Ypres …

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:


25/2/15 Dear Pollie, Just send these few lines to keep you going. I got a few of these cards to send David. I send him one a day, all are different so I expect he will be pleased. Well, it is snowing hard hear (sic) this last two days and it is bitter cold. I am not in want of anything. Hope you got my other letters, you will think you are doing well this week but I am haveing (sic) a bit more time. Well, my best love to you and Gladys. Loving husband, Jim xxxx

25/3/15 Dear Gladys, Just a line from your dear Daddy to let you know I am keeping well and hope to be comeing (sic) home to all you soon. Hope you will keep a good girl and hope when Mummy as (sic)  finished you (sic) new frock you won’t spoil it to (sic) quick or else I shall not see you in it. Much love from your Daddy xxx
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:

” … Regret to inform you 6648 Carter. Border Regt. dangerously ill G.S.W (gun shot wound) thigh at eleven Stationary Hospital Rouen. Attest.” 
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.

James Carter Grave

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

2017 Badge

40 thoughts on “Ypres …”

  1. What a fascinating story, Kim! You have done some research into your roots! Maybe you can write a book about it one day? And, of course you have to go to Ieper (Dutch spelling) one day. It is a very interesting city and area in Flanders.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Liesbet. I’ve done a lot of research into my family tree over the years but this particular story seemed so pivotal (& relatively recent). I would love to visit Ypres one day. Not sure why I never made it there when I was in Belgium many years ago. Missed opportunity really!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have seen that a lot of hard work and research has gone into getting this post together. It must have been an amazing journey tracing the bits and pieces of the roots of the family. You must be pretty pleased and proud with yourself.
    The old pics are postcards are a treasure to cherish. Your great grandfather’s handwriting was very beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Radhika. I think I’ve been fortunate as my Nan was always happy to discuss her parents & the war with us. I’ve inherited a lot of knowledge from her on which I was able to extend my research even further back. You’re right though, the collection of postcards is a real treasure. It’s something tangible that links me to these ancestors.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank for reading, Elena. You’re exactly right. I feel fortunate to know the story and have some tangible evidence of the thoughts & words of my ancestors too.
      Your post subject sounds interesting, I’ll be sure to head over and have a read!


  3. What a fascinating real life story Kim. Salute you for compiling all this together to share with us this wondrous tale of your ancestors. It’s a treat to the eyes to feast upon the pictures and postcards of the yesteryears.

    Much love to you and your family

    Blog: natashamusing
    Theme: Travel Epiphanies
    Yonder and Beyond

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Natasha. I’ve always been fascinated by stories of ancestors. I was fortunate my family kept these postcards over the century since they were written. They have been in my care for many years now & I’ve scanned them so the words will never be lost.
      Thanks so much for reading it πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Amazing that your family still got those documents!

    I like to think that Polly did meet up with her Australian soldier but didn’t tell the family back home.

    I sometimes ask myself if and how certain events changed “my” outcome. My parents met at a party. Had one gone home early they would not have met. At least not that day, maybe they would have met anyway, though? When my Mom was 7 months pregnant with me my Granddad (her father) was supposed to take a flight but for some reason didn’t. That aircraft crashed, and there were no survivors. Would she – gone into shock upon losing her Dad – have gone into early labor or lost her baby (me) altogether?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tamara. I feel very fortunate to still have those documents after a century. Unfortunately though, I don’t think Polly did meet the Australia soldier. I feel certain my Nan would’ve told us about that.
      You’re right though, as I can see in your own examples, so many little incidents that crop up in life and can drastically alter the path of what happens next. They certainly are the big “what if’s?”


  5. I often wonder about things like this as well. My mom tells me that the man my grandma wanted to marry died in the Second World War – so I often wonder if I’d be here if he’d just been a bit luckier. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live through either of the wars – and you have a wonderful piece of family history here to pass along. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Christopher. Remembering James & the thousands of others is certainly important. I see your link is for the Third Battle of Ypres (Paachendaele) … James was killed in the Second Battle of Ypres two years earlier, so the article won’t give insight into events at the time of his death … but the link is relevant given today marks 100 years since Passchendaele. Thanks for your comments. It’s much appreciated.


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