They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
For the Fallen, Stanza 3,4, by L. Binyon
On November 11, many people commemorate those who defend our freedom. 2018 is particularly poignant as it represents 100 years from the time most often associated with this act of Remembrance. Years ago, I crafted a small vignette to profile one of our family members who served our country in WWI.
Samuel Pearcey, father to my mother-in-law, Betty, was born on February 2, 1894 in Ashton-Under Lyne, Lancashire, United Kingdom. His parents were Joseph Goddard Pearcey and Mary Ellen Lalley. They married in Ashton, in 1879. Samuel had a brother George, and sisters Belle (Isabella), Lil, Mary and Sadie. We do not know too much about his parents, but there is one record of a Joseph Goddard Pearcey, contributing naturalist, noting some actinophrys sol stentor barretti, acineta grandts and ceratim longicome in the ponds near Ashton Moss published in 1888 under “Rambles during the year 1887- Ashton-Under-Lyne”. I think these are protozoa.
Samuel’s father died in 1900 when Samuel was just a boy. When Samuel was 17 (1911) he travelled to Canada. When WWI broke out in 1914, Samuel joined the 42nd Highlanders, Canadian Regiment.
Samuel’s 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) became part of the Canadian Infantry Brigade under Brigadier-General A.C. Macdonell at the beginning of 1916. This Regiment went into the line with the Brigade at Wulvergham, Belgium. Samuel was just twenty years old.
The following letter, written about that time, by Percy Whitehouse, describes what Samuel might have also experienced as a young soldier in the early days of WWI. The letters included in this post are from a project called, Letters in My Attic, a British historical initiative.
Nov 13 1915
I got your letter and papers yesterday Nov 12 and they came in just right. I was in my dugout when they came and was very pleased you are all well as I am at present. We came out for rest last night and it was a rough journey thunder storm came and I have never seen it rain so hard it fell down the trenches we left are half full up with water and we have been wet through all the time we have been here. We go in again on Monday 17 so we shan’t have time to dry our clothes for there is nowhere to dry them here unless we get a fire day which I don’t suppose we shall. It rains day and night here. We are in hutts [sic] here and not much comfort bare floor and one blanket and wet throughout and the mud here is awfull [sic].
We got in about 2 o’clock this morning (Sat) they gave us a small glass of wine and for breakfast buiscuits [sic] and cheese and one small loaf between 12 men so you see they don’t overfeed us. We spend our money on bread and candles and coffee and we don’t know how we should get on still we keep living. I should like to have some of those people that put photos in the papers, out here with us for a week, it would open their eyes a bit I think up to your knees in mud and water buiscuits and cheese to eat, bacon sometimes if you can make a fire without making a smokes. If you do, the Germans send a shell over to see how you are getting on. It would do them good I think.
A lot of our men went to hospital from frozen feet this time. I don’t know how it will be a bit later. And how clear the name of my chum was. H. Strudwick his name was in the Argus you sent me. They have not got half the list yet. He was killed Sept 25th in the big advance and I never missed him untill [sic] the next morning. And now dear I think this is all this time. Hoping you will write soon, from your loving Husband Percy xxxxxxxxxxxx
P.S. kiss the kiddies for me. I will let you know if I want anythink. I should like the Argus now and again but not the other papers as there is plenty of daily papers but no local one. Good night and god bless you dear.
Samuel fought in the Battle of the Somme. This joint offensive, supported by troops from British imperial territories including Canada, took place between July 1st and November 18th, 1916. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the War. The British contingent lost 60,000 men on the very first day.
Tanks were used for the first time at the Battle of the Somme. By the end of the 4 ½ month conflict, the cost of human lives was immense. Allied forces recorded 623,907 casualties. The Germans lost over 465,000 men. More than 2,500,000 men were involved.
In this next letter, Percy Whitehouse describes life away from the trenches.
December 4th, 
At last I am answering your letter and hope you are well. I got the photos safely and think they [sic] very good. You have come out fine and you look very saucy I must say. I wish I was with you and I would show you what I mean. Well dear, I don’t suppose I shall be home for Christmas. We shall be lucky if we get home at all.
We are back here for a few days rest, as they call it, but it is harder than the trenches. The only thing we miss is the big guns roaring and the shells dropping around and there is [sic] snipers here so we can sleep in peace.
They shelled our last billet, a barn. We were all asleep when the first one came. It just missed the barn and fell in the field at the back but I thought the old barn was going over. Nearly all the chaps ran downstairs but I thought we were just as likely to get hit outside as in. So I turned my back to the shells and waited for them to come over. I thought every one was going to hit us but they all missed us. They hit a mule team and killed 8 men and some of the mules. We passed them the next morning going to the trenches. They were mixed up a bit. My mate died last week in hospital. Hard luck for his wife.
Harry Strudwick that you were asking about was the chap that came over one Sunday from Shoreham with me. The first one killed of our lot and now dear I hope you are getting on alright and glad that the boy is better. We had a very long march to get here, but the French people are much nicer than the Belgians.
Well dear I think this is all this time so now close with fondest love and kisses from your loving Husband Percy xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
P.S. remember me to all the folks I know. There has been a air raid in the next village to us about 2 miles away. 30 killed and injured so it is still a bit lively.
Good night and god bless you dear
P.S.S. today one of our chaps got 5 years penal servitude for sleeping at his post in the trenches.
Samuel was injured during the Battle of the Somme. He was captured by the German forces, and taken as a Prisoner of War (POW). He was sent to Langensalza in Thuringia, Germany to work in the salt mines.
Some of the POW’s describe arriving by train. The camp was about 680 kilometres away from the front in Somme, France.
One account, The Prisoners 1914-1918 written by Robert Jackson p. 48-51, described day-to-day life and suggest this camp might have been more bearable than others. German women, who also worked at the salt mines, shared their rations. Some of the more lenient guards provided music and reading material. One tale details how one prisoner took one sunny afternoon off, and slipped into the forest to read.
Another account, taken in 1919, right after the war, gave a completely different perspective of life in the camp.
Private Berty Tucker (49594) 2/8th Worcestershire Regiment – POW Killed 1918
The following account by Corporal Golding (235590) of the 8th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment describes the conditions at Langensalza POW camp and the killing of Private Berty Tucker of the 2/8th Worcestershire Regiment by the camp guards on the 27th November 1918. I was captured on 28th May 1918 with about 40 other men of my regiment, the rest of my battalion having been taken prisoners on the day previous. We were sent with a party of about 1000 prisoners made up at Amifontaine and Hirson to Langensalza, where we arrived nine days after our capture on June 6th. We were first of all put into an isolation camp, but the accommodation was abominable. One thousand men were quartered .in three overcrowded barrack huts, and we suffered great discomfort. After a fortnight they moved us into the main camp, where I remained during the whole time of my captivity.
Towards the end of July I was put on the British Help Committee, The principal part of my duties was clerical work, such as writing letters, making lists, etc.
Captain Alexander was commandant at Langensalza when I arrived, and he continued to be in office until November 9th, when he was removed by the Soldiers’ Council, and Sergeant-major Koch, who up to this time had been a Feldwebel, was elected commandant of the “troops” in his place.
After the armistice was declared we never heard of Captain Alexander again or of General Scholtz, the general of the camp. Whilst I was at Langensalza Captain Alexander was very strict indeed. We had been told that he was well disposed towards the British prisoners, but he allowed no indulgence or privileges of any sort to the British N.C.O.’s. In my opinion, he could have done a good deal to improve the conditions of the camp, and particularly the sanitation, which was very bad indeed. Had he wished to do so, I think also that he might have done something to relieve the British prisoners who came into Langensalza from working behind the lines. These men were in a terrible state of emaciation, without clothing, when the Help Committee were able to give them food, and although they nearly all went to hospital, the only medical comforts and food they got came from the Help Committee.
The day after the armistice was declared, Captain von Marschall arrived in the camp. He was called the commanding officer of the camp, but he seemed to have no authority at all, and every order he signed had to be counter-signed by Feldwebel Koch, the elected commandant of the camp. Feldwebel Koch seemed to be supreme, and if ever any information was required as to transport and repatriation by the prisoners, they were always referred to him. Before his election Feldwebel Koch was in charge, of a company of French prisoners, but I do not think he had been Feldwebel very long, and we were told that he had come back from the front quite recently. Koch could not speak English, and he seemed to have very little authority over his subordinates.
All arrangements for transport and repatriation were left to the bureau of the British company, which was responsible for making out all lists, etc. The bureau was in charge of Feldwebel Rost and a couple of German clerks, but after the armistice he was replaced by Sergeant Ludwig, a man who was civil to the prisoners, but quite unable to do the work of the bureau, so everything had to be left to the British N.C.O.’s.
For all of Grandma Young’s descendants, take time to look at the pictures in her front hall. When you visit, she can show you some pictures of her father, Samuel, from his time in the POW Camp in Langensalza. Also, you will see this letter written to her father from the King of England.
Samuel’s medals are displayed in that frame as well. What can you learn about these medals? We can expand our story about the recognition Sam Pearcey received for his role in WWI.
On November 11, 1918 at 11:00 am the Armistice Treaty was signed at Compiègne, France between Germany and the Allies for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front. Over thirteen million men were killed, wounded, captured, or missing in the 4 years, 3 months and 1 week of this Great War. Following WWII November 11th became Remembrance Day or Veterans’ Day to honour and remember the sacrifice made to ensure our freedom.
Meanwhile for Samuel Pearcey, Private of the Canadian Regiment, the path home would take a few more months. Samuel was sent to his family home at 98 Oldham Road, Ashton-under-Lyne on January 11th, 1919. The Hyde Reporter published an article PRISONERS OF WAR, Returned Men Welcomed at St. George’s, on January 18, 1919. The Mayoress said a few words of welcome, and reported they had been successful in getting funds for the Prisoners of War Fund. The Mayor’s Emergency Fund for the benefit of discharged soldiers distributed money to veterans. One recipient was Samuel Pearcey. He received 5 pounds.
Just about one month after arriving back in Ashton-under- Lyne, Samuel went to a local dance and met Lucy Mary Ford. The story she tells is that “they met and married in a month.” Although she had been with another fella for over eight years, she often remarked, one had to “s… or get off the pot.” Samuel and Lucy married on March 10, 1919 at St. Agnes Church in North Reddish, Lancashire just 6 km from Ashton-under-Lyne.
Samuel and Lucy Pearcey lived with Lucy’s mother in Lancashire for two years before emigrating to Canada. They settled in Montreal, and had three children, Ernest, 1921; Joseph, 1924; and Betty, 1930.