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Thursday, 17 January 2019

The whiff of an age gone by

My grandfather survived the First World War and outlived two pacemakers, but he never forgot one incident in the war. His horse was shot from under him. He fell with the horse’s neck across his leg and its eye fixed upon him. My grandfather lay trapped there watching the light slowly die from his horse’s eye.

There are as many years separating us from the Great War as separating those who fought it from the Battle of Waterloo, and yet even now, most families have their own generational stories to tell.

This latest book from William Cross focuses on the Hoare, Lindsay and Munday families, scions of the Morgans of Tredegar, all of whom lost lost loved ones in the carnage of France. Peter Jackson’s wonderful film, ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ focused largely on the working class, boys with wonderful smiles and poor teeth. My own Grandfather was a docker from Liverpool. It is salutary to remember that the privileged too were shaken by tragedy.

Lieutenant Archibald Thurston Thomas Lindsay was killed by a sniper’s bullet. He received his commission in October 1914 aged seventeen and died at twenty one in 1918. His Company Commander wrote from the heart to the grieving family, and you wonder how many letters he found himself writing during these years:
"For myself I am absolutely heartbroken, for I really loved him. He wa absolutely fearless and cool under fire, and apart from being a very great pal, I have lost one of the best officers one could possibly have.”

Poor consolation for the Lindsay family who lost their three sons in the space of ten months.
The Hoare family, too, lost a twenty-year-old son. Charles Hoare was enlisted as second lieutenant in the 15th Hussars in 1912. On the 15th June 1914, he joined his comrades at the Hotel Metropole in London for the regimental dinner. Within weeks he was dead – as were many of his fellow Hussars at that dinner. What makes it poignant is that after their meal, they lustily sang the Regimental Song ‘Sahagun’ commemorating one of the most brilliant exploits of the British Cavalry in the Peninsular Wars. 

What they were singing about
Sahagun 1808

Unfortunately for those singing, the cavalry charge was approaching its sell buy date. The machine gun settled the matter.

The 15th Hussars met their nemesis at the village of Blaugies. As the Regimental History later records:
‘All ranks were filled with the greatest desire to meet the enemy with cold steel; Lieutenant Whittle gave the order to draw swords. The squadron formed line of extended files and galloped for the village of Blaugies.’ It was carnage. The streets were narrow, squashing the hapless Hussars as machine gun fire raked them from every side.

So on to the book, beautifully produced, well researched, and one that will appeal to both collectors and those interested in the relatively arcane. Tragedy and the minutiae of an aristocratic scion may not appeal to a wide public,  but the book is riddled with evocative photographs and tales of tragic courage. A whiff of an age gone by.

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