For Remembrance Day, I thought it fitting to share one of my favourite war memorials. The impact of grand sculptures and cenotaphs is indisputable – seeing reems of names and enormous casualty numbers often appear so huge that we struggle to comprehend the enormity of it all. Subsequently, I often find that looking at smaller, personal experiences of wartime loss has far greater human resonance. Evidence of the normality of grief in times of unrest show how heartbreak and immeasurable pain became an everyday part of life for all classes and communities.
A small rural church in Friesthorpe, Lincolnshire holds one of the most poignant memorials to the sacrifices of war in the form of a beautiful stained glass window.
The village was home to the Beechey family – the Reverend Beechey, his wife Amy and their 14 children. They had 8 sons, all of whom went to war. Only three would return.
While five sons lost their lives, a sixth was left paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet.
The Beechey’s loss came to represent the painful realities of families across the country and was regarded as one of the largest single sacrifices in Britain. In April 1918, the Beechey boys’ mother Amy Beechey was presented to King George V and Queen Mary who thanked her for her ‘sacrifice’. However, Amy reportedly very bluntly told the queen, ‘It was no sacrifice Ma’am. I did not give them willingly.’
The Beechey family’s pain and heroism is commemorated in a modern stained glass window, featuring the words from their heartbroken mother, Amy. “I did not give them willingly.”
Each of the blood-red poppies represents a son’s life, lost in the name of war.
Barnard, known as Bar, fought in the Lincolnshire regiment and died during the battle of Loos in 1915. He has no known grave.
Harold contracted dysentery at Gallipoli and was wounded by shrapnel at the Somme, somehow surviving until he was finally struck down on the Western Front. He also has no known grave.
Frank died in No Man’s Land in 1916 following the death/or injury of his entire regiment.
Charles was a lover of wildlife, who wrote keenly back to his parents about the beautiful plants and animals he encountered on duty in South Africa. His life would be ended by a machine-gun bullet.
Leonard survived being gassed and wounded at the battle of Cambrai only to die a horrible death from tetanus in a French military hospital.
The Beechey’s remaining sons, Christopher, Eric and Samuel were not spared the horrors of war. Christopher, paralysed in battle, was sent to Western Australia, in the belief that the climate would aid his recovery. His mother would never see him again, and he died at the age of 85. Eric, an army dentist, and Samuel, a mere teenager, would both return home, but with their family a fraction of the size they had known. Their father, the Rev. Beechey, had died in 1912 and was spared seeing so many of his children sacrificed in the name of victory.
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