Lighting candles for grandfathers

Margaret Bulmer wiith the letter of  condolance of her grandad
Margaret Bulmer wiith the letter of condolance of her grandad
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RETIRED teachers Margaret and Arnold Bulmer will light a candle tonight in honour of their respective grandfathers who went to war but did not come back.

William Henry Swift, who served with the Leeds Pals, was a married man with a baby son and three-year-old daughter when he was killed in France on July 19 1918.

The 31-year-old from Leeds was killed instantly by a bullet, according to a letter of condolence sent to his widow Annie back home in Armley.

That letter remains in the family, having been passed down to Mrs Bulmer, whose father, William Horace Haig Swift - the ‘Haig’ in tribute to Field Marshall Douglas Haig - was four months old when his father was killed.

She treasures the keepsakes and intends to hand them down to one of her grandsons.

“My father was a baby and his sister was three years older. They were left behind but were well supported by friends, neighbours and relatives. My father was always quite upset that he never knew his real father.”

Her grandfather’s body was never recovered but his name is listed on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium.

“He was just another casualty, leaving behind a wife, daughter and son - my father - also called William.

“Also a mother who spent the rest of her life expecting him to return. Such pointless tragedy.”

Mrs Bulmer finds it odd that her father was named in honour of Haig, under whose command tens of thousands died.

“I have always found it strange that my father was named after Field Marshall Haig, aka ‘Butcher’ Haig. I expect the propaganda machine was churning out words of praise at that time - it could never happen now, thank god.”

Mrs Bulmer, 74, from Farnley in Leeds, is in tears as she quotes from the hand-written letter from Leeds Pals padre, CR Chappell, who wrote to her grandmother.

The letter said: “This is just a line to say how deeply we sympathise with you on the loss of your husband. It will be a blow for you to bear and to many of his comrades.

“The loss will be great and heavily felt. He was a good soldier, thought highly of by his officers and always did his duty cheerfully.

“He was killed during the attack on the German lines on the 19th. He was hit by a bullet in the head and died instantly. We made attempts to get in (retrieve) the body but this failed. I’m sorry about this but it may be possible later.

“May God be with you in your sorrow. Yours in sympathy, CR Chappell, 15 West Yorkshire Regiment.”

Reading the letter is an upsetting experience for Mrs Bulmer.

“It comes across as cold and heartless. I suppose they had thousands of letters to write and they did well to do as many as they did.”

Her husband Arnold, 79, a retired maths teacher, will remember his grandfather, Private John Harrison, of Morley, Leeds, a married man with four children when he was killed in action on April 18 1915 while serving with the 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

“John’s wife never recovered from the shock and grief and died not long after, leaving the four girls to be brought up by their grandmother in Morley,” says Mrs Bulmer.

“We will light a candle at home to remember them. So much talent, intelligence and brilliance was just thrown away. I just wonder what the world would be like if the war had not happened. I’m pleased that effort is being made to bring it back into the public arena.”

Tony Burdin, chief executive of Sheffield Mutual Friendly Society

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