Tuesday, 5 January 2010

No News Is Good News

This well worn phrase may be taken in more ways than one. But there was no mistaking BBC Radio 4 as they gave details in this morning's bulletin, of the first British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan this year. He was still in his teens.

What a waste of a life in 2010.

While sorting through a box file yesterday, I came across an envelope in which I have carefully stored a letter dated February 18th 1918, sent to my Gran. It is typed on a flimsy, foolscap sheet of very thin, translucent paper. There were several spelling mistakes and no paragraph breaks, so I've edited it, to make it a little easier to read. This is is what it says:-

Dear Mrs Flew,

A letter written by L.Stokes from Portsmouth, on the 15th of January 1918, reached me February17th, Sunday last. I feel grateful that the opportunity is given me of writing to express my sincere and heartfelt sympathy with you, in the great loss you have suffered by the death of your gallant son.

Your boy fell in action on December 17th 1917, his death being instantaneous and unaccompanied by any pain or suffering. He fell in an attack on a hill called Hill 2450. It was a day of heroic deeds, performed under very difficult and trying conditions. Your son was second to none in the gallantry which he displayed, serving his Lewis gun faithfully right up to the end.

The Hill is in Palestine, 7 miles north-east of Jerusalem, and it was on this hill we laid him to rest after the battle was over, besides those of his comrades who fought and fell with him on that day. The site of the grave has been reported to the graves regulation unit at Alexandria and we have marked it with a little wooden cross, as a token of our respect. The exact position will be carefully preserved in the records of the committee appointed to take care of soldier's graves.

One of our officers has taken a photograph of the grave and I will do my best to obtain a copy and send it to you. It is rather difficult to get photographs developed in conditions under which we are now living. All your boy's belongings were sent to the base, to be forwarded on to you through proper channels, but I am afraid they will take some time before they can reach you.

I feel deeply for your sorrow, all the more so, as I know how my own widowed Mother would feel if anything were to happen to me out here. May He who comforted the Widow of Nain, comfort you also in your sorrow, by the reassurance that He holds your brave son in His keeping.

His Company Commander speaks very highly of him, and wrote you in early January last. I hope you will have received his letter by now. If there is any further information that you require or anything else I can do, please write and let me know. The same address as before will always find me.

Yours in sympathy,

W. J. Jones. C.F.

What a waste of a life in 1917.


  1. There is no shortage of lions in our armed forces. However, their fate is still in the hands of donkey-minded politicians.

    I agree too. What a waste.

  2. Yes. I'm curious about all the details of burial in this letter. I wonder how they do send notice nowadays.

    (Our previous president did not meet or allowed photographs of the dead to be shown on television. Sad, but true.)

  3. Probably the hardest letter W.J. Jones ever wrote, especially under those conditions, but his warmth and sincerity shine through. Well done that man!

    I sooooo agree with the comment by Martin H. I took a life-long dislike to Margaret Thatcher (and subsequently, all politicians) in 1982 when she bounced out of number 10 to scream hysterically at the gathered press, "Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice!", after the Paras had taken Goose Green in the Falklands - at such great loss of life.

    It certainly saved her fat political ass!

  4. ...and still they fall, one after another...so heartrending. We live in a world of sorrow and loss, broken and defeated. It's all just too much, far too much for humanity to cope with. Will it never stop? I do wonder. How terribly crushing when your Gran received the letter, as it is so devastating for each in the world to have received such a letter. Thank you Jinksy for sharing with us.

  5. Since there are laws of war, one of them being that weapons that cause unnecessary harm (as opposed to necessary harm?) are prohibited,
    why isn't rule 1: harming or killing a person or animal is prohibited? Just one of my stupid ideas. That is why I am not in politics.

    Despite it's sad content, it is a very warm letter. Could not have been easy for W.J. Jones to write it.

  6. First time here, Jinksy, and what a touching letter I find. When will it ever end? So sad.

  7. jinksy -between the country of my birth and the country i presently live in, two hundred and forty six soldiers have died in afghanistan. i have no idea how many afghani's (regardless of their political persuasion) have died. not being privy to the politics of the piece and entirely focussed on the shameful abuse of the privilege of human life, i quietly register my sorrow that any of this is still necessary. steven

  8. We lost 4 soldiers from Edmonton last week and 1 journalist from Calgary.....is there no end to these senseless wars........:-) Hugs

  9. All of these wars have been a waste of so many young lives.
    WWII, my Grandmother lost her brother, my Father and his brother both came back safe. During Vietnam, Abe's nephew was killed stepping on a landmine, he was around 25. Our Granddaughter was over in Iraq, was almost captured, but she decided to wait for their tow, their truck had broken down, another truck stopped to see if they wanted to ride with them, she decided to stay with her group, the other convoy was attacked, and one of the women was killed. She is still recovering from being over there for six months.
    she turned 21 over there. She saw and experienced things she never knew happened in life.

    I have always said, if the high up people had to go to war, they wouldn't last long.

  10. I find it depressing to think about...In this day of so much knowledge, you would think man would not be killing his fellow man.

  11. The grief in a mother's heart is still as overwhelming now, as it is must have been then for your poor Gran. Sadly, seems nothing much changes overall.

  12. I find it amazing that military condolences have not changed much.

    In US we unfortunately get a in-person visit by military personnel. Years ago it was the Western Union. I'm not sure which is a better way of delivering devastating news.

    It is the same, no matter which in the eyes of the grieved person....what a waste of a life, regardless of age.

  13. Oh Jinksy - I can feel the sadness, even at this distance. Such wasted lives.

  14. Dear Jinksy
    ... and still the killing of man by man goes on. I watch the news with horror.
    What a waste of all these young lives. May peace come into the hearts of all mankind.
    Love Granny

  15. What a beautiful written and touching letter... and a painful reminder of all those who have given their lives in service to their countries.

    The name of my only brother is inscribed on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.

    When will we ever learn?

  16. That is a warm and loving letter, which, while it may not have comforted their grief immediately, certainly was respectful of it.

  17. I venture to guess they don't send out such heartfelt correspondence these days. What a thoughtful way to contact the mother of a fallen soldier. Thanks for this posting. A reminder of what is at stake when we go off to war, our young men and women! My son just turned nineteen, this brought a tear to my eye, the thought of him enlisting sends shivers up my spine.

  18. This is haunting. I can't imagine what it would have felt like for her to read that letter. It's so interesting that it's such a long letter. Seems almost cruel to delay the message of her son's death. Thanks for sharing, Jinksy. You may recall my love of letters.

  19. Just catching up on some past Napple Notes and what a family treasure I find here. I would love to know more about my great-uncles and what happened to them... if you have any more nuggets of informational treasure like this one, don't forget you have a very curious niece! And thank you so much for posting this. It's so sad but also so wonderful that at a time when so incredibly many young soldiers were dying, people would take the time to write such a moving letter. I am a bit sniffy now.


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