We will remember them

Posted November 11, 2011 11:51 am by Lauren Forbes

Some of the letters in the John Murray Archive cover the years 1914-1918, and, understandably, many make reference to the war which was having a huge impact on people’s lives. To look at just three of these, firstly there’s a letter from L.H. Bliss who was an employee of the Murray firm. He sends a pencil-written letter to John Murray IV dated Feb 19 1915, address ‘H.G. 2nd Army’, and with a stamp “Passed by No. 186 Censor”. He thanks Murray for sending chocolate and meat lozenges. He seems to have a driving job, and although he is interested to hear of what’s happening elsewhere in the war, he finds his own situation

more laborious than exciting… only when one gets near the front line does life become interesting & they seldom let me nearer than 2 kilometers.

 Meanwhile Oxford historian Charles Fletcher, who wrote many letters to John Murray IV, wrote only two during the war years, in August 1918. He wants to bring out a pamphlet in response to a book strongly criticising “many mistakes made by the clergy…. by some 17 chaplains with the armies at the front”. His 18th August letter includes a sad PS:

You probably heard that our own nephew Christopher Schuster, Claud Schuster’s only son, was killed in action on Aug 10 – a great grief to us both, his mother my wife’s only sister.

It is hardly surprising that there was little correspondence from Fletcher during these war years. As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography notes:

 He died at his Oxford home, Norham End, on 30 April 1934, and was survived by his wife and his eldest son, the two younger having been killed during the First World War.

John Murray IV’s own son fought in the war, his regiment being the Scottish horse. As the ODNB says of John Murray V:

 He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, serving in Egypt, at Gallipoli, and in France. His regiment was subsumed into the Black Watch, but he later transferred to the Royal Scots, and commanded their 12th battalion. In 1918 he was made DSO for personal bravery and awarded a Croix de Guerre (Belgium).

John Murray IV was perhaps then particularly mindful of writing to friends whose sons did not survive.

 A very poignant letter comes from W. Maxwell of Dalbeattie in October 1916, in response to a letter of condolence from John Murray. The letter becomes increasingly difficult to read:

 Our youngest son fell in the first charge at Gallipoli… our second son died at Hong Kong under very sad circumstances…. this month our eldest son died of Blackwater fever at Abiad Darfur

 Details are given of problems and delays which greatly contributed to the eldest son’s death. His C.O. had written to the parents afterwards, commending his courage:

Undoubtedly yr son had been unwell for some considerable time… but having the heart of a lion he would not give in

 There are many more references to personal tragedy in the 1914-18 letters in the archive, and also to great courage and fortitude, whether that of the men wounded and killed, or of their families and friends.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.