Unexamined Lives

The story of the 20th century as lived by residents in the Derbyshire village of Borrowash

By

Think Only This – Edwin Ridgley Hassé

‘If I should die, think only this of me

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England.’

(from ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke, 1914)

 These lines from Rupert Brooke’s most famous poem present a very different perception of the First World War from the one that is commonly held today. To 21st century eyes it is impossible to blink at the industrial scale of the carnage of World War One; the incompetence of the generals and the appalling conditions in which those at the Front were forced to suffer. All this is very far removed from the sentimental- even glutinous – patriotism of Brooke’s poem which lauds the nobility of death and the glory of sacrifice. ‘Unexamined Lives’ has not flinched from confronting the grim reality of a war anomalously referred to as ‘Great’,  and in so doing we have used contemporary records, diaries and newspapers from that era – yet the Brooke sentiments also have their place in the years between 1914-1918. At the outset, with Kitchener’s words of ‘Your Country Needs You’ ringing in their ears, young men raced to enlist, lied about their age and marched to war basking in the admiration of their loved ones. This was a not- to -be- missed chance to serve their country and the war would be over in a short time anyway. Better to live the rest of their lives as heroes, rather than skulking in corners as white- feathered cowards who had shamed their families by refusing the national call.

As our researchers, Keith Oseman and Peter Ball began to assemble the individual histories of the men (and one woman) whose names were engraved upon the Ockbrook and Borrowash War Memorial, a particular family surfaced persistently; the Hasses from the Ockbrook Moravian settlement.  The Reverend Lewis St Aubin Hasse (originally from Gracehill, County Antrim in Ireland) had married Sarah Louise Ridgely from Islington. Their oldest child, Margaret Helen, trained as a VAD nurse in Ockbrook and may have nursed the poet Wilfred Owen at Netley hospital. She was to become a fatality of the ‘flu epidemic that devastated Europe at the end of the war and is the lone woman commemorated on the village War Memorial. The second child, Gerard St Aubin does not appear to have joined up for military service and his later years were spent as a Civil servant in London, but the two youngest boys, Francis Reginald (known as Frank or Reggie) and Edwin Ridgley (known as Bobbie) went to farm land in Canada and subsequently joined the 49th Battalion (Loyal Edmonton Regiment) Canadian Infantry and volunteered for war service in Europe. Frank survived the war and Canada was home to him for the rest of his life.  Edwin’s name alongside that of his sister, Margaret, is engraved upon the Ockbrook and Borrowash War Memorial.

Frank may have survived World War One but he certainly didn’t forget it. In fact, when Peter Ball discovered the existence of a collection of war magazines named ‘The FortyNiner’ in honour of the regiment, it became apparent that Frank’s First World War experiences had never left his mind. Many years after World War One had ended he was still mailing regular extracts from his wartime journal to the magazine for publication; they make for extremely gruesome reading and the passage of time has not lessened their impact. It is almost as if Frank was trying to ensure that ‘lest we forget’ was not an option for his readers because he certainly could not and neither did he want to. The diaries serve as a ‘Memento Mori’ for his comrades (including his brother) who lost their lives on the battlefield in the cruellest war in history.

« 1 of 5 »

The contents of Frank’s FortyNiner wartime diaries formed the centrepiece of my writing about World War One in the 2014 centenary year, but by then, Keith Oseman’s interest in the Hasse family had been truly whetted.  He began to research other sources; primarily Canadian websites including the Government website and that of the 49th Battalion Loyal Edmonton Regiment in search of additional material. We expected that any new discoveries would be about Frank who had survived the war, but the person who emerged was his youngest brother Edwin….and also we discovered a soldier’s  perspective on the First World War that seems at times, more akin to the sentiments of Rupert Brook than Frank’s writings.

Edwin, whose name appears alongside that of sister Margaret on the Ockbrook and Borrowash War Memorial, was born on 13th September 1893 in  Kimbolton village, Huntingdonshire. To the superstitious, that might be a bad omen because the village contained Kimbolton Castle, the residence of the exiled Queen of England, Catherine of Aragon and the place of her death in 1536. Edwin attended Fulneck School, situated in the Fulneck Moravian Settlement in Pudsey. In 1753 and 1755, The Boys’ and Girls’ Schools were opened by the Moravian Church to educate the children of Moravian Missionaries who worked throughout the developing world. Margaret Hasse attended The Girls’ School from January 1901 –January1904 (and as an adult taught music at one of the schools). She is called ‘Maggie’ in pupil reports and there are also mentions of ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Dora’ Hasse who may have been cousins. She was a good student who ‘took pride’ in her painting and is described as consistently ‘good’ and ‘diligent’ although on one occasions, the praise is qualified with ‘but untidy.’

 Fulneck Boys’ School offered a very high quality education. The boys attending prior to 1914 were almost all junior officer material – but many were also to become World War One casualties, including Edwin. His school obituary reveals a very popular boy ‘of a most generous and irrepressibly cheerful disposition who ‘overflowed with life and spirits.’ Edwin epitomised the fortunate ‘all rounder’ – keen on sports (‘a useful member of the elevens’) but no slouch academically. After passing the ‘Senior Cambridge’ examinations and studying at a college in Fairfield ‘with a view to the ministry’ he began a classical honours course at Manchester University where he was expected to obtain a good degree; however, in 1913 his health collapsed and on doctor’s orders he was forced to abandon his studies ‘and take a prolonged rest.’ By this time, older brother Frank had already arrived in Canada to explore farming options. It seemed sensible for Edwin to join him and Canada appears to have a recuperative effect because he ‘completely regained his strength’ and in December 1914, Edwin decided upon a farming career too because he made an application to acquire 160 acres of land for the purpose. Whether he would have made a success of it will never be known, because the two brothers committed themselves to the war effort. On 23rd January 1915, they joined the 49th Battalion (Loyal Edmonton Regiment) of the Canadian Infantry at Wabamun, Alberta. The battalion was a part of the 7th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division. Regimental records supply ‘the basics’ about Edwin. His service number was 432941 (Frank’s was 432944) he was five foot ten and a half inches tall with a chest measurement spanning thirty eight and a half inches and a dark’ complexion complemented by ‘dark’  hair  and eyes. This gives him rather an austere aspect reminiscent of his brother Frank’s stern countenance in official photographs, but looks can be deceptive as the Fulneck obituary shows:

‘After some months’ further training in England, the (brothers’) battalion crossed to France in the autumn of last year. Our last issue contained a characteristically cheerful and amusing letter from Hasse, describing the humorous side of life at the front.’

Edwin’s war service was to be just over a year in length. After military training at Shorncliffe Camp in Kent, the battalion embarked for France on 9th October 1915. Edwin acted as a Scout which was potentially an extremely dangerous reconnaissance role as it involved lone missions designed to estimate the relative strength and disposition of the German antagonists. In June 1916 at The Battle of Mount Sorrel near Ypres (mentioned in the letters and diaries of both brothers) the battalion came under relentless enemy onslaught and suffered heavy casualties. The men were then involved in the Battle of the Somme after the opening day of July 1st and later moved to an area called ‘Zillebeke Bund’ situated alongside a lake near the village of Zillebeke and in close proximity to Ypres. Here Edwin’s war service was abruptly terminated. On the night of 12th/13th July, he stole out alone to scout the nearby enemy trenches, was spotted and consequently shot. After his body had been recovered, he was buried in the Railway Dugout Cemetery, maintained to this day by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

During his brief time soldiering, Edwin was acutely aware that his family remained miles away back home, worrying about his safety. He therefore became an assiduous correspondent, no doubt hoping to reassure and even amuse his anxious parents with tales of his duties and daily life. They must have appreciated this because they certainly kept the letters which passed to Frank after their own deaths. He decided that the thoughts of a First World War soldier deserved a wider audience and sent a selection to The Fortyniner. Edwin’s earliest regimental experiences appear in the July 1950 edition of this magazine under the heading ‘Do You Remember?’ and the letters have been posted to his parents from the Shorncliffe Training Camp in Kent.

The new recruit’s initial tone is upbeat and cheerful and despite having made a new life for himself in Canada, there is only one place that feels like home:

‘Well, we’re here at last, and it’s grand to see the green fields of England once more.’

 He is keen to impress upon  his parents that despite the necessarily restrictive nature of a two-week train journey from Edmonton to Shorncliffe ‘we were not crowded and had good sleeping arrangements.’ In fact, travelling conditions were made as bearable as possible because the men were allowed off the train at least once a day for a short march ‘or had lunch outside to stretch our cramped legs’ and ‘we did not lack for smokes or literature or games.’ Perhaps best of all, Edwin and his companions could not fail to know that their bravery and patriotism in enlisting were appreciated because ‘all down the line there were crowds waiting for us and even a brass band at one place!’ The atmosphere created by the cheering onlookers was redolent of the exuberance of the crowds who assembled to wave battalions off to war and the excited trainee soldier permits himself a wry joke:

‘However, the train didn’t get blown up!’

 Nevertheless it was not quite the perfect journey and Edwin describes an incident that in hindsight enlivens his letter in the manner of an amusing anecdote. The men were transported in two trains and were just preparing to tuck into their evening platefuls of stew when:

‘a terrific jolt stopped us dead in about three yards, and the car appeared to keel over in rather an alarming manner……what had happened was that a coupling had broken and parted the cars and the steam automatic brakes immediately acted and pulled up the cars with the jolt.’

 The train had fallen victim to ‘technical faults’ rather than enemy fire and the main casualty was not the men, but the stew:

‘The stew was the most unmobile of anything and found its way onto tables, seats and clothes in all directions.’

Despite the minor inconvenience of missing out on dinner, no real harm had been occurred and Edwin and his friends made the best of the situation by enjoying ‘a glorious bathe in a large pool of water by the side of the track while waiting for the remainder of the train.’

 Edwin’s adventures read rather like a ‘Boys’ Own’ romp and it is easy to imagine his parents smiling at extracts and reading them out loud. Mosquitoes beside the river were little more than an irritant while men sat waiting for the train to be repaired and burst into fits of the giggles:

‘Amongst many appropriate and inappropriate choruses one bright soul started up ‘Shall we gather at the river?’ which somehow sounded very funny under the circumstances.’

The correspondent is clearly  the very same  high-spirited and irrepressible schoolboy later mourned in a Fulneck School obituary and more excitement was in store at Ottawa where the troops were reviewed by ‘the Duke of Connaught, and the Canadian Cabinet, including General Sam Hughes.’ Something of the swagger of an old lag creeps into the reminiscences of this very raw new recruit:

‘They all made the usual remarks with the usual number of superlatives.’

Everything is re-told with gusto and Edwin’s prose is littered with its own superlatives.  Mid way between Ottawa and Montreal, the soldiers took a day’s break ‘at a place called Cote Junction,’ where they ‘kick our heels.’ It was all ‘very joysome,’ relaxing in the hot sun was ‘bliss personified’ and a swim in a nearby lake ‘just heavenly.’ Overwhelmed with excitement the young trainee is moved to venture upon a comparison with the established soldiers at the front:

‘I can imagine how the men from the trenches enjoy their baths.’

Months later his own brief spell in the firing line would be proof of the inevitable naivety of this early comment.

Edwin’s sea crossing to England brought fresh delights, including the unexpected company of  ‘50 nursing sisters, a machine gun battery, and a draft company from the 35th battalion.’ The voyage itself was reassuringly smooth,  so much so that nobody succumbed to sea sickness or ‘mal de mer’ as Edwin terms it (perhaps showing off his knowledge of French to his parents)  and a potential submarine attack was headed off by ‘two British destroyers doubling around us.’ This omen of battle  scarcely  ruffled Edwin’s composure; on the contrary, as he explains to his parents ‘from then on we were escorted till we landed safe in Plymouth harbour, an exceedingly safe spot.’

On arrival at Shorncliffe the trainee soldier permitted himself a sniff of irritation (‘Nothing was ready when we got here except the tents’) and he recalls the highs and lows of his first real soldiering day. The miserable quality of the breakfast was a definite ‘low’:

‘sour stew, undrinkable coffee, bread and doubtful butter.’

Dinner was equally disappointing; consisting as it did of ‘one bully beef sandwich.’  The less said about supper the better (we were lucky to get dry bread and boiled tea) but despite it all and the exhaustion following his first taste of army routine, Edwin’s parents could not fail to be uplifted by their son’s irrepressible excitement:

‘We’re in the army now!’  

He signs off on a note of optimism:

‘But things have improved today and, taking it all round, we are being treated very well.’

With that he announces ‘I must stop now for I am off down town to Folkestone which is quite close,’ leaving the folks back home to imagine perhaps, a jolly night on the tiles with chums from camp. Over a century later, we hope that Edwin enjoyed his evening and playing at being a soldier (which is clearly what the new recruits were all doing.) Their joie de vivre would soon  be tempered by the reality of life in the trenches but for now Mr and Mrs Hasse could relax, secure in the  knowledge that at this early stage, Edwin was more than bearing up and did not seem to have been placed in harm’s way.

The July 1947 edition of The Fortyniner contains a later letter from Edwin to his parents. By now the troop has completed training and has arrived in France. Edwin’s tone is, if anything, even more buoyant. This soldiering lark has turned out to be the most splendid adventure and Edwin has turned into quite the Francophile, comparing that country and its people with the less than hospitable Belgium:

‘Taking it all round, we have had a very good time since we arrived in France. Billets have been good – excellent in the first case in France, where the people were warm friends of the Allies, but here in Belgium, the people are less enthusiastic and more mercenary. In France at our first billet, the people charged the minimum for everything and everyone was all smiles; here tho’ they are square enough, they watch you all the time and they are by no means enthusiastic on our behalf.’

Edwin has moved nearer to the fighting action but things are still going well and Mr and Mrs Hasse would have been bursting with pride whilst reading their son’s account of the troops being inspected by a general:

Gen. Alderson commanding the Canucks inspected us carefully the other day and seemed well pleased. It makes a fellow real proud of his battalion to hear an old solder like Alderson give you a favourable criticism.’

The Hasses are informed that Edwin was all right for grub and tobacco,’ and Mrs Hasse  is gently prodded in the direction of preparing a few treats in a food parcel to send to the front:

‘We should not despise cake when we get our turn in the line…’ 

More never–to–be-forgotten experiences abound; such as being inspected by King George VI and the Prince of Wales. Again it is all very gratifying and Edwin observes his surroundings with a keen and appreciative eye:

 ‘The ride through the country was grand. We just caught the tail end of autumn the woods in one place. The view was great. You had a peaceful looking countryside, windmills and a monastery and old fashioned houses dotted all over a regular autumn landscape., while captive balloons and aeroplanes were above and the roads were crowded with transport limbers and battalions coming and going from the lines.’

 The soldiers were ‘plastered’ with mud but cheered King George and the Prince of Wales lustily and the review did not take long.

This letter contains snippets of detail about the fighting. Edwin tells his parents that two German planes were brought down; one pilot was killed and the other wounded and makes the rather quirky observation that the wounded German ‘did not get a   chance of enjoying the scenery.’ He recounts an anecdote about an especially lucky English soldier who had been nicknamed ‘the Mad Major’ because he never got hit despite being continually surrounded by bursting shrapnel and finds ‘our stay in the front trenches intensely interesting.’ It is all a world away from the first circle of hell as detailed in the war poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and has a distinct flavour of ‘what I did on my holidays’ Mr and Mrs Hasse will have been pleased to know that ‘Fortunately we had excellent weather for this time of the year which means no rain and no frost’ and if they had nursed qualms about life in the trenches, then Edwin quickly allays their fears:

‘One thing that came as an agreeable surprise was the state of the trenches. Far from being beds of stagnant slime we found our section fairly dry and possessing a good flooring of trench mats.’

 To call the Germans ‘the enemy’ is also something of a misnomer as far as Edwin is concerned and they are also rather ‘agreeable’:

‘Our friends in the trenches opposite behaved themselves nicely and did not worry us much for the simple reason that we, for several reasons, left them unmolested.’

Similarly, ‘the daily artillery strafe’ is perfectly bearable and ‘comes as a matter of course.’ Edwin’s parents will be relieved to know that:

‘Each side bangs away for half an hour or so once or twice a day but they really do little damage.’

 Edwin concludes; musing that perhaps too much of a song and a dance is made about the trials and tribulations of war. He admits that late autumn/winter weather is not the most desirable climate in which to embark upon life in a trench, but in his opinion, people whinge, whine and just make too much fuss about it:

‘It is not half as bad as it is made out to be.’

There is also too much moaning about the boredom of trench life because ‘in our case, we found it decidedly interesting.’ In Edwin’s view (with possibly a further gentle hint to his mother about the desirability of a food parcel) by far the downside of warfare is the quality of the food. He becomes quite squeamish:

‘But oh, the cooking! I shall never look a clean eating utensil square in the face again. We get plentiful rations in the trenches – twice as much jam as we want and more meat and potatoes than we need but the cooking is a ghastly mess as one is half dirty all the time all over.’

Yet having permitted himself this peevish moan, Edwin’s sunny optimism reasserts itself and he relives the delights of a thorough wash at the end of the day. It is as if he is detailing personal grooming rituals before a night out:

‘We have had an easy day after coming out of the trenches and have shaved, washed and got spruced up so  that we have got back some self respect and can look a clean officer in the face.’

Mrs Hasse is to understand that her son is still living by the  maxim that cleanliness is next to godliness and Edwin jokes that ‘as the ballad says, ‘We can still part our ‘air in the middle.’ As he signs off, the overall impression is that it is all an incredible jape and his parents are simply not to worry:

‘Everyone is wonderfully cheerful – that is not a ‘yarn.’

July 1951 sees Frank Hasse once more contacting The Fortyniner, ‘enclosing some further letters or extracts from letters written by my brother from Shorncliffe Camp.’ He also includes his yearly financial subscription money for the magazine. Frank was in the same battalion as Edwin and states that the letters ‘brought back many memories’. Frank’s collective recollection of the First World War  now that ‘old age is crowding’ will be very different from the youthful high jinks of Edwin as he waited excitedly to go to France  – and maybe the letters could be a consolation to other readers of the magazine who lost relatives  in the war that did  not ‘end all wars.’

Edwin begins by expressing his irritation at the frequency of troop reviews, now that their novelty value had worn off:

‘After standing waiting for nearly thee hours, I think reviews might very well be dispensed with in the present war!’

Yet there were compensations; such as rowing on the canal and here, Edwin’s eye for pictorial detail captures the scene:

‘Two of us went for a row last week on a canal nearby which runs from Sandgate to Rye, about 20 miles. It is at least seven feet deep in places and runs close along the shore. It was of course of great military value a hundred years ago, and was built as a support to the string of Martello towers.’

Everyone in Edwin’s battalion was eager to go to France and equally keen to stay together as a unit – so much so that ‘several who were getting commissions in English regiments have revoked in order to stay with the bunch.’ Waiting for the departure call was interminable and it was rumoured ‘that we are likely to sail in two or three weeks.’ In the meantime, minutes, hours and days were filled by further interminable troop reviews:

‘Everybody was mustered for the Kings’ review on Thursday, Kitchener and some other big wigs accompanied his Majesty so it looks as if the second contingent is considered a finished article shortly to be expected.’

 There were always some off duty distractions.  One of these was the surprise visit of ‘Lord George Sanger’s circus’ and Edwin’s expressed feelings about the circus are ambivalent because ‘they were a rather tough-looking bunch and I had considerable difficulty with a big husky fellow who kept nosing round a wagon on my beat. I threatened him with a bayonet at last but he calmly made a grab at it. He was not drunk but all the same I was glad when one of the circus men took him away. If I had given him a bun he would have been all right but I had forgotten the army regulations for elephants!’

The January 1965 edition of The Fortyniner contains a brief glimpse of Edwin’s war service at the battle front as a Scout. These were early days of battle, and in the words of another soldier it was ‘our first trip into the line on our own, on the Wulvergem front.’  The troop was inexperienced or ‘green’ and Major Weaver instructed L/Cpl Hasse’ (Edwin) who spoke German to shout across no-man’s land at night in an effort to encourage the German soldiers to come across and surrender. As prisoners of war, they would be treated with consideration and would be allowed to return to Germany when the war had ended. Edwin’s high spirits prevailed even on the battle field and he interpreted the instruction in his own unique way:

‘The British officer knew some German and Major Weaver said to him ‘What’s he saying?’ and got the reply, ‘He’s calling them all the dirty names he can lay his tongue to!’

Such reckless capers could have had disastrous results because ‘just then rifle grenades began to burst around them and our three retired from the scene with Major Weaver perhaps wondering exactly what had been shouted from the firing-step that night.’

It was a lucky escape – at that time.

During the course of his research into the Hasse family, Keith Oseman came across another set of letters written to Edwin’s parents. These were not from Edwin and are very different in tone to his breezy and uplifting accounts of the life and times of an army recruit. They are condolence letters, written by Edwin’s fellow soldiers on the occasion of his death and are intended to give what comfort they can to the grieving parents left behind in Derbyshire.

On 19th July 2016, Sergeant Leslie Parkinson writes about Edwin’s last scouting mission, stressing that the young soldier ‘considered it advisable to proceed alone so as to minimise the risk of being detected by the enemy.’ Edwin was reported missing the following evening and a search recovered his body. He had died of a wound to the head but Sergeant Parkinson is keen to assure the Hasses that he had ‘without doubt met his death instantaneously and without pain.’ Of course there was no guarantee that Edwin had died painlessly and his parents would be well aware of that but would deeply appreciate the kindness of the sergeant.

In his letter of 26th July 2016, Major Griesbach (a familiar name to Edwin’s parents because of the references to him in the letters they had received from their son) praises Edwin’s qualities:

‘He was steady, reliable and courageous and was highly respected by all.’ Commendation from such a source would be highly valued by Mr and Mrs Hasse, as would the information from Major Griesman that their son was ‘under observation for a Commission.’

Captain R. McNamara the battalion’s chaplain writes to the Hasse family from the trenches in Belgium. He is anxious to assure Mr Hasse (a Moravian clergyman) that Edwin ‘was given Christian burial.’ He looks at the loss from the perspective of a parent and stresses that Edwin and other soldiers who lost their lives had not died in vain:

‘We are all deeply shocked and grieved at the loss of these brave men but I can well understand what the loss means to their parents.’

The chaplain empathises with all the parents who have lost young men ‘on the thresholds of their young manhood’ and considers this to be ‘perhaps the greatest loss life can have,’ but asks those who mourn their children to remember that ‘they have given themselves to save the Empire and not only so but to save the very foundation of Christian civilization and the charter of small free nations.’ Edwin’s parents, in the freshness of their grief, would hardly have been giving thanks for the fact that although their son had died, the Empire was still intact, but in later years these words and others of a similar nature would have enabled them to remember Edwin with pride.

Lieutenant Martin S. Caine also writes to Mr and Mrs Hasse from Flanders and his letter reminds us that Frank who served in the same battalion as Edwin will have had the distressing duty of informing his parents ‘the news of his death and some of the circumstance in connection therewith.’ He evokes the sad scene at ‘a little cemetery’ to which Edwin was borne by his comrades and we can empathise with Frank (nicknamed ‘Reggie’) who was ‘present at this ceremony and will no doubt later on inform you of the exact location etc which I am nto permitted to here.’ The unvoiced thought of Mr and Mrs Hasse on reading that part of the letter must have been ‘If he gets home alive.’

A month later, Mr and Mrs Hasse were the recipients of a letter from Captain Frank S. Winser. Captain Winser learned about Edwin’s death from the sanctuary of a hospital bed in London and was clearly one of his closest friends. The two had participated in intelligence work together and they had served side by side ‘during the terrible fight on June 2-3 at Ypres.’ Captain Winser emphasises Edwin’s remarkable bravery, praising him as ‘one of the pluckiest and bravest of men’ whom he will miss ‘greatly’ upon his return to the front. The Hasses would have appreciated such praise from one of Edwin’s’ soldier friends and especially Captain Winser’s offer to meet up:

‘Am returning to London early next week and should you be near, should be very pleased to see you.’

We wonder if either parent made the journey from Derbyshire and took comfort in talking about their son with somebody who had shared his experiences and to whom he was more than a name of a list of casualties?

On 17th October, 1916, Major Weaver writes to the Hasses from France and they would surely have treasured this letter. He says:

‘I knew your fine boy very well and had known him ever since he joined us as it was I who set him on.’ 

Your son was a fine, brave soldier, loved by everybody and he would undoubtedly have risen in the service.

I am aware that nothing I can say can assuage your grief. But on my return I cannot help writing to tell you how much I feel the loss and miss him myself.’

Edwin has gone, but he has not been forgotten. It is a fine epitaph.

The final resting place of Edwin Hasse is the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground, situated two kilometres west of Zillebeke village. Burials began there in 2015 and continued until the Armistice. In the summer of 1917, a large number of them were obliterated by shell fire before they could be marked. It is not known whether or not Frank, Gerard or their parents visited the site to remember Edwin after the war had ended, but Fulneck School’s records contain a letter from Lewis St Aubin Hasse about the circumstances of his son’s death. The family clearly did derive comfort from the kind letters of condolence sent to them from soldiers in Edwin’s battalion and Mr Hasse quotes from one of them:

‘We his comrades of the Intelligence Section shall miss him greatly.’

In return, the school writes:

‘We are very grateful to the Rev. L. St. A. Hasse for sending us some details of his gallant son’s death.’

Edwin Hasse’s short life was lived at a breakneck pace. His wartime experience was brief but vivid and as his letters home reveal, the greatest adventure of all. Who is to say that despite its tragic end, he would not have missed it for the world? Certainly not his father whose concluding words to Fulneck School show that he has discovered a type of peace and a real understanding both of warfare and of his son:

‘I can only add that my son has had more than one and a half years of intense happiness among these noble fellows.’

 For Edwin, like Rupert Brooke, we feel it was enough.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *