First World War: Losing One Child In War Is A Terrible Thing, So Just Imagine Losing Five

There is nothing more painful for a parent than to lose a child. One couldn’t even imagine losing more than one child, as occurred to a family from Barnard Castle, County Durham. The story of the Smith family, who lost five children in the First World War is to be told in a new BBC documentary.

Two of their six sons died in the trenches in 1916, other two in 1917 and another one in 1918, leaving the Smiths with just one child at the end of the First World War. As if it was not enough, the same year the last of their five children died, the Mr Smith passed away as well, in 1918, leaving a single mother struggling in pain and desperation, alone.

In 1918, the local vicar’s wife contacted George V and his wife, Queen Mary, to tell the story of the poor woman. Apparently, the Buckingham Palace called on the War Office, requesting them to spare Mrs Smith last son, Wilfred, who remained at home, had five children and died at 72 years old.

However, many don’t know about numerous similar and tragic stories. Another mother, Amy Beechey from Lincoln, contacted Queen Mary and George V in April 1918, after losing five of her eight children, in the First World War. Queen Mary insisted on thanking Mrs Beechey for he sacrifice, an act to which the mother replied:  “It was no sacrifice, Ma’am. I did not give them willingly.”

Annie Saouls from Great Rissington in the Cotswolds was left with just one son, after the war killed her other 5 children. Alfred Saouls died in 1918, his brother Walter Saouls died in 1916, the same year their brothers Albert and Frederick Saouls were killed and finally, Arthur, in 1918. According to a local newspaper, the dead body of Frederick Saouls was never found, so his mother kept a candle burning inside the house, hoping he would one day return home, The Telegraph reports.

Charlotte Wood from Winnipeg, Canada, lost five of her children and had other two seriously wounded. “I have just been looking at the trenches and I just can’t figure out why our boys had to go through that,” said the woman, when presented to Edward VIII, in 1936.

It is so sad to realize that neither the government, not the military leaders took into consideration the actual situation, involving the death of so many brothers; and we shouldn’t forget about George and Roland Boys Bradford, who were the only brothers to be awarded the Victoria Cross and who were both killed in the First World War.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE