Chaplain's letter breaks news of Furness soldier's death from shell burst

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11 September 2017 5:29PM

MANY relatives getting news that a son, husband or brother had died in action during the First World War stuggled wthout success to find out exactly how.

In the heat of battle it was often impossible to say what happened to an individual soldier but the Barrow family of Pte Charles Gawne got this information from a clergyman serving with the British Army in France.

Pte Gawne was the great uncle of George Gawne, of Glenridding Drive, Barrow, who has transcribed a letter breaking the news of the soldier's death from an exploding German shell.

A letter was sent to his mother in Barrow, dated September 4 in 1916, and signed by the Reverend M. P. G. Leonard, who was chaplain the the 8th Battalion of the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.

He wrote: "It is with a heavy heart that I write to you; for I am afraid I have ill tidings to offer you about your son Pte C. Gawne, of this regiment.

"After playing a very gallant part in the fighting on the Somme, your son came north with the battalion and went with them into the trenches for a spell of ordinary trench warfare.

"On Sunday the Germans shelled our line for a short time and one of the shells I am sorry to say took effect and hit five of our men, killing two and wounding three.

"Your boy, I am deeply grieved to say was one of the two who were killed.

"I know what a crushing blow this will be for you and I hasten to offer you my very true sympathy in your hour of trial and deep sorrow.

"But nothing can rob you of the pride and comfort which you will always have, in the knowledge that your son, whom you have given to our country, died in the execution of his duty, nobly and bravely doing hit bit for England and the cause of righteousness and freedom.

"It is the supreme sacrifice which he has made, for he has given his life for what he held dearer even than life itself, the honour of England and the safety of her homes.

"His brave life is not wasted; he has followed in the footsteps of Our Savior and has been counted worthy to share in his sufferings and to help pay the heavy price of the world's salvation.

"Now he has gone through the valley of death to take his place among the deathless army of heroes, the noblest and bravest of our manhood, who have died for England on the field of honour and by dying have won life eternal.

"One day you will find him again and then the bitter sense of loss will be forgotten in the joy of perfect and everlasting reunion.

"We laid him to rest today in a little cemetery at Noeux-les-Mines, not far from Loos.

"Many of his comrades were present at the graveside and it felt they were saying goodbye to a very gallant soldier and a brave friend.

"After the service, buglers sounded the Last Post. Until the next great call sounds, may he rest in peace and may God comfort ou in this great sorrow and give you strength to give your boy up as bravely as he gave himself."

Pte Gawne was born at Lindal and before the war had worked as a metal dresser.

He died on September 3 in 1916, aged 20.

Pte Gawne is named on the Barrow war memorial in the public park and is buried at Noeux-les-Mines Communal Cemetery.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website notes that Pte Gawne was army number 3831 and had records his military career as being with the East LancashireRegiment and then the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.

He was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Gawne, of 9 Robert Street, Barrow.

The 1911 census notes that Elizabeth was 53 and had been born at Tipton while Thomas, 52, was born in Liverpool and worked as a blacksmith in an engine shop.

Their son Charles was then aged 14, was born in Lindal and was working as an errand boy in a brass foundry.

Pte Gawne signed up for military service on December 11 in 1915 and was said to be an iron dresser weighing in at 122lbs and with a tattoo on his right arm.

Military records give his height as 5ft three-and-a-half to four-and-a-quarter inches.

Pte Gawne boarded a troop transport at Folkestone on July 14 in 1916 and the following day was in France at Etaples, a huge British Army camp.

He hd his frist taste of trench life on July 26 and was with the 8 th Battalion of the King's Own from the first of August.

An Army receipt dated April 1918 notes a few of the soldier's personal items which had been sent home to his parents.

They included a broken wrist watch, a Gospel and a French book.

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