Friday, 1 March 2013

Poignant, painful, precious mementoes

Cpl Butters and his mother Susan
(Thanks to Helen Lang for the photo)
Some of the most moving documents I have come across in my research are the official lists which accompanied the personal effects sent home to families of dead soldiers.

'Please confirm receipt of...' the families would have been asked, and on the form were listed those little bits and pieces that made life bearable for soldiers at the front, clothing, diaries, books, all still fresh enough to bear the smell or fingerprints of their owners.

It must have been a hearbeaking task to unpack such parcels and lay out all that was left of husbands and sons - men like Richard Butters of Victoria, Australia, whose family's story is told in my book.

Corporal Butters enlisted in January 1917, aged 23, and served in the Middle East with the 15th Light Horse Regiment. Tragically, he died of dysentery not long after the Armistice was signed in November 1918.

The following month his poor mother Susan received a package which contained not only the usual military acoutrements (shorts, shirts, pocket knife, spanner) but also more personal items like a volume of poems and an Arabic book. That was not the end to Mrs Butters' anguish for in March 1919 a second parcel arrived with yet more poignant posessions: nail clippers, a hat badge, a fountain pen (damaged), wallet and photos, a diary, and a lock of hair. These mementoes of her son must have been as painful as they were precious.

Cpl Butters' final resting place
(Photo: Helen Lang)

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