Words of loss

“Everything in this life ended for me when our boy was killed . . . . . . .those black hours of acute agony . . . the utter blackness and hopelessness of despair”.  These words were written by Hilda Zigomala following the death of her son in Russia in 1919. (MC 2738/14).

Over 17 million lost their lives in the First World War.  This included about 11 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians.

What words could and had to be found following the loss of a loved one as the result of war?

This blog post records the words of loss relating to four young men from Norfolk in the First World War.  The links to their records, held at the Norfolk Record Office, are given here:

  1. Herbert Arter served with the 67th Canadian Western Scots Pioneer Battalion.  He was killed in action on 25th August 1916 at the age of 22. (MC 3182/1)
  2. Augustus Capps served with the 6th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.  He died in Flanders in 1917. (ACC 2010/34)
  3. Captain Philip Hewetson served with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.  He was wounded at Aisne on 27th May 1918 and died a prisoner of war on  3rd July 1918. He was 24 years old. (MC 643)
  4. Herbert William Wellard served with the 5th Battalion Special Brigade Royal Engineers.  He died of wounds in France on 3rd July 1916. (MC 2715/6)

Words from King George V

The King would send a brief letter accompanied by an engraved memorial plaque to the family.  The letter and plaque below was sent to Mr Wellard following the death of his son Herbert William Wellard.

photoDL jpeg1 letterbrassplaque from king

Letter and brass plaque from King George V. Norfolk Record Office catalogue entry: MC 2715/6, 1024X5.

Words from Commanding Officers

  • Herbert Arter’s commanding officer, Lieutenant  J Falkner, wrote to his mother from Flanders on 28th August 1916:

“My dear Mrs Arter, It is indeed a painful duty for me to inform you that your son H Arter, was killed in action on the morning of August 25th.  I was his Platoon Commander, and I assure you that your son was one of the best, and his loss is felt by all his chums and myself.  Any duty he was called upon to do, he did quickly with a smile, and you can feel that your hero boy made the supreme sacrifice with his face to the foe.  He is buried in Flanders in a pretty spot where many more brave heroes are sleeping their last sleep.  As names of places cannot be mentioned, if you write to the Graves Registration Commission, B E F Army P O London you would be informed of the exact place of burial.  Major Gordon, the Divisional Chaplain, I presume has written or will write you also.  Your son’s personal effects will in due time reach you.  Sympathising with you, I am, Yours truly, Lieut. J Falkner”.

  • Lieutenant Colonel Ross also wrote to the family on the loss of Herbert Arter.
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Letter from Lieutenant Colonel Ross on the death of Herbert Arter. NRO: MC 3182/1.

Words from Comrades and Friends

  • Captain Philip Hewetson’s father was the vicar at Salhouse.  In the Parish Magazine, December 1918, his father writes of a letter received from a Salhouse soldier: “This is just to try and express my real sympathy for you in your great bereavement.  At such a time one cannot say much, one feels that is something far too deep to talk about”.

Words from Family

  • William and Augustus Capps left Gorleston to join the war.  When Augustus was killed in Flanders in 1917 William was probably informed by his mother who had sent a newspaper cutting from The Mercury.  William, (41531 Private William Capps, 1 Essex Regiment) was in Tipperary, Ireland at the time. Many young men would have found it hard to express their loss in words and William was probably no exception.  On 14th September he wrote:

“My dear mother.  . . . . .in the best of health, but a bit down at times about Gus, but I suppose it will not bear the thinking about, as that will not bring him back again, well lets hope that we shall have the pleasure of meeting him in heaven.  I thought it was a very good piece in the Mercury about him, and he seems very respected by everybody who knew him and that is very satisfactory.”

  • Reverend Hewetson wrote of the loss of his son in the parish magazine and other correspondence.
photoDL jpeg4 cropped

Reverend Hewetson’s letter on the loss of his son Philip Hewetson. NRO: MC 643.

The Printed Word

  • Captain Philip Hewetson. Press cutting:

“For England’s Integrity

For that his dear life was not given in vain

Despite the anguish of our loss and pain”.

  • Herbert Arter.  Memoriam card from his siblings:
    PhotoDL jpeg3 cropped

    Memoriam card for Herbert Arter. NRO: MC 3182/1.

    Complied by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger.

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