They Shall Grow Not Old
December 3rd 1917, The Cottage, Middle Street, Nazeing, Essex. Alfred and Sarah Pegrum having been anxiously living the last year waiting for bad news, all the time grateful that it hasn't come.
The Battle of Passcendaele, which begun on the 31st July of that year had just ended. Their eldest son, Wilfred Pegrum (Service nos. 47675), a private in the 25th Machine Gun Corps had been deployed, but had not been heard of in some weeks. They nervously waited each day for the possibility of a dreaded message, that Wilfred had been killed in action. The newspapers, heavily censored as they were, offered little and the weight of fear stayed with Alfred and Sarah as their oldest son continued his service.
On this day they would wonder no longer, their greatest fear realised. Wilfred was dead. Alfred and Sarah's small family of three children would never be the same. The future in that one moment changed.
Over the last month, starting on the last day of the Battle of Passchendaele, we have looked at what might have happened to Wilfred Pegrum. Our journey began by looking at photos of the battle and at the same time researching if any family members from our builder, James Pegrum, had fought in the battle. These two avenues of research merged into an imagined story line of how Wilfred could have been moved along the Chain of Evacuation, the system of treating casualties during the war - from the frontline onto a stretcher, then a horse drawn ambulance then, to a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS), before dying of his wounds. The tragedy of course is that Wilfred was not alone and his death neither unique or special. To this day, it is not known exactly how any died during the Battle of Passchendaele, though estimates are in the hundreds of thousands. All these Men left behind their family, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives and children grieving for their lost.
James’ father is a fourth cousin to Wilfred, a distant relative in many ways, but this is hardly surprising; most of our direct ancestors are the fortunate. However, James’ father himself lost a brother in World War Two and the scars of grief sink deep to this day, some 70 years later. The world we live in today is too often formed by war.
For the Fallen, by Robert Laurence Binyon
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them
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