By Helen Cleary
Last updated 2011-03-10
Private Mowbray Meades, Machine gun section, 2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment
Mowbray Meades was conscripted in 1916 under the terms of the Military Service Bill which was extended to include married men. He was 35 and shocked to find himself in active service. His letters home betray just how much he missed his family - his wife and children (one of whom was born whilst he was at war), and what a brave outlook he had been forced to adopt. Tragically, he died from pneumonia in July 1918, having been taken a prisoner of war.
In the Imperial War Museum archives is a photograph of his temporary grave at the Faubourg des Postes Communal Cemetery, Lille, and with it is a form from the Imperial War Graves Commission, undated, which offers the bereaved relative a chance to suggest a 'personal inscription or text'. There are no corrections or personal epitaphs recorded here - is it possible that Meades' wife could not bring herself to respond?
Meades describes the effort of adjusting to military life in the first of many letters to his wife. 'There are all sorts and conditions I can find here but the lot I came with are fairly decent chaps. It will take some getting into I can find, but expect eventually it will come alright... Don't upset and worry yourself unduly dearest, it will only make things worse for you... I hope the two little treasures have not been too upset at my leaving them. Poor little Chickie, she will miss me most, but not more than I shall them.'
Like many soldiers he felt the need to present a cheerful countenance to his loved ones back home. When Christmas came - and home seemed further away than ever before - he was still determined to remain upbeat:
Well, dearest, I know you will have been thinking a good deal about me today and wondering how I have faired. I thought about you all last evening and pictured what we should have been doing, listening to the Bells ringing in Xmas morning. When I awoke this morning my first thoughts were of the dear little girlies and I fancied I could see them running down to get their little stockings and bringing them up and turning them out the bed. Of course they hung them up, didn't they? I was with you too about mid-day and could see you all at dinner and imagined what your thoughts would be. "I wonder what kind of Xmas dinner Mowbray is having?" Well, dears, I can say I had the finest dinner today I've had in the Army. We had roast pork, potatoes and cabbage, Fig pudding, Jam roll, Xmas pudding and Jelly. Of course that was of our own procuring and not Army rations. The old Frenchman and his wife at the Farmstead sat down with us and there was 17 of us all told. She cooked the joint and vegetables for us and one of our fellows made the puddings. Of courses the Xmas puddings were yours and one of the other fellows' wives. The fellows wished "Good Luck" to the makers of them so I pass it on to you and hope you will enjoy their wishes.
On 31st July 1917 in the first day of 'Passchendaele' (Third Battle of Ypres) Meades was wounded - seriously enough to be sent home. He recuperated in Bradford and then Tipperary, Ireland. From Bradford he wrote, 'I wish there was some sign of an early finish to the war and no such possibility of my again returning, but we shall have to prepare ourselves for such an eventuality.' The early days, when Britons remained convinced that the war would be over by Christmas, were long gone.
The shadow of the war fell heavily on Meades, he had no delusions about the threat to his life - from Tipperary he wrote:
Arthur tells me Blanche had a brother killed out in France on August 5th and her sister's young man was also killed at the same time, so they will know what war means. Glad to say I am still feeling fairly well... Yes dearest I know I have your every confidence as well as your love, but you need never fear for one moment. You grow more dear to me every day and I have been indeed very thankful that I have been so blessed with such a treasure of a wife. As I am writing some soldier is amusing himself on the piano and the song above all others he is playing is 'Somewhere a voice is calling'. How painfully true I know that is in our case, and he preceded it with 'God send you back to me'. How earnestly we hope and pray that he will do.
After Tipperary he recovered to return to the Front before the first of the great German offensives of 1918, during which he was taken prisoner. Mrs Meades received a letter from the Agence des Prisonnieres de Guerre dated 11th October 1918 telling her that according to lists despatched from Berlin on 5th September 'Pte Meades Mowbray 2/6 North Staffordshire Regiment born 5.10.81, of Chipping Norton, had died on 9th July 1918 in the Military Hospital at Lille of inflammation of the lungs'. Mowbray's earnest prayers had been in vain.
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