This week it is Private J. Langridge’s turn to speak to us, a very different letter to last week’s. He gives us an account of 22 March 1918, entire and plainly stated, which brings Lloyd’s life-story to a close. Yet in spite of its content this letter moved me less than Mrs Dawson’s, for hers was heartfelt whereas this letter from Lloyd’s comrade is written out of duty.
Private J. Langridge writes from Hut 27 B Company, Royal Sussex Depot, Chichester one February morning in 1919. Using a regulation pencil and regulation paper he replies to my grandfather’s letter. The military man answers the enquiry directly, ‘he was killed by a bullet in the head’. A plain, hard fact that no family wishes to know. Did Grandfather’s hand tremble, seeing the words that extinguished all embers of hope? Did Grandfather sense the thinness of these lines “I feel quite sure he was killed outright and that he did not suffer” – a form of words surely? In those times families seeking information from the military would receive a sanctioned reply, devoid of recounts of misery, failure, pain. I surmise (but cannot say for certain) that there were many letters written containing exactly those lines. J. Langridge troubled to write a four page letter in his laboured hand, troubled to detail why he could not report Lloyd’s death – so he was a good man, a survivor of bloodshed and battles that I do not wish to imagine.
Dear Mr Mabey,
I now have the pleasure of answering your letter which I received this morning.Your brother, as named in your letter, was with me on the 22nd March when I am sorry to say he was killed by a bullet in the head. At the time of his death he was my no. 2 in the Gun team to which he belonged. I feel quite sure that he was killed outright and that he did not suffer. I am sorry I cannot tell you what happened to his body as I was took prisoner shortly afterwards. The sad affair happened on the 22nd March between the two villages of St Emile and Villers Falcon about one o’clock just after we had orders to retreat from a railway cutting. Our captain in charge of the company at that time was Capt. Powell who was afterwards killed and the Platoon Sergeant was Sgt. Mason. I didn’t report your brother death as I had no chance whatever while I was a prisoner as we were not allowed to mention anything in our letters in that line. If there is anything else you would like to know I shall be very pleased to answer it if I have and [sic] knowledge of it. I feel quite sure you have had an anxious time about your brothers and I am pleased to hear you have heard of the other one and hope he will soon be back home again with you. Now I will close trusting this will reach you safe.
I remain, Yours Truly, Pte. J. Langridge
This is where Lloyd died. His date of death is recorded as “22nd March 1918, presumed on or since” in his military record. The two documents below are distinct in our collection of letters for being typed and formal. The first document is not a letter at all; it is account of the battle. Was it given to my Grandfather or did he type it up himself, copied from a newspaper perhaps? The yellowed paper is coarse and friable and initially I assumed it to be of poor quality. I forget that this is a document of considerable age – held up to my computer screen a watermark shines through, a trade name in Gothic print that I cannot identify. The darkened top half of the paper indicates that it lay exposed to sunlight, or tobacco smoke (or both) for years, with lighter areas revealing the outlines of other discarded documents placed on top. I fancy the account was not read much, but neither was it thrown into the fire because of the trouble taken to type it all out.
We have no official record of Lloyd’s death but the second letter seems to answer an enquiry of Grandfather’s as to where Private W.J. Lloyd Mabey was laid to rest. Lloyd was killed on a day when the battalion is recorded as losing 150 soldiers (and 4 officers), these heavy losses sustained whilst in retreat.
“The efforts and sacrifice of the battalion contributed to the delay in the enemy’s advance, which was one of the main causes of his ultimate failure.”
My Great-Uncle replies to my Grandfather’s letter in March 1912. He has left The Island. This is a letter full of puzzles, which no-one living can solve for me. I know that Edie and Elsie were the older Mabey sisters but why and where did they meet with Lloyd? I will never know who “Daisy of Ashey” was, nor what she knew of Lloyd’s state of mind. The 1911 Census records Lloyd as living at home and working as a nurseryman. One year later he is 19 and in West London; there are no clues to the cause of this separation. Lloyd chides my Grandfather for ‘certain practices’ suggesting something sexual and not entirely wholesome. It seems my Grandfather has given him unwanted advice about finances that still smarts – “That is hardly my nature.” Yet Lloyd wishes still to impress his scholarly older brother, for he writes that he will be submitting an article to ‘John Bull’ the following week, although he alludes no further to its subject matter. I wonder if he felt too shy to give details, or maybe there was no article to speak of.
It seems a jolly letter on first reading – brother to brother, worldly opinions, talk of horse racing and tobacco. But I sense a loneliness beneath the young man’s bravura. There is no mention of friends, his occupation or his lodgings. Lloyd is miles away from home, his “mental equilibrium” underlined and therefore, it seems, in question. I imagine his downcast expression as he breaks off from writing – “I suppose I shall be right out of the picture” – to stare into the fire.
Lloyd stirs from self pity and returns to his letter, to write about football, the increasing number of aeroplanes (which would have been a rare sighting over the Isle of Wight) and finally world politics; “I really believe that before 10 years we shall have a most frightful state of affairs.” I gasped when I first read that, for I knew his end. Poor Lloyd would live to see his chill prophecy come true. What he foresaw, if anything, of his part in the looming war we shall never know.
March 6th 1912
Thanks very much for your kind epistle. I am indeed glad to hear that you ARE alive and well. I beg humbly to apologise for my letters being so indigestible of late but trust that after regaining my mental equilibrium my literary efforts may be well patronised and meet with generous response. You must ask Daisy of Ashey all about the mental equilibrium. I am glad to hear that you have changed your practice, for certain practices during Xmas gave me to think that you went very much “behind the bushes”. However be that as it may, I am very glad that you have condescended to renew old acquaintance.
Re stopping here I can assure you that it will be only my fault if I leave, at least whilst Mr Wallace is here.
Thanks for your tip about living extravagantly. That is hardly my nature.
I am glad that your prospects are improving at school and hope that you’ll get on better with your smarter and smaller class. If you don’t – well they’ll smart-ER!!?
Do you really wish to make me jealous by detailing the Ashey Races? I suppose I shall be right out of the picture because I can’t dance – however manners mayketh man.
I was very pleased to meet Edie and Elsie. Edie looks jolly well but Elsie doesn’t look so full in the face.
You must excuse my scribble but I’m sitting by the fire writing on my knee.
What do you think of the German airship scare in France? Quite laughable n’est pas.
Isn’t it funny that every power is trying its hardest to make peace in the Balkans yet are taxing their own inhabitants for armaments.
Never has there been such dissension amongst the Powers and I really believe that before 10 years we shall have a most frightful state of affairs. At all events Germany is fairly asking for it.
I have seen lots of aeroplanes here lately and by the way – what do you think of the new “Daily Mail” prizes? I don’t think the Atlantic £10,000 will be won in a hurry.
I suppose you still keep your eye on Crystal Palace. They are running well but I think they will have to be satisfied with a second or third place.
People about here are wild at the weak form of the Queens Park Rangers Club.
I am now a constant reader of John Bull and think it a jolly sound investment – I am sending them an article this week. I must now close not forgetting to congratulate you on taking to a PIPE – but don’t overdo it.
Excuse writing and take my advice.
Goodbye love etc etc xxx