did you hear from the boy? Are you and Mrs. Lauder well?"

"Aye, fine," I told him. And I told him my last news of John.

"Splendid!" he said. "Well, it was just to talk to you a minute that I rang you up, Harry. Good-night--Happy New Year again."

I went to bed then. But I did not go to sleep for a long time. It was New Year's, and I lay thinking of my boy, and wondering what this year would bring him. It was early in the morning before I slept. And it seemed to me that I had scarce been asleep at all when there came a pounding at the door, loud enough to rouse the heaviest sleeper there ever was.

My heart almost stopped. There must be something serious indeed for them to be rousing me so early. I rushed to the door, and there was a porter, holding out a telegram. I took it and tore it open. And I knew why I had felt as I had the day before. I shall never forget what I read:

"Captain John Lauder killed in action, December 28. Official. War Office."

It had gone to Mrs. Lauder at Dunoon first, and she had sent it on to me. That was all it said. I knew nothing of how my boy had died, or where--save that it was for his country.

But later I learned that when Sir Thomas Lipton had rung me up he had intended to condole with me. He had heard on Saturday of my boy's death. But when he spoke to me, and understood at once, from the tone of my voice, that I did not know, he had not been able to go on. His heart was too tender to make it possible for him to be the one to give me that blow--the heaviest that ever befell me.

It was on Monday morning, January the first, 1917, that I learned of my boy's death. And he had been killed the Thursday before! He had been dead four days before I knew it! And yet--I had known. Let no one ever tell me again that there is nothing in presentiment. Why else had I been so sad and uneasy in my mind? Why else, all through that Sunday, had it been so impossible for me to take comfort in what was said to cheer me? Some warning had come to me, some sense that all was not well.

Realization came to me slowly. I sat and stared at that slip of paper, that had come to me like the breath of doom. Dead! Dead these four days! I was never to see the light of his eyes again. I was never to hear that laugh of his. I had looked on my boy for the last time. Could it be true? Ah, I knew it was! And it was for this moment that I had been waiting, that we had all been waiting, ever since we had sent John away to fight for his country and do his part. I think we had all felt that it must come. We had all known that it was too much to hope that he should be one of those to be spared.

The black despair that had been hovering over me for hours closed down now and enveloped all my senses. Everything was unreal. For a time I was quite numb. But then, as I began to realize and to visualize what it was to mean in my life that my boy was dead there came a great pain. The iron of realization slowly seared every word of that curt telegram upon my heart. I said it to myself, over and over again. And I whispered to myself, as my thoughts took form, over and over, the one terrible word: "Dead!"

I felt that for me everything had come to an end with the reading of that dire message. It seemed to me that for me the board of life was black and blank. For me there was no past and there could be no future. Everything had been swept away, erased, by one sweep of the hand of a cruel fate. Oh, there was a past, though! And it was in that past that I began to delve. It was made up of every memory I had of my boy. I fell at once to remembering him. I clutched at every memory, as if I must grasp them and make sure of them, lest they be taken from me as well as the hope of seeing him again that the telegram had forever snatched away.

I would have been destitute indeed then. It was as if I must fix in my mind the way he had been wont to look, and recall to my ears every tone of his voice, every trick of his speech. There was something left of him that I must keep, I knew, even then, at all costs, if I was to be able to bear his loss at all.

There was a vision of him before my eyes. My bonnie Highland laddie, brave and strong in his kilt and the uniform of his country, going out to his death with a smile on his face. And there was another vision that came up now, unbidden. It was a vision of him lying stark and cold upon the battlefield, the mud on his uniform. And when I saw that vision I was like a man gone mad and possessed of devils who had stolen away his faculties. I cursed war as I saw that vision, and the men who caused war. And when I thought of the Germans who had killed my boy a terrible and savage hatred swept me, and I longed to go out there and kill with my bare hands until I had avenged him or they had killed me too.

But then I was a little softened. I thought of his mother back in our wee hoose at Dunoon. And the thought of her, bereft even as I was, sorrowing, even as I was, and lost in her frightful loneliness, was pitiful, so that I had but the one desire and wish--to go to her, and join my tears with hers, that we who were left alone to bear our grief might bear it together and give one to the other such comfort as there might be in life for us. And so I fell upon my knees and prayed, there in my lonely room in the hotel. I prayed to God that he might give us both, John's mother and myself, strength to bear the blow that had been dealt us and to endure the sacrifice that He and our country had demanded of us.

My friends came to me. They came rushing to me. Never did man have better friends, and kindlier friends than mine proved themselves to me on that day of sorrow. They did all that good men and women could do. But there was no help for me in the ministration of friends. I was beyond the power of human words to comfort or solace. I was glad
of their kindness, and the memory of it now is a precious one, and one I would not be without. But at such a time I could not gain from them what they were eager to give me. I could only bow my head and pray for strength.

That night, that New Year's night that I shall never forget, no matter how long God may let me live, I went north. I took train from London to Glasgow, and the next day I came to our wee hoose--a sad, lonely wee hoose it had become now!--on the Clyde at Dunoon, and was with John's mother. It was the place for me. It was there that I wanted to be, and it was with her, who must hereafter be all the world to me. And I was eager to be with her, too, who had given John to me. Sore as my grief was, stricken as I was, I could comfort her as no one else could hope to do, and she could do as much for me. We belonged together.

I can scarce remember, even for myself, what happened there at Dunoon. I cannot tell you what I said or what I did, or what words and what thoughts passed between John's mother and myself. But there are some things that I do know and that I will tell you.

Almighty God, to whom we prayed, was kind, and He was pitiful and merciful. For presently He brought us both a sort of sad composure. Presently He assuaged our grief a little, and gave us the strength that we must have to meet the needs of life and the thought of going on in a world that was darkened by the loss of the boy in whom all our thoughts and all our hopes had been centred. I thanked God then, and I thank God now, that I have never denied Him nor taken His name in vain.

For God gave me great thoughts about my boy and about his death. Slowly, gradually, He made me to see things in their true light, and He took away the sharp agony of my first grief and sorrow, and gave me a sort of peace.

Sir Henry Lauder (4 August 1870 - 26 February 1950), known professionally as Harry Lauder, was a notable Scottish entertainer, described by Sir Winston Churchill as "Scotland's greatest ever ambassador!”
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