It seems appropriate that my blog post today should contribute to the messages and thoughts of remembrance for those who fought in the Great War...."the war to end all wars" which, despite the efforts of the politicians, servicemen and the peacemakers, was principally one more episode of Man's inhumanity to Man.
My grandfather, Charlie Payne, was amongst those who survived the hostilities and, at the time of the Armistice on the 11 November 1918, was a Private in the British Expeditionary Force. On 16 November 1918, he wrote home to his wife Ida to convey something of his feelings about the armistice. His few days delay in writing are probably attributable to an increase in drill and discipline prompted by a message that had been issued on Armistice day itself by the Divisional Commander:
|“Hostilities are suspended, and in the glorious part which the British Army has played in bringing this to pass the 62nd (West Riding) Division has borne its full share. In the changed conditions that await us there is no less need for the soldierly qualities which have brought us this success than in the past. These qualities will now be apparent by the smartness in dress and appearance of every individual officer and man, in precision in drill and the handling of arms, in perfect march discipline, particularly on the part of working parties and transport, in order and cleanliness in billets, wagon and transport lines, and above all in the strictest observance of the principles of security on the part of all troops on guard or outpost duty. Let us prove that in these all-important matters we are still second to none”|
So it was probably a smarter and tidier Charlie Payne who finally found time to write home:
My darling Wife
What a glorious thing is Peace. Out here we cannot yet realise it. I cannot now express in words the glorious feeling we have on rising and going to “kip” and not to hear the awful roar of big guns – to know that we can sleep in security without fear of bombs and shells and above all to know that we shall not again have to go “over the top”. Let us be thankful, dear heart, that soon we shall again be reunited in happiness with our own boys once more. I was not in the last fighting my Battalion was in, but I have now rejoined and we are billeted in a town [Maubeuge] near the Belgian frontier and I fancy our Division [62nd Division] will have to go to Germany – but I do not know definitely. I am quite well, dear, and supremely happy and thankful – longing for the day when I land in dear old England. How are you my darling, I do hope fit and well and happy now; also the dear boys. Tell them I shall soon come home to stay.
So rapid has been our advance that letters etc. have not reached us yet, but I expect they will eventually reach us. The poor French people whom we have released in the towns and villages are mad with joy and make a great fuss of us. At this place flags are flying and they are mad with joy. How I should have liked to have been in London the night you received news of the armistice – I guess people almost cried with joy. Peace must surely follow as the German soldiers are utterly demoralised and beaten. I hope to learn that Bill and Leo [two of Charlie's brothers-in-law; both in the armed forces in France] are both safe and well and that all upstairs [Ida's parents] are likewise. We have still a lot of work before us, darling, so we must be patient. It will be a long march through Belgium to Germany. Still continue to read the papers dear, and write to me as often as you can – it will make the time pass quicker. Let them know at Forest Hill [home to Charlie's Mother and two sisters] that I am safe and well. Give my love to all upstairs. Think of me now, little woman, as being happy and comfortable. It is beyond belief almost that we shall spend no more awful days and nights in trenches and God be thanked for it. Love and kisses to you and the boys and God bless and keep you all safe until we meet again. Ever yours. Charlie."
Charlie's Battalion did indeed become part of the British Army of Occupation in the Rhineland, arriving on Christmas Day 1918 at their final destination, Mechernich (near Cologne), after a long and wintry march across Belgium.