The following letters were received by the Tyerman Family during February and March 1916, when they lost two brothers, Fred and William, in the trench fighting in the Ypres Salient between Hill 60 and Sanctuary Wood. I have transcribed the letters in full because no editing could possibly enhance their eloquence, or the story they tell. I have, however, annotated certain passages where I feel that further explanation would be useful.
The first letter was written by Fred, the day before he was killed:
Feby 26th 1916
Just to let you know that I and Will are still alright, hoping by the time you receive this that you are very much better. John Willie has got nicely out of this lot and has been sent down to the Base, so you can tell Ann Lizzie to address his letters to No.17 Base Camp B.E.F. We have got your P.C. and parcel alright, and thanks very much for it. We are in the trenches at present but we are having a decent time and very quiet. We have had a little snow but not much and we are not taking any harm up to the present. I suppose you will have heard by now about the Northallerton fellows going down *, but still we have to be thankful that we are still here. The Officer who I was servant to when I was at home there got wounded but has since died of wounds **. My word it is hard lines when all the best ones are taken from you. Captain Stead *** also got wounded but his was not serious. He is down at the base now but we are expecting him back any time. Well Mother I must close now so no more at present.
With best love from Will and Fred. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
* This is probably a reference to an incident which took place on 14th February 1916 at Hill 60 when the Germans blew a mine under the 4th Yorkshire's trenches, killing Sgt. A. W. Martin, from Northallerton and wounding several others.
** Lt. Anthony Reginald Welsh, Died of Wounds on 19th February 1916 and buried in Boulougne Eastern Cemetery.
*** Capt. N.W. Stead, author of the final letter in this series. It is believed that Capt. Stead survived the War.
Dear Mother, Sister, and Brother,
It is with sad regret that I break the news to you all of the death of your dear son. Well Mother it's sad but do try and forget it. I know how much you will all feel it, but do your best to get over the sad bereavement. Well I will now try and tell you how it happened. He was doing the Officer's breakfast, as you know it was his daily work, and a shell came over and killed him instantly. He had no pain dear Mother. Just before that he had been round to see me along with all my Brompton chums. He looked as well as ever and had a bit of joking with us.
It seems likely that this was a first draft of his letter because it is not signed and he wrote again later in the day:
Dear Mother, Sisters, and Brother,
It is with a heart nearly broken that I write these few lines home to you to tell you of the sad news of poor Fred being killed on Sunday, the 27th about 10.30 in the morning. Mother, I hardly know how to tell you of the dreadful news, but I guess ere you receive these words you will have heard all about it. Poor Mick, I saw him not half an hour before he was killed, as he had been on an errand for something and he called and had a little chat to E. Dunn and I, and he was only joking about the way he had escaped the whiz bangs* a little while ago. I nearly went over myself when a Corporal came into our traverse and said poor Tyerman had got killed. I went down at once to see him, but, poor lad, it was all over with him. I went and saw the Officers and they told me he did not suffer more than 4 minutes as he was so badly hurt.
Well, Mother, I don't know how you will receive the news, but look to the ONE ABOVE who will always help those in need. Mother, BE BRAVE, also all at home look forward to meet in that beautiful land above. You have no idea how I feel, but the Lord is helping me in my great trouble. We had only been in the firing line about 6 hours when it happened. He did look well, with a nice smile on his face, and he is buried just a little way behind the firing line.
Well Mother, I cannot tell you more, as I am nearly done up and my eyes are nearly closed, but be brave and ask the Lord to help you.
Hoping you will write back by return with news from home. Well will write more tomorrow telling you all.
I remain, Your broken-hearted Son
P.S. GOD guard and protect all at home, spare thou me to see my loved ones again, but in the midst of life we are in death. We never know when we are called up to meet our maker. I have no idea where John Willie is just now, but he is better off than us that are in the line.
* "Whizz Bang" was the soldier's common name for German field artillery shells which gave very little warning of their arrival. The soldiers heard a short "Whizzing" sound followed quickly by the "Bang" of their arrival, hence the name.
Fred's Officer, Capt. Sproxton, also wrote to Fred's Sister to inform her of her brother's death:
28th Feby, 1916
Dear Mrs. Mitchinson,
I am deeply sorry to have to inform you that your brother Pte. Fred Tyerman was killed yesterday (Sunday) morning by a shell. You have at least the consolation of knowing that he can have suffered no pain as death was almost instantaneous.
I have only been with the Company a few days & did not know him well. But I know that he was always cheery & willing, and never failed to do his duty. Were Mr. Welsh living he would be able to speak in still warmer terms of your brother's good qualities. In the short space of three days I had grown to be very fond of him, and nothing better can be said of a dead soldier than that he lived and died doing his duty and was always of a good heart.
The War Office will notify you of his grave in due course, which will be carefully tended to & have a cross set over it. His present effects will also be sent home , with the exception of one or two small articles which his brother has.
Please let the rest of your family know how deeply we all sympathise with them. I am sure that I can speak for his Company Commander Captain Stead who is at present away from the Battalion in Hospital.
Yours very sincerely,
C. SPROXTON, Captain, 4th Yorks Regt. *
* Captain Charles Sproxton subsequently became the Adjutant of the 4th Battalion and was awarded the Military Cross. He was killed in action on 19th July 1917 in the Arras Sector and is buried in St. Martin Calvaire British Cemetery at St. Martin-Sur-Cojeul, near Arras.
A few days later the second blow fell:
3rd March, 1916.
Dear Mrs. Mitchinson,
After my letter of two days ago I hardly know how I can tell you that your other brother William George Tyerman, who was in this Company, was fatally wounded in the early hours of the 2nd, and died a short time afterwards in the Dressing Station. He suffered no pain as the bullet went clean through his lung. He is buried side by side with his brother and the Christian Burial Service was read over both.
I write to you rather than to his Mother because I understand that she is ill in bed, and I am sure that you will be able to break this news far better than I could in any letter of mine.
I cannot say how grieved I am that this double tragedy should have fallen on Mrs. Tyerman at such a time. Please express the most heartfelt sympathy of the Company, Officers and Men - for both boys were very popular.
By this time you will have received William's letter on his brother's death. That letter will be proof enough to you that he also died a good Christian and a good soldier.
May God be with you all at this awful period.
Yours very sincerely,
C. SPROXTON, Captain, Z Company.
It would appear that Mrs. Mitchinson replied to Captain Sproxton's letter and asked him to take a photograph of her brothers' graves. By this time, however, Captain Stead had returned to the Battalion and Captain Sproxton had been taken to hospital suffering from influenza. It was therefore Captain Stead who replied to Mrs. Mitchinson:
Dear Mrs. Mitchinson,
Capt. Sproxton has gone to hospital with flu, but handed me on your letter before going.
As regards speaking, I understand poor Will except for asking for water, and saying "steady" once to the S.B.s,* never spoke, and probably felt very little pain.
I am afraid all cameras are forbidden up here. I visited their graves with the utmost sorrow, on my return, they lie in the shelter of a little wood, in a hollow, beside numberless other heroes who have made the supreme sacrifice. Crosses are already erected. Fred I came in constant contact with, as he attended Lt. Welsh (who died ten days before him). He had done wonderfully well, and both Lt. Welsh and myself thought a great deal of him. He was the most promising of all the young soldiers, showing great spirit and alertness at all to which he put his hand, and always cheerful even under very depressing circumstances. Will though I had not seen quite so much of was also a soldier in whom I had every confidence. There were none on whom one could depend more, no matter what post he was at. The loss is cruel to you, heavy to us his comrades who knew and appreciated their sterling characters.
On the Roll of Honour of the Country and in the memory of their comrades, the names of your brothers will remain long after the shirkers are crumbled into the miserable nothingness they deserve.
The toll Brompton has paid is heavy, beyond proportion, but those who have laid all at the altar of patriotism will ever remain a splendid memory.
Please accept my sincerest sympathy.
N.W. Stead, Captain.
* Stretcher Bearers.