To go home
To go home would be a relief. Away from here, and its brittle battle bangs. Cracking snaps in my fractured head. Flickering whacks against the bank.
Creating the Centena.
Francis Henry Dutton was my great, great uncle on my father’s side, on his mum’s side. Except he never made it to actually being an uncle, because he was killed at the age of 18 in battle.
Born in July 1899 in Mile End, to Francis Adam Dutton (1877-1904) and Emma Louise Ralph (1879), he was one of four children. He enlisted in Stratford (then Essex) in the Duke of Cambridge’s Own Middlesex Regiment G/57920. He was killed on the first day of the Aisne Offensive in Picardie, a battle taking place from 27th May to 4th June 1918.
My dad knows very little about his family; his parents met during World War Two, when his mother moved to the Romney Marsh and met his father, a shepherd and member of the Home Guard. Her family didn’t think he was good enough for her (he was great), and so she didn’t really see them again. My grandfather’s side were practical, a bit stoic in nature, and not given to long chats by the fire.
Most of what we know about his family has been gleaned from family history subscriptions and digging around through church records. We know Frank’s name, and how he died, but nothing of his nature, personality, habits or behaviours.
The Middlesex Regiment expanded hugely during the war and created a very big archive, most of which is housed at the National Archives in Kew. Mark Connelly, Professor of Modern British History at the University of Kent was very helpful in directing me towards some digitised documents held by the centre, including the battalion war diary and my relative’s record card. But I wanted to convey more than just how he died; I wanted to look at how he might have felt.
Originally I wanted to write about someone Base Hospital No. 29 for the American Expeditionary Force, a hospital in London that is now St Ann’s Hospital. I spent a long time at St Ann’s as a patient, and during one of my walks around the hospital grounds, discovered names etched in the walls, including those of soldiers and their platoon numbers. Unfortunately there is very little information available on anyone there as a patient, and so my research was stunted. But I remain very interested in the mental health of soldiers, and so wanted to get this across in my piece. I’ve always been interested in the inner impact of war.
Francis Henry Dutton was only a young man when he died. He would have been terrified, confused, and bewildered by what was happening. I doubt that he would have been able to talk about how he felt. Even though I don’t know much about what his home was like, I imagine it would have been better than the frontline. I have no doubt that he would have wanted to get away from there. He did get out, in a way. I hope that at some point, in some place, he found peace.
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