Mrs Amy Beechey, 10th April 1918
‘Give them willingly’, I instructed myself on the train to London to meet the King and Queen.
‘Give your curtsy, your smile, your respect.’
Creating the Centena.
In my centena, I wanted to focus on Mrs Beechey and her emotions.
The repeated grief, trauma, anger and crushing of her greatest hopes must have been dreadful for her. I wanted to include the names of her sons in the order that they died. And, when I saw that the very words she said to the Queen had survived, I was determined to include them as well.
The meeting with the King and Queen really sparked my imagination. She must have felt enormous pressure to obey protocol and be deferential. So, it’s quite shocking that she refused the Queen’s condolences and made it clear that she deeply resented the deaths of her sons.
I wanted to honour her spirit in standing up for her sons and saying what she really felt. As a writer, I was impressed by the power and punch of her words.
Few details of the meeting, apart from her words to the Queen, have survived. We know it took place in April 1918 but I couldn’t find out the actual day or location. I chose 10th April because it was exactly one year after the death of her third son. And I chose London as the location and a formal line up as the event so I could contrast the royal couple’s privilege with her defiance.
I imagined her describing the meeting to her daughters. I imagined her telling herself that she must be respectful – and fully intending to be so. But, when the moment of her meeting with the Royal couple actually came, her grief and anger driving her to say what she really felt.
More about Mrs Beechey
Mrs Beechey and her husband, Rev William Beechey, had fourteen children – eight sons and six daughters. In 1912, before the war began, Rev Beechey died of cancer.
All eight of her sons served in WW1.
Five were killed. Barnard charged to his death at the Battle of Loos in September 1915. Frank was killed by a Somme shell in No Man’s Land in November 1916. Harold was killed by a bomb in Bullecourt in April 1917. Charles was killed by machine gun fire in East Africa in October 1917. And Leonard died of his wounds in hospital after being gassed and wounded at Bourlon Wood in December 1917.
Only three survived.
Mrs Beechey’s fourth son, Chris, served as a stretcher bearer in Gallipoli for the Australian Army. He suffered life-changing injuries in a fall from a cliff and was invalided back to Australia. Mrs Becheey never saw him again.
Her sixth son, Eric, served as a dental technician in Malta and Greece and did not see active service.
Her youngest son, Sam aged only 19, was sent to the Western Front just months after her meeting with the King and Queen. Mercifully, he returned to his mother.
In WW1, one in eight serving men were killed. So, the Beechey family’s loss of five of their eight sons was exceptionally high.
Lives of the First World War.
You can find out more about Amy Beechey’s sons here at Lives of the First World War.
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