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16 October 2014

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Pauline Wainwright: An Old Postcard

An Old Postcard

By Pauline Wainwright
September 2004,
A digital story from Who Do You Think You Are?

"Back in the 1960s - when I first got interested in family history - my grandfather gave me a box of family photos and also the medals of his youngest brother Stanley who had been killed in the First World War.

40 years later; retirement - time to look again at family history and to sort through all those photos. An old creased postcard almost went into the waste bin - until I read it. It was sent to my grandfather from his mother and said, "No news yet. I hope you have written to the Commanding Officer." I guessed that this referred to Stanley and then deciphered the postmark - 30 April, 1918 - over five weeks after his death.

Stanley was born in 1897, the youngest of six children. By 1917 he was in the army, and in early 1918 he was in the trenches of the Western Front.

He was killed by shrapnel on 21st March, the day the Germans launched their spring attack on the British lines.

The postcard showed that the family had started to worry by the end of April but it was nine long months before they were officially notified that Stanley had been killed. The family received his medals and commemorative plaque and his body was buried at a War Cemetery in France. But his parents never recovered from losing their youngest son and they both died soon afterwards.

I have visited several battlefield sites on the Western Front and seen many of the war cemeteries with their rows of stark white headstones. Stanley was just one of the thousands who died and it has been said that every family in the country was affected in some way by the tragic loss of young lives.

That old creased postcard showed me just how my own family was affected."

Pauline Wainwright

Please tell us a little about yourself.
Aged 61 with 2 daughters in their 30s, one married with 2 boys aged 16 and 10, the other a teacher - just as I was for 25 years until I took early retirement in 1997. Main interests: family history and travel.

What's your story about?
My great uncle Stanley who was killed in the First World War and the effect on his family.

Why did you choose to tell this particular story?
It linked in with my inherent interest in history in general and particularly my interest in WW1 (having been on several battlefield tours). Also I had a lot of photos of Stanley plus his medals and other memorabilia which were given to me by my grandfather.

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