Uncle Charlie

 

Turns out he was a quiet man, a relative who I never met. A solitary sort of bloke as if he couldn’t or didn’t want to fit in. His family lost touch and Charlie died alone in his room, no relatives could be found. His death notice appeared in the local paper, too late. He had already been buried, alone, in an unmarked paupers grave.

Pregnant, jobless, homeless. A girl ‘in service,’ what happened?

We will never know I suppose. Victorian England was a harsh, unforgiving place. Society still reels from their pompous values. Destitute, young and with a child. Her family couldn’t support her, the father wouldn’t.

There was only one place left for Hannah. The workhouse, twenty years of charity with two more sons along the way. Hard years saw her boys educated, clothed and fed. She knew they must leave, the daily hell of the unforgiving prison.

Soon just young Charlie was left, his brothers gone. Jobs and families of their own. A quiet boy, he clung to his mother. Three fatherless brothers, hardships endured, memories of difficult times. A distance existed between them. A stigma, a shame. After too many years in that hard place mother and Charlie moved and life began to mend. A small house of her own, the first since childhood, work for mother and son. Still a hard life but so much better than before.

Dignity once more for this small family no one now need know what pain had gone before. Charlie worked hard, hot, dirty labour at the foundry then that dreadful war began. It took so many, destroyed so much.

Who chose, who went where? Soldier, sailor, behind the lines or over the top. Charlie was drafted, eighteen years old, still a boy. Where did he go? The newly formed machine gun corps. When he was growing up would he ever have thought? Who would choose that?

His record stated, ‘a likeable man, a good soldier, honest, reliable and always looked after his gun’. Life hadn’t prepared him for this. Hardship, hard work, a good son, all he had hoped was to be like his brothers. A job, a wife, children, to look after his mother.

No, your to be a machine gunner my boy. You will serve your country, it needs you. We want you to do things, that you will never tell a living soul, He did, for three years, every day. It wasn’t his fault, what must he have seen, what must he have done.

They told him he was one of the lucky ones, the war ended and he went home, to his old job, his family.

“Chin up lad carry on just like before”. He couldn’t, sixty years passed and a lonely life it seems ended in a lonely death.

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