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Lansdowne Crescent: Chapter 24

Charlie’s last letter from the front line at Galipoli makes the horrors of warfare all too real.

Jean Day continues her account of Worcester neighbours, in peace and war.

To read earlier chapters of the story please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/lansdowne_crescent/

The following is the last letter we had from him;

Cawdor Castle, Near the Dardanelle;

'I wrote yesterday to say we were going up to the trenches, but we were put off for a day. However, we are going this afternoon, and land there sometime after dark. I don't suppose we shall go into the firing line for a day or two. We have an ample supply of papers and weeklies coming out. Everyone is looking very fit after the voyage and in the best of spirits. We heard this morning that the British gained a useful line of trenches yesterday. I rather gather from what we hear that we are likely to be on the defensive now for several days, so that our first experience of war will be fairly safe. I believe one of our troopships had a narrow escape from a submarine on the way out, but none have been hit. I am glad to hear that Frank and Evers have been promoted. Frank ought to be enjoying his three weeks in London. I don't suppose he will learn as much about soldiering as I shall during the next few weeks, but he will probably enjoy it more. I expect we shall find it a bit hot at first, but we are wearing light clothes, and shall do very little moving about for some time. The nights are very pleasantly cool out here except on the lower deck, where the atmosphere is stifling. We have regularly been playing bridge at nights in an atmosphere thick with smoke, all port-holes shut. So we have no fear of asphyxiating gases now, as a matter of fact I don't think they are using them out here. Everyone seems to agree that the Turks fight very fair. I shall be able to let you know myself presently. I am afraid we are going the rest of the way in small boats, trawlers, or destroyers, so that we shall probably be thoroughly sea-sick before the day is out. I think I marked enough books in that list to last till Constantinople, when I shall doubtless be able to get some myself.'

Events proved how wrong his optimism was. The slaughter was awful. Out of the whole battalion hardly one returned to tell the tale, if they escaped in one engagement it was only to be cut down in the next. What exactly happened we never heard from him, but we gathered a fairly full account from what a fellow officer wrote, and afterwards told us. He wrote

'You will have heard before you get this from the War Office of your son's death. It was on the night of the 17th that he was with his platoon in a part of the line where the enemy was only about fifty yards away. In the middle of the night the Turks set fire to our barricades in front of our trench, and your boy received a bayonet wound while supervising the defence of the most critical point in the trench line. He was so brave about it all, pretended that it was only a scratch, and was only taken away on a stretcher when things were going all right. He was brought down to the sea the day before yesterday, and died last night on a hospital ship.

He was the bravest of the brave. The day before he was wounded he repaired a parapet with some of his platoon under heavy fire with the coolness of a seasoned soldier. The men of his platoon would do anything for him. Among the officers he was recognised as the ablest of the subalterns, as he was certainly the most popular. As for myself, I have lost my greatest friend in the regiment. Since last September we have lived together and worked together, till I have come to feel him to be a brother. I have collected as much of his kit as I can, and am sending it to be forwarded to you. I took out all the tobacco in it and gave it to the men of his platoon, as I felt sure he would like it to have been used in some such way.'

To many it seems highly tragic that he should have thrown up a brilliant career for two days' fighting. Perhaps in one way it was a waste, and yet to us who knew his highly-strung temperament it is a matter of thankfulness that he had been spared further horrors. We do not look upon it as waste for we are convinced that he is carrying on higher service beyond the stars.

Charlie did not live long enough in the actual battle zone to formulate any fresh ideas about spiritual values, but on first joining up seemed to realise the Herculean struggle into which we were plunged. He saw Europe locked in a death struggle more terrible than had ever been witnessed before, and he suffered from no illusions as to the awfulness of our task. But his sacrifice was quite cheerful, quite unostentatious, and quite conscious withal. He felt that he was going to his death, and this as the months went by gave a seriousness to his outlook on life, and a deepened sense of responsibility very marked to us who watched him. Yet was there no sign of bitterness about him, rather a sweetness of disposition seemed to grow upon him; he was convinced of the righteousness of our cause, and that sufficed.

This is what Peter wrote after Charlie’s death.

‘Death in such a way is far from being a matter of horror. It becomes the means of a glorious and noble entry into better things. When the first sting has worn off we shall all regard Charlie's memory as something sacred and noble. We must remember that it is only by the spirit of sacrifice that any real good can come, and that those who have sacrificed themselves in this way are now enjoying the peace for which they strove. I know how hard it is to bear any gap like this, but it is only temporary, and will lead to a happier reunion afterwards.’

Just a few notes about Frank. It was in May he wrote to Peter on the occasion of his twenty-first birthday:

‘For myself I am absolutely sure that the war will very soon be over, and that your next birthday will see you back in civilian clothes.’

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