A Family History Tragedy

A Family History Tragedy

You might recall that one of my interests is genealogy and researching my family tree.  I shared the mystery regarding my maternal grandmother’s family.  I will now share a tragedy that took place in my paternal line.

My grandfather’s brother served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during WW1, serving some time in Egypt.  Within his line of duty, he treated casualties from both sides. It is difficult to comprehend the atrocities he would have encountered and been forced to deal with on a daily basis. He became friends with one of his German patients, who out of gratitude gave him his field binoculars.

During WW2 whilst carrying out his duties as a member of the home guard he was shot in the face with blanks which blinded him for a time.  In 1942 he shot his wife before shooting himself; my aunt still remembers the day the news came to the rest of the family.  There was an inquest which concluded that his being shot in the face had caused blood clots which led to the actions he took.

Unlike his brother, my grandfather didn’t serve in WW1 although he did try to join the Navy on two occasions.  On the first occasion he did join up and received the ‘King’s shilling’ only to be told by his mother to take it back.  The second time he tried to join up his boss persuaded him against it.  He was in a reserved occupation and therefore not obliged to sign up and take part in the conflict.

Some years ago the German field binoculars were passed on to me along with a pair of my grandfather’s binoculars.  The binoculars that belonged to my great uncle are a poignant reminder of the futility of war and the consequences of power and greed but most importantly they remind me of man’s humanity to his fellow men.

When I went to get the binoculars out of the cupboard to take the photograph to go with this post I got both pairs of binoculars out and it was only then that I realised that the second pair were English Army issue from WW1 and that they must have belonged to my great uncle before my grandfather.

Flodden Field

Flodden Field

On my recent holiday, one of the places I stayed was Crookham in Northumberland. It is just around the corner from Flodden Field. The area has witnessed many battles between the Scots and the English over the years. The battle took place on 9th September 1513 and my stay coincided with the 500th anniversary of the conflict. Various activities and ceremonies were taking place to commemorate the sombre occasion.

Looking at the peaceful fields today, it is hard to imagine that Flodden witnessed one of the bloodiest battles in British history where, in only a few hours, Scotland lost nearly a whole generation of its ruling elite. This was the Battle of Branxton Moor which is more commonly known as the Battle of Flodden Field.

King James IV of Scotland had made an alliance with Louis XII of France promising mutual support if either should be attacked by England. So, when King Henry VIII of England took his army to fight in France King James crossed the border into England. The fact that Henry was in France meant that seasoned veteran the Earl of Surrey was left to lead the English army and defend English territory.

King James crossed the Tweed and took several castles, including the partially destroying Norham Castle before establishing a position on Flodden Hill. On their march to the battlefield the English managed to outflank the Scots and take up a position that put them between the Scots and their homeland.

The movements of various elements of both the English and Scottish armies (some arriving and some departing) forced James to relinquish his army’s favourable position on the high ground for a lower position. Even though the Scottish army was far greater in number than the English army this put them at a disadvantage; the ground was boggy and their weapons were unsuitable for the territory. The unfortunate circumstances led to the ultimate defeat of the Scottish army and the death of King James IV who became the last British monarch to die in battle.

By some accounts it is estimated that 4000 Englishmen and 9000 Scotsmen lost their lives. The Scots lost their King and many of their nobility and youth. Hardly a family was untouched by the tragedy, which had lasting effects for years to come.

I visited the memorial on the battlefield on the morning of the 500th anniversary (whilst it was still quiet). When I am in the area I always feel drawn to visit the fields where the conflict took place. The fields have a strange atmosphere about them which can’t be explained; it has to be felt…


Sir Walter Scott describes the battle of Flodden in his poem Marmion:

From Flodden ridge,

The Scots beheld the English host

Leave Barmoor Wood, their evening post

And headful watched them as they crossed

The Till by Twizell Bridge.

High sight it is, and haughty, while

They dive into the deep defile;

Beneath the cavern’d cliff they fall,

Beneath the castle’s airy wall.

By rock, by oak, by Hawthorn tree,

Troop after troop are disappearing;

Troop after troop their banners rearing

Upon the eastern bank you see.

Still pouring down the rocky glen,

Where flows the sullen Till,

And rising from the dim-wood glen,

Standards on standards, men on men,

In slow procession still,

And sweeping o’er the Gothic arch,

And pressing on in ceaseless march,

To gain the opposing hill.