My great-uncle Samuel Charles Currier was born 22 March 1878 at Carshalton, Surrey, the youngest child of James Francis Currier and his wife Jane (nee Rooke). He had three elder sisters, Elizabeth, Emily and Harriet, and two elder brothers, James and Richard. James Francis worked for the railway and moved with his job, starting in Shalford, Surrey and ending in Sutton, Surrey. Samuel’s mother died when he was young and initially her sister helped raise him at her home. After his father’s remarriage he returned to Sutton where in 1891 he was described as an errand boy porter (census return). By 1901 he was the sole occupier of 108, Boston Place, St Marylebone, aged 23 and working as a bus conductor (census return). Both his brothers were at separate addresses in this area. The following year, Samuel married Annie Lucy Carter back in the Sutton area. However, their eldest two children were born in the Marylebone area, Charles Herbert on 7 October 1902 and Evelyn Elsie on 1 September 1907. In the 1911 census they were to be found at 2a, Stayton Villas, Stayton Road, Sutton, living in three rooms. Samuel was described as aged 33, a general labourer. Shortly after this the family, including new baby Francis William, born 1 July 1911, moved to the Wrythe Green area of Carshalton and took up residence at 11, St Andrew’s Road. This was a move that was, in effect, to seal Samuel’s fate.
The local public house in this area was The Cricketers, run by Frederick Bird. His son, Willie, enlisted for war and Frederick urged his customers to do the same. Samuel must have been one of these regulars as he was persuaded to enlist despite being 37 years old and married with three children. Frederick set up a plaque outside the public house on which he inscribed the men’s names as they signed up. Samuel’s appeared about two thirds of the way down in the right-hand side column. The book Images of England: Carshalton, Wallington and Beddington (John Phillips, Kathleen Shawcross & Nick Phillips, The History Press, 2004) shows a photograph of this plaque. Frederick’s son, Willie, was killed in the war and no more names were added to the plaque after his death. The Wrythe Green area of Carshalton housed some of the poorest families in the borough, but sent the highest percentage of men to the front. Samuel enlisted at Sutton and became Private 2289 of the 9th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. The Battalion had been billeted at Worthing, Shoreham and Blackdown, but on 1 September 1915 it first landed at Boulogne and Samuel himself arrived in France on September 30 1915.
The family has in our possession a few of the letters written home by Samuel. The following information and extracts give an insight into how Samuel felt and how he was coping with the war. One of the first letters is sent to Eva (Evelyn) and is a short note apologising for missing her eighth birthday. He wishes that he could send her a little something for her birthday but explains he is broke. He optimistically suggests: ‘I shall have to see what I can do when I leave the army and have a lot of money’. In another letter to Eva and Frankie (Francis), he thanks them for the note they have sent and says: ‘…I will try and come home as soon as I can, and when I do come I will see that Eva has a nice big doll and Frankie shall have a nice engine or horse, how will that suit you both?’ He adds: ‘Now I hope you will both be dear good little children and keep quite well till I come back from fighting the Germans’.
The letters to his eldest son are in a more serious vein. In one he writes:
‘I must scribble a line or two to thank you for the nice tobacco pouch you got for me, it is just the right thing to lay nice and flat in my pocket and I think a lot of it. Now my dear boy while I am away I want you to be a good boy and a comfort to your dear Mother, do anything she asks you to do, and if she does not seem happy try and cheer her up and try to be a man although you are not very old. Look after Frankie and Eva and be kind to them. So be obedient and I shall not mind being away from you nearly so much’.
Samuel was obviously a loving and caring father who missed his children terribly. Christmas 1915 finds him still in France and writing home:
‘My dear children,
Just a few lines to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and thank you very much for the pretty card you sent me. I expect some of you have been busy lately helping Mother make the puddings and cakes and having some nice tasters. I wish I was coming home to have Christmas with you but I cannot come so we will have a good time with plenty of nice things when I do come home. I hope you are all good children and don’t worry Mother and that you are quite well and that you enjoy yourselves at Christmas.
With love from Daddy’.
A further letter to Charlie (Charles) finds Samuel giving his son something to think about:
‘Just a few lines to let you know I am still alive and kicking and quite well and I hope you are the same. You will soon be leaving school now and you will have to make up your mind about what trade you would like to work at, when you have to start to help get your own living. But I don’t want you to get into the building line, so if you can get a decent place to work at in the mornings and Saturdays, as long as it is a good paying, respectable trade and regular work you might have a chance to work your way up and be very useful to your Mother, for she can do with all the help you can give her. You must get into the habit of getting up early and do anything you are told and not be cheeky to Mother or anyone else. I only wish I was there to look after you and I hope I soon will be so my dear boy. I should be glad to have a letter from you soon to say truly that you are a good boy and trying to do your best to do what you can for the sake of your Mother and yourself, and take any advice and do not mix with bad company. Chose respectable boys for your companions and never take to playing any gambling game such as cards or pitch and toss. I have never gambled and I hope you never will, it is no good to anybody. Now dear boy, I will not say any more, only do not think that I am cross with you. I only wish that I could come and see you. We will enjoy many an hour together when I do come home which I hope won’t be long.
Ta ta, with love from your ever loving Dad’.
These letters show a man who would love to be back home with his family and making sure they are cared for. There must have been many days when Samuel longed to be back in the bosom of his family. Thirteen-year-old Charlie was being asked to be a responsible young man who would take Samuel’s place if the worst happened.
Samuel’s letters to his wife Annie speak of the conditions of the war and give us an insight into what he was enduring. On April 20 1916, from ‘somewhere in France’, he sends a letter to her thanking her for the photograph of the children that she has sent him with her letter. He hasn’t written to her for a while and explains it thus: ‘Well dear, I expect you are wondering what has become of me, but we are having a long spell up the lines this time, and it is far from being a quiet place, we have been shelled terribly, but had few casualties, and I have not felt able to settle down to write a letter. I think it has upset my nerves more after having those two burst over me, it gave me a shaking up and my shoulder is still bandaged although there is no pain in it. I expect I shall be all right after a day or two away from the front line.’ He also refers to the weather saying that since Easter Monday the rain has stopped and it has turned hot making him feel quite lazy. He says of Easter: ‘Talk about a peaceful Easter, we thought they were going to attack us with gas after shelling us, but it did not come off after all I am glad to say, but we were ready for them. There is a strong rumour that we are going back for a rest in a few days time. I only hope it is true for we have had a very hard few months and most of the men are knocked up. I wonder what Lord Derby’s soldiers will think of life when they get out here. I have been here seven months now but it seems like years. I wonder when I shall get home to see you all again. There are still a few of the old Battalion going on a pass but my turn does not seem to come round.’
In the last letter that we have in our possession, dated May 31 1916, Samuel is feeling fed up with the war. He describes what it is like:
‘I am quite well with the exception of being worn out, we are not at rest yet and goodness knows when we shall get out. We have had five hard months of it now and the days are hot but at night it is just the reverse, we are glad of our overcoats. We had a busy afternoon yesterday. The Germans were bombarding us with every kind of munitions they have got but I don’t believe they hit one man, we were very lucky, but it is not comfortable while it lasts, I can tell you. I am very pleased to hear that you are well and that your cough has gone. I expect that if I was home for a time there would be nothing wrong with you at all and as for the spring bed I shouldn’t know which way to get in and should make good use of it. Funny, I have been out here for eight months today and have not been properly undressed for sleep all the time. It makes me wild when I hear about men being able to get home on leave and have not been out here so long as I have. Although some of ours are going each week we don’t seem to get very forward with it. The men at headquarters who never go in the trenches are taking first turns but I suppose I shall get one sometime. I only wish it were all over for I am properly fed up with it and sometimes feel that I don’t care what happens to me. It is a dog’s life.’
This letter was sent with an enclosure which we no longer have but Samuel had added some forget-me-nots from the front line for Annie.
Although there may have been more letters we do not have any more until the following one:
‘August 17th 1916
Dear Mrs Currier,
I think it best that I should let you know that unfortunately Pte S. C. Currier no 2289 9th East Surreys died of wounds on August 16th. He gave me the address and asked me to let you know. We did our best for him under the conditions. H. Marvin no 16248 A Coy 8th Queens Regt. B.E.F. France.
I remain yours truly,
Research by Andrew Arnold shows the conditions the 9th Battalion faced that day. The war diary for 16 August 1916 records that they were to attack a German concrete dugout surrounded by a trench south west of Guillemot. The attack was made in three waves of 80 men each, The artillery bombardment commenced at 5.10pm and lasted for half an hour. The war diary reports that ‘during the bombardment several of the 18 pounders fired short and caused casualties among our own attacking party in the trenches, during the whole of this bombardment the enemy’s machine guns were very active and never ceased firing…At 5.42pm all our three waves left their trenches and advanced in perfect lines towards their objective. No sooner had the first wave left it’s trenches they were surprised to see the enemy looking over their parapet… The first two waves on approaching the enemy’s line first came under very heavy rifle fire, and as they approached still closer to the enemy’s trench by a tremendous volley of bombs. Nearly all the men when within a few yards of the trench were either killed or wounded, and only two officers and one or two NCO’s actually succeeded in getting into the German trench, they were never seen again. Wounded men and a few that were not wounded jumped into the nearest shell hole and threw bombs until exhausted, they crawled back to our trenches during the hours of darkness. The right of the third wave joined the first two waves, the left came under machine gun fire from the direction of Guillemot and were withdrawn…as the first two waves had not been successful.’ We don’t know which wave Samuel was in but it seems highly likely that it was either the first or second. All in all on that day the casualties for the Battalion were 190 killed, wounded or missing.
On 7 September the army issued Army Form B. 104-82 confirming that Samuel had died of wounds received in action. On my side of the family the story that had been handed down was that Samuel had been blown to pieces and had no grave as a body wasn’t found. H. Marvin’s letter suggests a different tale but perhaps this was just army practice to soften the blow for the widow. However we do possess a cap badge which is purportedly his. There isn’t a grave for him but he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Pier and Face 6b and 6c. He is also recorded on four known memorials where he lived. He is on Sutton war memorial in Manor Park, Carshalton war memorial by Carshalton Ponds, on a scroll inside Carshalton Parish Church and also on the Willie Bird Cross in the churchyard.
Samuel’s soldier’s will from his pay book signed 22 September 1915 at Shoreham by Sea says that in the event of his death he gives the whole of his property to Annie. There is also an informal will which gives the same instructions signed August 11 1916, five days before his death. Perhaps he finally felt he would not be coming home. We are not one hundred percent sure but it seems from family memories that Samuel never received his pass home.
Post script to this story:
Samuel was my grandmother Harriet’s brother and by all accounts her favourite brother. She herself died at the start of 1919, seemingly from the Spanish Flu epidemic which was coming to an end. It seems that the two families then drifted apart and lost contact. A few years ago Carshalton war memorial was vandalised and the brass name plaques were stolen. Some temporary ones were made in time for Remembrance Sunday and I was invited to the unveiling. I took along the photograph of Samuel and ended up being interviewed about his story which was televised that evening. That night Samuel’s granddaughter was watching and recognised the photograph. Her daughter in turn contacted me and the two families were reunited nearly one hundred years down the line. She and her brother own the letters and I am eternally grateful that they allowed me to copy them and thereby learn so much more about my great-uncle. I must also thank the author and local historian Andrew Arnold who has worked so hard on telling the story of the men from the Wrythe who are on the Carshalton memorial. His book Their Name Liveth for Evermore: Carshalton’s First World War Roll of Honour (The History Press, 2014) is a detailed account that is well worth reading.