The observant among you will have noticed this post isn’t headed up “Snapshot – Ypres”. That’s because despite having been to Belgium back in 1996, I didn’t visit the city of Ypres (Or Ieper in French). So why am I writing about it? This city is important in the story of who I am. But for a bullet, fired in 1915, I may not be where I am (or perhaps even who I am) today. This post is about how the trajectory of a life and the generations that follow can turn on the smallest of events.
My great-grandfather, James Carter, was born in January 1883 in Middlesex, England. He married my great-grandmother, Polly Broad (of Nottingham), in April 1908 in London and together they had two children – David and Gladys (or Grace, as she was called). Grace was my much loved, and now sorely missed, Nan. At the outbreak of World War I, James Carter immediately joined the armed forces. He was a Lance Corporal in what was then called the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment, and he was shipped off in the first waves of English soldiers to join the war in Europe. He was 31 years old. By all accounts, he was a dotting father and husband. But you don’t need to take my word for it. I have half a dozen or so postcards that he sent home from the Western Front to his wife and children. Here’s two and the transcription of the wording:
The Second Battle of Ypres commenced on 22 April 1915 with the first ever use of poison gas, and it finished on the 25 May 1915. The Germans launched chlorine gas against the British, Canadian & French troops stationed in the trenches here. My great-grandfather was among those men but was not too adversely affected by the gas. However, sometime in mid-May, James was shot. He was not killed outright but wounded through the leg and moved to a hospital behind the lines. I have the original telegraph that notified Polly of her husbands injuries, you can see it was dated 20 May 1915 (only mere days before the battle was to end) and it reads:
The following day, on 21 May 1915, James died from his wounds. He was 32 years old. He is buried with the Commonwealth War Graves in St Sever’s Cemetery in Rouen, France. To the best of my knowledge, neither Polly nor either of her children ever got to visit his grave. A couple of years after my Nan’s death in 1993, my Dad along with his sister and myself, visited James’ grave. We took a portion of my Nan’s ashes with us, so she can rest forever at peace, reunited with her father. And here is where I get to the twist of fate of that single bullet. Once the war ended, Polly decided to move to Australia. She packed her bags and her two children and moved across the world in 1919. I have to wonder, had James not been killed, would Polly have made that life altering move? If he had returned home safe after the war, would these words your reading be coming from an English woman rather than an Australian.
As a postscript: Polly did not survive long in Sydney. She passed away 9 years later from pneumonia, leaving behind a 19 year old son and 17 year old daughter. The story my Nan always told us was that Polly took the decision to move to Australia for the climate. My Nan had tuberculosis as a child and it was thought the warm, sunny climate of Sydney would be better for her health. I’m sure it helped as she lived for 81 long years. Some years ago though, I found some distant relatives in England. They are descendants of James’ older brother John … and they tell a different tale. From stories passed down on their side, after the war ended, Polly met and fell in-love with an Australian soldier in London. When he was shipped back to Sydney, she chose to follow him but alas could not find him once she arrived. I’m not sure which is true, or perhaps the truth is most likely a mixture of both, but either way …. amazing what the ripples of change from one bullet can do to a multitude of lives.
This post is part of my contribution to the April 2017 A-Z Challenge
For a list and link to my other challenge post, click here
For those interested in revisiting my 2016 challenge post for Y, here’s the link: YOLO