My paternal grandfather Charles Frederick Payne was born on 24 September 1883 in Westminster, London. By the time of his death in February 1919, Charlie's wife, Ida, had accumulated a substantial legacy of his letters and diaries. These lay dormant until I discovered them in 1990, stored in a black Victorian hatbox, in a cupboard at my father's house. The documents prompted me to investigate my family tree, and led to the discovery that Charlie's maternal grandfather (my great-great grandfather) had been a leading Detective at Scotland Yard; a diversion that led me to research and write 'The Chieftain', a biography of Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke.
It is now Charlie's turn to step into the limelight. In this website and Blog I intend to document my progress in writing a second historical book which will be based on Charlie's experiences of peacetime and war between 1883 and 1919. In my view, nothing expresses better a period in history than the contemporary voice. It is therefore my intention to ensure that Charlie's 'voice' can be heard clearly through extracts from his letters and diaries, set within the wider social and political context of the period. Charlie's story starts with a peacetime childhood in London, work in the City of London and at the American Express Office in Genoa; followed by marriage, fatherhood and, ultimately, service as a 'Derbyite conscript' with the Yorkshire Regiment (during training), and the 2/5th and 5th battalions of the Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment on the Western Front during the latter stages of the First World War.
His peacetime diaries written in 1903, 1904 and 1907, reveal something of the optimism and new opportunities prevailing in the Edwardian period. In contrast, his wartime correspondence to his wife reveals his personal experiences of military training and warfare and his concerns for his family and friends during the darkest hours of the Great War. In 1917-1918 he fought as a Lewis-gunner at the Battle of Cambrai, the Defence of Bucquoy (during the 1918 German Spring Offensive), the Second Battle of the Marne and the Advance to Victory, before entering Germany as part of the Army of Occupation in the Rhineland after the Armistice. Meanwhile, his wife Ida was doing her best to supplement the family income by working as a postwoman while raising four young boys at the same time. The unexpected emerges when Charlie's letters make reference to close family friendships with Billy Hughes (William Morris Hughes), the wartime Australian Prime Minister. The book will examine family life in the early 20th Century, love, friendships, and the Great War and its consequences. Ultimately, it will decipher the contents of Charlie Payne's Hatbox.