The Toll of War

The families in the village would be living in dread of the arrival of the telegraph boy bringing news that no one wanted to hear – their son had been wounded, was missing, or worse, had been killed. There was no distinction between the classes, the news was equally devastating to the family from one of the big houses in the village as it was to one living in the poorer parts of Melton.

Lieutenant Colonel Frank Derek Ironside Wood, a member of the Wood family of Melton Hall, described the arrival of the news in an address at Bures Church on Remembrance Day 1976:

“My own memories of World War One are vivid. Because my parents were in India, I lived with an uncle and aunt (Ernest and Katherine Wood) in East Bergholt. Some months before this particular stay, when I was away at school, my uncle had heard that his second son, Geoffrey had been killed.


One Monday morning I remember looking out of the dining room window, down the drive. A telegraph boy, something not seen nowadays, on his heavy government bike, delivered his telegram, which notified my uncle of the death of his youngest brother, my favourite uncle and godfather, and my hero, Colonel Lewis Ironside Wood, who was killed shortly after having been given the C.M.G. by the King in person, and notified he was being promoted to Brigadier.


Two days later, the same telegraph boy brought another telegram, which told my uncle that his third son, Basil, had been killed. 

Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Ironside Wood died from wounds inflicted at Festubert on May 16th 1915.
He was laid to rest in Le Touret Military Cemetery, Richebourg-l’Avoué, France.


The Friday after, again the telegraph boy visited Melton Cottage. He handed it to me. I scratched around for my courage and took it in to my uncle. I can see him now. He was a solicitor and a very precise man. He walked over to his desk, picked up the letter opener and slit open the envelope.


As he did so, my dear, kind, sweet Aunt came into the room. They looked at each other; nothing was said, but I knew their worst fears had been realised. Their beloved, brilliant first born son Richard had been killed when commanding his regiment as one of the youngest at 27 years of age C.O.s in the army.


I shall never forget the look of anguish on the faces of my aunt and uncle.”

A similar account from Heather Duffield, the great-granddaughter of William Ambrose, describes how her grandmother Elizabeth, found out that her father had been killed in France: 

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey

“Lizzie was working in the Bilby’s kitchen when her younger brother Billy brought the news of their father’s death. She remembered being so distraught at hearing her brother’s words that she forgot to lace her boots and as she ran to her home in New Road they flapped irritatingly around her legs.


She could not believe that her beloved father was dead and that she would never see him again. They could not even have a funeral for him as his body would not be returned to England. He would be laid to rest in a far-off cemetery in an unknown land.


Every time a Melton man lost his life fighting for his country there was a service at St Andrew’s and later a memorial inscribed with all their names was erected in their honour.


At the end of the war, papers from the Imperial War Graves Commission were sent to her mother, Annie Jane, offering her the opportunity of adding a personal inscription of no more than sixty-six letters to William’s headstone inscription. However, the cost of 3 1/2d per letter was prohibitive to a widow with four children to feed and clothe on a meagre widow’s pension.


Annie Jane and Lizzie knew that they would never be able to visit his grave in person, but like many other families, comforted themselves with the thought that the body in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey might just be their father, brother, grandfather, uncle, nephew or cousin.”