"The Beechey Boys - Mother lost five sons!

Discussion in 'Military Biographies' started by spidge, Jan 2, 2009.

  1. spidge

    spidge Active Member

    Brothers in sacrifice: family who lost five sons to horrors of war

    They had moved from England to Western Australia pre war.

    There is also mention in the piece of the "Souls" from Great Rissington who also lost five sons.

    Beechey Boys.jpg

    Beechey Boys 1.jpg

    Here as well on an Aussie website: http://www.diggerhistory.info/images/diggers/beechey01.jpg

    By Michael Walsh, Sunday Telegraph
    Last Updated: 12:07AM GMT 05 Nov 2006

    The small case lay sealed in an attic for decades. Faded with age, its rusting hinges took some gentle prising before they snapped open and a war-stained envelope marked "Killed in action" spilled out from piles of letters from the trenches.

    Ninety years on, as Remembrance Day approaches, those letters paint a vivid picture of the First World War seen through the eyes of one ordinary family who made an extraordinary sacrifice.

    Handed down through three generations, and locked away in an attic, they were only discovered when another story of sacrifice prompted their owner to investigate her own history. They tell of brothers who went to war, and of a mother who prayed for their safe return.

    Amy Beechey, the widow of the Rev Prince William Thomas Beechey, rector of Friesthorpe with Snarford in Lincolnshire, raised eight boys and six daughters on her own after her husband died in 1912. All her sons – Barnard, Charles, Leonard, Christopher, Frank, Eric, Harold and Sam – served king and country. Five were killed and a sixth was maimed for life.

    Among the letters is a feeble note in a spidery, childlike hand, which reads simply: "Dear Mother, don't feel like doing much yet…" Written from his sickbed, they were to be the final lines from Len, the fifth and last of Amy Beechey's boys to die in the Great War.

    He had married hurriedly when conscription was threatened for single men. It couldn't save him. That last, agonised note from his deathbed in December 1917 was followed by sad confirmation:

    Dear Mrs Beechey,
    I am very sorry to have to tell you your son Leonard died here this morning of the effects of his wounds. He was unfortunately far from well at the time he was hit; tetanus set in about ten days ago and he got gradually worse. He had Holy Communion on Christmas Day and once before while he was here. May God bless and comfort you and grant him rest.
    Yours truly, Stanley Hide, Church of England Chaplain

    By then, however, it was a familiar grief. The dangers her children faced were already clear in a letter dated May 7, 1915 in which Chris, a stretcher-bearer serving alongside his brother Harold, wrote with dramatic news from Gallipoli.

    Mother mine I am down here in a gully near the sea resting after having had about three days and two nights continuous work under shrapnel fire and fire from snipers… Harold was safe and sound up to last night. Most of the men in our field ambulance know him by sight and bring me word. His company were given possession of a hill very dangerous to hold and with snipers to their left rear, losing 23 out of 50 in his platoon before they were relieved on the fifth day, but no one shifted unless killed or carried down wounded.
    It seems nothing but divine providence that neither of us are hit, men being hit all around us and we stretcher-bearers not being able to take cover like the infantry. One doctor and two of us were sewing up an officer's bowels when they hit the man holding the needles… After we'd been here a week and seen what it means it seems inconceivable to me that men can stay out of it.

    It was not long afterwards that the first of her sons was killed at the Battle of Loos. Sgt Barnard Beechey, the eldest, charged to his death on September 25, 1915, aged 38, having just written, "We all wish the thing was over".

    Telegrams sent to Amy throughout 1916 make harrowing reading.

    First, there was word of 2nd Lt Frank Beechey: "Shell wound, dangerously ill… permission to visit cannot be granted", followed the same day by, "Deeply regret to inform you that 2Lt FCR Beechey died of wounds Nov 14". Then, incredibly, from Mrs Beechey to the War Office Secretary: "Is report of death of 2nd Lt FCR Beechey authentic, as field postcard has been received from him in hospital postmarked November 16?" Finally, and cruelly: "Report of death of 2nd Lt FCR Beechey was made by Medical Officer, 43 Casualty Clearing Station 14/11/16 as having died same date. Regret there is no reason to doubt."

    On receiving the news, his brother Charles wrote from the Somme:

    Dear Mother,
    It comes as a terrible shock to me who am more or less accustomed to death out here and it must be still more terrible to you. I wish I could be there but that's impossible. These last three years seem so awful to us after the 20 we spent in such peace and enjoyment at Friesthorpe, so let me now hope that we have had our share of the losses although we are taking more than our share of the dangers. I am your very loving son, Char

    Charles was then shipped out to East Africa. Despite the presence of the Germans in Dar Es Salaam, it was regarded as a place for a spot of hunting combined with garrison duties, which makes the letter from one of his officers all the more devastating:

    Dear Mrs Beechey,
    I am taking the liberty of writing you a few lines at the request of your son who is lying here with a serious wound received in action. I am sorry to say that the doctor can give little hope of his recovery and I think your son himself realises this – he is bearing up very bravely. There has been heavy fighting and many good men have gone under. I have arranged for a Church of England minister to go round to see your son today, everything that is possible to do has been done to make his end more comfortable.

    Meanwhile, L/Cpl Harold Beechey had come away from Gallipoli with his health wrecked by dysentery, but was sent back to France until wounded on the Somme. "Very lucky," he told his mother, "nice round shrapnel through arm and chest but did not penetrate ribs."

    Patched up and awaiting the inevitable return to the front line, his letters turned to grim resignation:

    They promised us four days' leave then, now quietly tell us it can't be done. If I could have been sure of the draft being put off I would have taken leave, but I don't want to miss the draft and have it slung in your face you were afraid to go back. I don't think there is anyone who has been through the Hell at Pozières, or those places on the Somme, who wants to go again. I don't but I won't shirk the thing for all that.

    He was sent back to his death in April 1917 and, like Barnard, has no known grave.

    Chris, who had written from Gallipoli, had his war ended by a Turkish sniper in May 1915. Having gone to Australia before the war with Harold, he returned severely disabled but lived to 85.

    Eric Beechey was spared the carnage of the trenches, serving as an army dentist: "You will have one of us come home to you, dear mother," he promised.

    In April 1918, Amy Beechey was presented to King George V and thanked for her sacrifice. Within months, Sam, just 19, was sent out to face the guns on the Western Front. He survived.

    The toll on the Beechey family was unusual, but not unique. One other family is known to have lost five brothers in the war: the Souls, from Great Rissington in Gloucestershire. It was the story of the lost Souls, which came to light in 2001, that reminded Joey Warren of tales told by her mother, Edie, the youngest daughter of Amy Beechey.

    Mrs Warren remembers her mother deciding that she was going to type up all the letters for posterity. "I just thought, how boring," said Mrs Warren. "When I moved house I almost forgot about the case."

    Rifleman Len Beechey is buried at St Sever Cemetery near Rouen, along with Pte Walter Souls – two boys from families who gave five sons, now comrades in the same battalion of the dead.

    • Michael Walsh is the author of Brothers In War, published by Ebury Press at £16.99. See www.brothersinwar.co.uk

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