THOUSANDS of families suffered loss and tragedy in the dark days of the First World War but, while we tend to focus on the servicemen who gave their lives or were maimed by shot and shell, we often overlook the families left at home and the hardships they endured.
This story of a family’s grief comes to us from Val Worwood, Mike Smith and Don Kirby of the Woodside Memory and History Group. In the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War they have set themselves the task of documenting the lives of all the men from their area who were killed in the conflict. The Male family of Woodside were one that suffered at home as well as on active service.
Albert Male was born in 1877, the son of a glassmaker, Henry Male and his wife Mary Ann, nee Whitworth, who had married at St Paul’s Church, Tipton, in 1869. Early on the family lived in Wordsley and they had 10 children. Albert’s surviving siblings were Mary, Percy, Ada, Emma, Harry and Ethel.
Albert followed in his father’s footsteps and became a flint glassmaker. In 1902 he married Susan Anne Reed at St Andrew’s Church, Netherton. She was the daughter of cabinet maker Charles Reed and Hannah, nee Stevens.
Albert and Sue, as she was known, set up home at 20 Belle Vue, Wordsley, and later moved to 16 The Hurst, Woodside, Dudley. They had four children, William, Harry, Ethel and Maude.
With the outbreak of the war Albert answered the call to arms and volunteered, serving in the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment.
This battalion fought in France and Flanders, from August 1914 as part of the 3rd Division and from October 1915 in the 25th Division. We do not have particulars of Albert’s service record but he was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Left at home to care for their young family, the strain was too much for Sue Male and her health broke. The children were cared for by their grandmother while their mother was in hospital and their father in the trenches.
Can you imagine the hardship and heartache endured by Albert? Not only did he face the threat of death in the trenches but he had the added worry that back home his wife was ill. Some of this care is expressed in two of Albert’s letters that have been carefully preserved by his family for 97 years. The first was written to his children just seven weeks before he was killed. It reads:
“May 24th, 1916. My Dear Children, just a line to let you know I got back safe and hoping you all are well. I have not heard from your dear mother yet but I should like to have heard before I went away. I hope you will be good children and when your mother comes home do not give her any trouble as I live in hope of being with you again if God’s wish is to spare me. Well we must hope for the best. Kiss Ethel and Maudie for me and tell your granny I thank her from the bottom of my heart and remember me to Dorrie and all of them and send me your photos and Dorrie’s and don’t forget to be good children to your mother when she comes and look after Ethel and Maudie till your mother is strong enough to look after them herself. Well I will now wish you goodbye for a bit and may God bless and look after your dear mother and my darling children. From your loving Daddy. xxxxxxxxxxx.”
It seems that Albert had been able to return home for a while; perhaps he had been granted a short term of compassionate leave in view of his wife’s illness.
The second letter was sent to Albert’s mother and was written less than a month before he was killed. Again his worries for his wife were dominating his thoughts:
“June 16th, 1916, Rouen. Dear Mother, just a line hoping you are well as it leave me fairly. We got to France alright we started on Wednesday morning and got here at four on Thursday. We were about 18 hours on the boat. Write straight back and let me know if you have heard from Sue. It is a nice country here. We had to come up the river Seine which took about 6 hours and the scenery was grand. I wish our Sue was better and at home and then I should be more satisfied.
“Remember me to the children and give my love to them and tell them I hope to be with them again soon. There are lots over here from around your part and you soon get to know one another. Be sure and write straight back and try and send me 2/- or 3/- and I will buy something to send the children. I suppose Albert has gone up and I hope he will like it. It will fetch a bit of the man out of him but I shall never think no more of him. Well, I think this is all this time so now I close with best love to you all and the children. I remain your loving son, 22996 Pte A. Male, 3rd Worcesters, 3rd Infantry Base, Rouen, BEF, France. Write straight back and let me know if you have heard from Sue.”
The great Somme offensive began on 1st July, 1916, and raged until 18th November, when the onset of winter brought a halt to the fighting. Albert was killed early in the battle, on Thursday, 13th July, aged 38. His family duly received his war medals and bronze memorial plaque but Albert has no known grave and his name is recorded, along with those of more than 72,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers missing from the Somme, on the Thiepval Memorial.
Sadly, Albert’s wife never recovered her health and Susan Male spent the rest of her life as a patient in Stafford Hospital.
The First?World War effectively deprived the Male children of both their parents – they were never to see their father again, while their mother was rendered a distant invalid.
Sadly, further tragedy struck the Male family in November 1926 when eldest son William was found drowned, aged 23. He had been walking to work along the canal at Harts Hill on a foggy morning and the body of a Charlotte Jones was found at the same time.
It is believed that William had attempted to rescue the woman from the cold waters of the canal and had lost his own life and he is buried at St Augustine’s Church, Holly Hall.
l Have you photos, letters or other mementos from an ancestor that served in either world war? Contact dshaw@ blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write to the editorial address.