WW1 memoir gives window on history

12:00 27 June 2011

This picture from the Imperial War Museum was taken in October 1917, just two months after Fred died. Its shows Chateau Wood which was half-a-mile from where Fred fell.

This picture from the Imperial War Museum was taken in October 1917, just two months after Fred died. Its shows Chateau Wood which was half-a-mile from where Fred fell.


It was written in 1917, by a man who clearly doted on his older soldier brother. Now, some 94 years later The Love Of A Brother has ssen the the light of day.

Subtitled from Plaistow to Passchendaele the short book presents a moving account of family life in London’s East End as it was before and during the 1914-18 Great War and the toll the years took on it.

Although the book has only been published this year it was written by Percy Cearns within weeks of the death of his brother Fred on August 13 1917 at the front line in Ypres in what has since become known as Passchendaele.

Martin Cearns, 65, Fred’s great nephew, discovered the raw material some five years ago while clearing out his parents’ home. In the introduction to the book, Martin said: “Fred was one of over one million British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in The First World War; but this is a very personal and revealing story.”

Fred was born on January 29 1889 in Swancombe Street in Canning Town. The family moved to Selwyn Road, Plaistow before finally settling at 8 Plaistow Park Road.

It is written in two parts: the first, shorter section is entitled Civilian, while the second longer part is called Soldier. The latter begins with the outbreak of the Great War on August 4 1914 and through its period-piece use of English, chronicles the day-to-day reality of wartime Britain and what it meant for the families of soldiers sent to the front.

The pages highlight the labour of love that Percy engaged in to get those little morsels of news about Fred from friends, fellow soldiers, letters and anyone else.

As though realising how short a time Fred was to have, Percy also recounts the details of the precious occasions on which he managed to see Fred in France where he was posted as a despatch rider.

Martin told the Recorder his father had “never mentioned (Fred or Percy) to me so it was a pleasant surprise. I thought what a lovely story. It deserves a wider audience.”

After discovering the first book Martin has since found another two bound manuscripts. He thinks Percy presented one copy to his parents and another to his two brothers.

Fred and Percy were two of 13 children who lived in Plaistow during the end of the 19th century. It was here that young Fred began making his mark on all those who came across him, whether it was with the West Ham United reserve team or the firms he worked for before enlisting in the 2/4th Royal Fusiliers.

It describes in detail family life as it was in London’s East End at the end of the 19th century and serves as an interesting piece of social history.

It also chronicles the family’s links with West Ham United, links that were to last until just a few years ago.

As the book relates: “Then as a young man it tells of his (Fred’s) playing football including a few games for West Ham United’s reserve team at the Boleyn Ground, Upton Park. Their father JWY (Jimmy) Cearns worked for the Thames Ironworks and was on the first committee when a works team was formed in 1895.

“He was then one of the inaugural directors when the team went professional and became West Ham United in 1900.”

The book includes club photos for West Ham United FC for the 1924/25 season which features Percy’s Dad and brother Will. Another club photo for the 1949/50 season shows Will as Chairman, Frank as Secretary and Will’s son Leonard who became a Director in 1948.

Len was Chairman of the club from 1979 until 1990 when he was succeeded by his son Martin who became the fourth generation of the Cearns family to serve in the role.

Martin also held the Chairmanship from 1990-92 and remained a Director until the sale of the club in 2006.

The book is published by Lynhurst Press and is available from the Epping Bookshop and the Newham Bookshop in Barking Road. Or you can email Martin at

All proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to Help for Heroes. Sales have already raised £2,000 and an additional £750 has been donated by Barclays Bank in a matching scheme.


Latest News Stories

Yesterday, 16:00
Papa John's in East Ham is holding a pizza party in aid of Text Santa (file picture: Steve Parsons/PA)

Do you like pizza? Do you like supporting charity appeals?

Yesterday, 12:00
Jonny and Alistair Brownlee with their London 2012 Olympic medals. Picture: Ian West/PA Images

They’re two of the country’s most famous sporting siblings used to giving it their all to win in one of the most gruelling races around.

Yesterday, 08:00
Caritas Anchor House boss Keith Fernett on the contstruction site of the charity's planned

An international law firm has agreed to help out embattled homelessness charity Caritas Anchor House after it was hit with a £1m VAT bill earlier this year.

Canning Town
Fri, 18:47
London Ambulance Service has been recommended for special measures following a CQC report

A London ambulance chief has downplayed fears that the service isn’t ready for a major terrorist attack following a scathing report by health inspectors yesterday.

London Ambulance Service

Most read news


Section Boys, Big Tipper, Big Narstie, Lady Leshurr, Trapstar, and UFest street team members

We’ve got 10 pairs of tickets to give away to watch some of the country’s best and brightest urban music talent at UFest, London’s official youth festival.

Read more
MAC Makeup

MAC are renowned for their flawless, fabulous make up that is used worldwide by the stars. You too can have the chance to have the perfect makeup to suit your needs with £1,000 to spend on all the glam goodies you like!

Read more

You are never far from an Argos, wherever in the country you may be. They are like a magical cavern where whatever you need they seem to have it out the back behind the counter. So why not put them to the test with this great MyOffers competition to win £1000 to spend in-store.

Read more

Digital Edition

Read the Newham Recorder e-edition today E-edition
Family Notices 24

Local business directory

Our trusted business finder