Grief for lives lost in war’s ‘pointless tragedy’

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“SO much talent, intelligence and brilliance was just thrown away.”

Retired teacher Margaret Bulmer is angry at the “pointless tragedy” of the First World War which claimed the lives of her grandfather, William Henry Swift, and that of her husband’s grandfather, John Harrison.

William Swift, of the Leeds Pals, was married 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 from a padre sent to his widow Annie in Leeds.

That letter remains in the family, having been passed down to Mrs Bulmer, whose father was four months old when his own father was killed.

She intends to hand the keepsakes to one of her grandsons.

“My father was a baby and his sister was three years older when 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, 74, from Farnley in Leeds, breaks down in tears as she quotes from the letter from padre CR Chappell.

It 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.”

Mrs Bulmer says the letter comes across as “cold and heartless”, although she sympathises with the writer in his difficult task.

She still cannot understand why her father was given the middle name ‘Haig’ in tribute to Field Marshall Douglas Haig, under whose command 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.”

Her husband Arnold, 79, will today remember his grandfather, Private John Harrison, of Morley, Leeds, a married man with four children when he was killed on April 18 1915 while serving with the 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 to remember them both.

“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 effort is being made to bring it back into the public arena.”