WW1 memoir gives window on history
12:00 27 June 2011
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.