Ahead of the WW1 centenary over four years ago, we put a call out for donations of WW1 documents and photographs. What we aimed to do was gather together as many records as we could to preserve in our archive so that we might go on remembering the stories these items have to tell both during the centenary and on into the future.
One of the first people to come forward was the then Reference Librarian, Penney Farrell, whose grandfather, Charles Sydney Parsons, fought at Gallipoli. After the war, her grandfather kept a scrapbook of memories from his time in service. There are some fascinating documents in this family archive: along with the scrapbook there are photographs; diary and letter excerpts; aerial photographs of enemy trenches; trench maps and a neck X-ray, taken in France when Captain Parsons was wounded by shrapnel.
To commemorate the Armistice Centenary, we have put together a number of displays in our search room cabinets. Captain Parsons’ is the latest one to be featured.
Penney chose not to donate the records to the archive but loan them to us for the duration of the WW1 centenary. Reading extracts from her grandfather’s letters and diaries I can understand the reluctance to let go this captivating legacy. Captain Parsons’ incredible account of his experiences in Gallipoli is a thankful reminder (especially to his direct descendants) that he survived and was given the chance to marry, have children and carry on his name through the generations.
Extracts from letters home
Captain Parsons describes the horror of the trenches:
“The Helles front was far more gruesome than the Suvla front, for not only were there heaps of unburied bodies out in front of the trenches, but many of the trenches themselves were cut through old graves, so that there were heaps of places which smelt like grave yards, and in which the bodies were quite exposed to view, and they were all in varying stages of decomposition, varying from the skeleton stage up to the almost fresh stage.”
His relief after spending 23 consecutive days in the firing line and the successful evacuation of Suvla:
“That night I slept like a log on the floor of the ward-room of one of our battleships, underneath a table. It is surprising what extraordinary places one gets used to sleeping in when on active service; I reckon I shall prefer to sleep under rather than on top of a civilised bed next time I get into a house.”
His deep sadness at the loss of comrades on Christmas Eve 1915:
“Unfortunately what little pleasure we might have extracted from Christmas was absolutely knocked on the head by a very sad event which occurred on Christmas eve evening. My company commander and 2nd Lieut. Straight (the newly married Canadian officer from the 12th) went down to the beach to do a little shopping (clothes etc), and to our surprise did not turn up to dinner. Eventually at about 8.30 pm we received a message from which it appeared that they had been killed by a bomb dropped from a Turkish or Bulgarian aeroplane on the beach. It was an awful shock to all of us…”
Photographs and documents from this collection will be on display in the search room for the rest of 2018.