WW1 - Stanley Messenger correspondence

Commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of The First World War


2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of WW1, a conflict which was to last for four years and which devastated many communities across the world. It is estimated that there were 9.7 million military deaths with a further 21.2 million wounded. But that was not all - there were also approximately 0.95 million civilian deaths as a result of direct military action with another 6 million dying as a result of disease or famine.

However, the statistics do not even begin to tell the story of the effect that the extent of this war had on families on both sides of the conflict. While many serving men may have survived the war, a sizeable proportion could either never work again or would be limited in what they could do. Some died only a few years later and are not reflected in the recorded number of deaths.


One of Angmering's sad casualties, Stanley Messenger, wrote postcards from the Front to his mother who lived at Roundstone House in Old Worthing Road. After his death, his mother wrote numerous letters trying in vain to find his burial location. We are most grateful for his great-nephew, the Rev'd Canon Christopher Simmons, for transcribing this correspondence and allowing us to publish these extracts which are of a significant historical interest. As such, they will also be lodged with the West Sussex Record Office.

While the postcards reflect other personal accounts that have been written of the conditions of troops at the Front, Stanley’s show a view and style expressed by an educated person and, as the realities of war eventually sunk in, they perhaps suggest that comradeship somewhat eroded class differences. The poignancy increases as his mother, Marion, tries to come to terms with the death of her son and endeavours in vain to trace the location of Stanley’s burial.

Related Links

1914-1918 Centenary - Angmering's Fallen
1914-1918 Centenary - Angmering's Survivors
1914-1918 Centenary - A View from Home
Angmering War Memorial

Neil Rogers-Davis
Editor, Angmering Village Life


Stanley Messenger, who is among those commemorated on the War Memorial at Angmering, Sussex, was the second son of Henry Williams Messenger and his wife Marion (nee Maitland.) He was killed in action during the battle of the Somme. His name also appears on memorials in Hampstead, where he grew up, and at Thiepval.

In August 1914 Henry and Marion Messenger had moved from Hampstead to live in retirement at Roundstone House as tenants of the Warren family. Although Stanley never lived there, it is evident that his parents’ residence in the parish was considered sufficient qualification for his inclusion on the memorial.

The three Messenger sons, Henry Leslie (my maternal grandfather), Stanley and John Kenneth all served in the army during the Great War. Leslie and Kenneth survived. Their lives thereafter took them in very different directions.

Christopher Simmons
Great-nephew of Stanley Messenger


Before the outbreak of war, Stanley Messenger (30 December 1889-15 July 1916) worked in the Great Tower Street offices of Harrisons and Crosthwaite, tea and rubber importers. In August 1914, with six others from the firm, he enlisted as a private in the 10th (City of London) Fusiliers. The battalion was sent to France in July 1915 and was engaged in the trench warfare campaign that reached its climax in the Battle of the Somme. He was killed by machine gun fire while tending a fallen friend (Lance Corporal Leslie Riches) who also died, in the unsuccessful attack on Pozieres, a village on the road between Albert and Bapaume.

His year in France is documented in the letters and cards he sent to his mother about once a week. Fifty-five items survive, the first being written while he was on the train to Folkestone before crossing the channel and the last on the day before he died.


After his death, his mother exchanged correspondence with former comrades and their families in an effort to discover exactly how and where Stanley died, and where he might be buried. Although the circumstances of his death are fairly clear, he has no known grave. The most likely place, after an immediate battlefield interment, would seem to be the British Military Cemetery at Pozieres, which is within a few hundred metres of the point at which he and many other members of the 10th Fusiliers died.

When Marion Messenger died in 1932 both groups of letters passed to her eldest son, Leslie; and on his death in 1975 to my mother, Margaret Simmons (nee Messenger). On 30 January 2014 they came into my possession, bundled together with this covering note:

"Roundstone, Angmering, Sussex

I should like this packet of letters from our dear second son Stanley Messenger to be kept for ever in the family & to be handed down from one generation to another, so that it may never be forgotten he died for his country & for his friend in the Great War, on July 15th 1916.
Marion Messenger. To H.L.M."


Sunday 1/8/15
No. 468 5th Platoon B. Coy 10th Bn R.F. 37th Division Brit. Exped. Force France
My dear Mother,
We crossed over the water Friday night arriving at [censored] about midnight & came on next morning by train to a village not very far from the firing line. We can just see the flash of the guns from the farm in which we are billeted … Have nothing special to mention yet. We have not even seen an enemy aeroplane. We have got a rare selection of live stock in this farm & had about 100 fowls in our barn which needless to say woke us up in the early hours. Am very fit and well. Hope you both are. Love from Stanley

Monday 13th Sept 1915
… We were up in the fire trenches for a week & are now back in the reserve & have done nothing but digging etc since we came back – that’s why I missed writing yesterday. We quite enjoyed the week except for the difficulty in getting food. The weather was glorious. I should be glad if, when you send me the next parcel you would include 1 toothbrush, 1 shaving brush (badger hair) about 3/6 – 4/6, 1 Vinolia shaving soap, half dozen Gilette shaving Razor Blades, 2 prs bootlaces & 2 handkerchiefs & make a note of all these expenses & get a refund of them (as I suggested) together with what I have had already from Les. Please excuse briefness this time as we have a lot to do. Am quite fit & hope you both are. Love from Stanley. P.S. … You should be seeing 10th casualties from time to time in the papers as we have had quite a few. Please keep any news I give you strictly to yourself – there has been a hell of a row here about leakage of information.

4th October 1915 Monday
… We have had a pretty rough six days in the matter of weather - the first three days were wet at nights & the trenches became a sea of mud – this causes great inconvenience in bringing up the supplies through the communicating trenches – you spend most of the time trying to keep on your feet & get into an awful mess. Then it has turned very cold & we have had frost the last 2 nights making sentry work most troublesome. I went out with a small party for the first time on Friday working between the lines & was out about 2 hours. They are about 400 yards apart here. … When not in the trenches I act as barber for 2 platoons & the Company officers - about 80-100 men & in exchange I get let off a number of rotten fatigues & sentry guards. It’s the “goods” & quite a clean job because I use hair clippers of which I have 2 pairs & you can do the job without touching the men’s heads.

Sunday 17th October 1915
… Yesterday afternoon we had some football which was preceded by a match of 20 minutes between the senior officers of our battalion against staff officers of our brigade – it was most laughable to see our colonel playing goalkeeper. He said he had not played a game since ’76! … A chap had some eggs sent from Guernsey the other day which came in five days unbroken – but I don’t think it is worth while sending from England. However they are terribly scarce in this district which is as far as from Hampstead to Pinner south of an important place of five letters beginning with the first of the alphabet.

… It has been very cold lately & we have had two or three days snow but we manage to keep warm somehow & we have got everything in the way of clothing to enable us to do so. … If you can find time I should like another parcel of eatables – how about some Swiss Roll – cake (if possible different from the last which was rather stale on arrival & I should think something more of the Genoa sort of cake would travel better) & any sort of sweetmeats – preserved ginger & ginger nut biscuits. A very good way of sending things is in a large Huntley & Palmers large biscuit box (tin). You can get one for 8d. I believe the postage is 1/7d.

24/12/15 (Written left-handed)
… I’m very sorry not to have been able to write before, but the position is this – we had twelve very rough days in the trenches & got into an awful mess with mud & water well over the knees & eventually had to work in 24 hour shifts. ... When we were out during the last 24 hours I incurred a poisoned hand which has given me a lot of trouble for a week & I have until today been unable to do anything in the way of work. At last we have with the aid of rotten medical attention got the last of the germs out of it & I think it should go on all right now – apart from my hand I have been perfectly fit & well all the time. You can see which one it is from the writing. … It does not seem much like Xmas Eve just now but we are all quite merry & bright & are getting a spread tomorrow afternoon.

In Reserve Sunday 16/1/16
…A night or two before we came back into reserve a bombing attack was made by my company bombers in which I am sorry to say I lost one of my best pals while he was cutting the German wire – a few yards from their trenches. Besides rifle shots two bombs were thrown when the enemy scented danger – the first one landed on top of my pal but thank goodness did not explode, the next went off some yards away & inflicted two scalp wounds which have since proved to be not of a very serious nature. I do not know for certain but I believe he has been sent to England – I hope so at any rate as I am certain you get a better time at home than in France in the way of hospitals. If you watch the Casualty Lists you will probably see his name (Lce Cpl. J.L.Riches) one of these days. I have only known him for about five months, lives at Brighton (at least his people do) & knows your district quite well. I am most sorry that he has gone as I find that the men I care to make friends of in this crowd are few & far between. Of course you can understand this as you know how fastidious I am about having the best of everything even down to a shaving brush & now I find the trait extends even up to humanity itself.

2nd February 1916
…We have just had another go at the trenches. The rain seems to be giving us a miss for the time being & we are getting them a bit more like what they used to be. The rats are about the limit – like kittens & of course they practically take the food out of your hands in the winter. I spent a good deal of time strafing them & have killed quite a number with the rifle. January has been wonderfully mild & lately we have had one or two days just like spring.

8th March 1916
It looks as if my leave would come off about a fortnight later than I anticipated – judging by the date that leave is being resumed. At any rate it looks as if we should be away back in reserve some miles when I get it – as rumour has it that we are going back for a rest in under three weeks. It will be very welcome as we have now been working in the firing line for nearly seven months & this last place is very hard work. I should not think any battalion could stick three months under these conditions. Snow is still falling from day to day which of course makes tremendous work in the trenches. They have to be pumped out dry every time the snow thaws & then of course the walls are always falling in in these badly finished French trenches. … Do you know that you can send parcels over 7lbs by sending them via Southampton by goods train. Will you include 2 Tommy Cooker Refills in this parcel if possible, they cost 2 francs each out here & it is practically impossible to get one now – they are most useful for cooking in the trenches & are a sort of composition of Meth.Spirit. A good piece of cooked ham would be “the goods” if you could send it also kippers as well as some rich cake. … The other men continually receive parcels so it is rather awkward to be sharing their stuff without having any to offer in return.

24th April 1916
On Good Friday we marched up to another village about 4 miles from the trenches almost behind the part we were holding before we came back to rest. We are up here, I think, for about a fortnight’s digging & then we may get some more rest. This place is alive with rats – much worse than in the trenches – and usually there are three or four running about one’s bed throughout the night! Before we left the last place we had some battalion sports which made quite an enjoyable day - some Indians 2nd Bengal Lancers took part in some of the races which was most interesting – one Indian who won the mile race could run 6 miles in 36 minutes! Needless to say he beat our own men easily. The mile race was a good one – most of them galloped like horses.

14th May 1916
… I am sorry to say that our losses in the bombardment which I mentioned last time were heavier than we at first knew & with only one spell in these trenches we have already more killed than the people had during the winter campaign holding this point. It is a mystery how none was hit in our platoon as they opened on our part of the trenches & we had a lot of big shrapnel bursting over us all the time. After it was over we picked up a hatfull of shell splinters within a few yards. We have had several letters of congratulation praising the battalion’s splendid exhibition of courage & bravery etc etc during the onslaught. Personally I am very glad to have been through this intense bombardment as I feel as others do, much more confidence. ... They don’t shell the village much, possibly because they have spies in the shape of natives living here. It is wonderful that you can walk into a French estaminet under two miles from the enemy – also to see the ploughing which is carried on almost up to the firing line.

7th June 1916 (London postmark - sender unidentified)
Berles au Bois opposite Monchy au Bois Sth of Arras. Stanley is quite fit & well.

25th June 1916
Thanks very much for your letter of the 19th inst. I think the article from the Times is quite a good representation of the sort of country & conditions that we are living in & not at all “overwritten.” Things are livening up here considerably & they have cleared the village of the inhabitants which is annoying as it stops our supply of eggs, butter & so on. We still have the canteen however. I should not be surprised if something does not come off within the next week or two. Don’t worry yourself however. Personally I have never been more optimistic about one’s chances of getting through this war unscratched with ordinary luck. I was out with 3 others in “no man’s land” the other night on patrol for about an hour and a half. About half way through it came on to rain cats & dogs & we had to return by a shorter cut which we thought we knew. Unfortunately we found ourselves out of the reckoning & got hopelessly entangled in the wire. I also distinguished myself by falling into a shell hole & got up to my eyes in mud. We got back like drowned rats. They are bombarding as I write – there is a battery just behind my billet which makes it rock every time it fires. … If you can get hold of a map you will see a place opposite the village – the name of which you have – beginning with the same letter as our surname. This place will probably be mentioned more often than ours.

14/7/16 (Standard issue Field Service post card)
I am quite well. I have received your letter dated 7/7/16. Letter follows at first opportunity. Albert.


B.E.F. August 11 1916
Dear Mrs Messenger
I received your letter in the front line trenches last week & have been unable to reply to it till now. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that both Stanley & Riches were killed instantly & that neither of them suffered the slightest pain. Although the Battalion has been doing regular periods in the trenches since last August, & has executed sundry trench raids, it was the first time we had “been over the parapet”. The attack commenced at 11 o’clock in the morning & Stanley must have been hit only a few minutes after that hour. I think it is quite possible that the Authorities will forward you the contents of his pockets. When we saw him on the night of the 15th the ground was still under heavy machine gun fire. We were so busily occupied with the wounded lying about, that we forgot to take his wrist watch etc. to send to you, a thing which I have regretted ever since. Mrs Riches’ address is Glenholme, 47 Florence Road, Preston Park, Brighton. If there is anything else you would like to know, or anything I can do for you, please do not hesitate to write me. We miss Stanley & the old fellows very much indeed, & I wish with all my heart that they were still with us.
I remain, yours very sincerely,
Kenneth Bromfield (STK 343 Lance/Cpl)

B.E.F. Wednesday 13 Sept. 1916
… The week commencing June 25 was an exciting week for us. On Tuesday afternoon the 27th we discharged gas from our lines, and on Thursday morning we made an extensive raid on the enemy’s trenches. On Friday night we made another raid, & on Saturday morning, July 1, when the Somme Push commenced, we heavily bombarded the Germans & gave them another dose of gas. In each & every case when we raided trenches or discharged gas, we were heavily shelled by the Huns & altogether had quite an exciting week. On Monday July 3, we were suddenly & quite unexpectedly taken out of that point of the line & were rushed in Motor Lorries to the area of the Big Push. We had our first taste of the warfare in this part on Friday the 7th when we spent all night carrying up hundreds of bombs to the support trenches. Incidentally we were amazed by the wonderful advance our troops had already made, the more so having regard to the enormously strong position the Germans held at this point. And we were sickened by the terrible sights we saw. On Sunday evening, July 9th, we went up to the trenches to hold a position of the line. We had a pretty rough time even on the way up & lost some men. We went in the 3rd line that night, moved up to the 2nd on Monday night & into the firing line on Tuesday morning. All the time we were in the trenches our guns never ceased thundering away, so that rest was practically out of the question; we were shelled heavily by the Germans, & lost many very fine fellows. We went back to the Reserve trenches on Wednesday evening & had a pretty easy time till Saturday morning, when we went over. We all had an idea all the time that we should be called upon “to give a show” as attacking is termed, but I don’t think it worried any of us very much. I feel pretty certain it didn’t worry Stanley. You see, we had been together so long that I believe we would have willingly gone into the thickest fighting provided we were “all in it.” I well remember the night of the 14th. We were all sleeping together in a captured German Dugout, & under the circumstances were exceptionally merry, having just received numerous letters & parcels from home, which of course are always cheering. It was 9 o’c Saturday morning we were told that we were to attack. I can assure you Mrs Messenger that if any man was disheartened by the news, he was a rare exception. All the fellows I know, & I know nearly all, were determined to do their best, & did not worry about the consequences. I really don’t think the attack can be said to have been a success. I believe the machine gun fire was much heavier than the authorities anticipated. It was terriffic. (sic) The noise of a rifle bullett (sic) is infinitesimal compared with the explosion of a shell, but on this occasion one could not hear oneself speak for the noise of the machine guns. Of course it is quite possible that had not Stanley gone to Riches’ assistance he would have come through alright, but rather improbable I think. There was only one man in his section left, & only a few in the whole platoon that were not casualties. And those that are left consider their escape nothing less than marvellous. No, I was not with him in the adventure in No Man’s Land which you mention, but I remember that he volunteered for patrol work ever so many times before the advance, & had several exciting adventures. In fact we all knew him to be a good soldier who did his duty exceptionally well: his unselfishness was a bye-word in the Platoon. Personally speaking I never met a man who did so much for others. In the tightest corner, I firmly believe he would have given away the last biscuit in his Emergency Rations. …
I remain, Yours very sincerely,
Kenneth Bromfield L/Cpl STK/343

B.E.F. Saturday 4 Nov. 1916
… The Battalion was withdrawn from the line the night of the 15th, so I cannot say whether Stanley & Riches were buried together or not, but I think it is practically certain they are in the same grave, most probably with other soldiers too…
I remain, Yours very sincerely, Kenneth Bromfield.

Roundstone House, Angmering, Sussex, England June 28th /17
Dear Mr Bromfield
I am anxious to hear from you but quite understand how difficult it must be for you to write. I wonder if you received my letter of March 19th asking you at the request of Lieut. Riches if you could tell us the exact spot where dear Stanley & Leslie Riches, were buried. It will soon be a year since that sad day, July 15th. I have no doubt you will remember the anniversary. I feel very afraid sometimes that something has happened to you although we have not yet seen your name in the lists of R. Fus.
Hoping for a few lines soon with good news, I remain,
Yrs very sincerely
Marion Messenger

Returned marked “Died of Wounds”

82 Wellington Road Holloway N7 Aug 16/17
Dear Mrs Messenger
I thank you very much for the letter of sympathy received from you a few days since. Of course I have heard of you from my son, indeed I have several of your letters, that he sent me to keep for him. His death is a great grief to me, rendered all the more poignant by the fact that we had a month of terrible anxiety before we could learn any news of him, and even now we know very little. His letters stopped suddenly, three weeks later we heard of a man in the 10th who was home wounded, and acquaintance of another son. He at once went to see him, and he said that Kenneth was shot in the arm on Apl 11th, sent to the base, and he made sure he had reached England. My husband then went to the Record Office at Houslow, but they had no information at all. A week later my son went to the Casualty Clearing House in Aldwych and was told that he had died in an Ambulance. He got the number of the Ambulance, and wrote to the CO, and got a reply that he “was received in an extremely grave condition suffering from shock, and died very soon.” It is all a mystery, as his friends in the 10th say that he was shot in the arm, bound up the wound himself, and they had no idea it was serious. The only survivor of the 7 who joined together from H&C is Mr O.H.Apted, (my son’s great friend) who was wounded the day your boy was killed, and is only just convalescent. I had a letter from him a few weeks since, he was then at his home Doods Brow, Reigate, Surrey, but I do not know if he is still there. I know that my boy had a great shock that day, losing nearly all his friends, and he has never been the same since. I believe he knew that he would be killed eventually. He had just applied for a Commission. We have two other sons in the HAC, both have been on a draft, even had their draft leave, but neither have gone overseas yet. One was gassed in Richmond Park last September, and has been an invalid ever since, the other has been made a Physical Instructor. I believe you have at least one other in the Army. I trust he will be spared to you.
With best regards I remain, Yours very sincerely,
M S Bromfield

Doods Brow Reigate 1st September 1917
Dear Mrs Messenger
I am only too pleased to help you or do anything I can to enable you to find the resting place of such a true friend as “Messy” was. As I had no map with me at the time, I am unfortunately unable to tell you exactly where we went over the top, but from the enclosed map of my brother’s I have indicated by shading where I think the engagement took place. I was the next man but one from the right of the battalion, Stanley being away on my left & we finished up at a trench before Pozieres where the trench crosses the road from Contalmaison by the chalkpits to Pozieres. We were to the left of this road during the whole action – only meeting it at the trench to which I refer. Anybody knowing the district, by means of the chalkpits or quarry will know whether it is to the left of the mettalled (sic) or the unmettled (sic) road, but unfortunately this pit is not marked on the map, so I cannot be certain myself. The trench I mention, I should say crosses the sunken road about two or three hundred yards beyond the pit – between the pit & Pozieres. I should imagine that the trench from which we started, after crossing the la Boisselle-Contalmaison road to where we finished up was over half a mile. I often think of “Messy” & his cheerfulness in the very worst of conditions, & I realize fully the important part he played in keeping up the spirits of the platoon. Trusting what I have told you will be of some help – I only wish I could be more definite – but if there is anything else I can do – it will be a real pleasure to do so. I have been back at H&C for the past three months now & except for not being able to walk far I feel very little of my wound.
With kind regards. Yours sincerely,

Pencil draft
Dear Mrs Ambrose
Although personally unknown to you I think you may have heard of me from your brother Lt A D Riches. I am anxious to know if you have good news of him. I heard from him last on March 31st just an Official P.S. acknowledging my letter of March 19th He had written to me a few days before asking me if I could find out from any of the 10th Royal Fusiliers men the name of the place where they went into action on July 15/’16 & the name of the village they captured as he wished to trace the graves of his brother Leslie & my son Stanley as he thought was quite near to the spot where they fell. I could We now know the village was Pozieres & I have an exact a very desc of the surroundings from the sole survivor Mr O H Apted of my son’s the section to which my son & your brother belonged. Lt A D Riches gave me the following address & I wrote again to him on Aug 24th & have no reply but neither has my letter been returned.

21 Culmstock Rd Clapham Common S.W.11 Sept 26th 1917
Dear Mrs Messenger
Thank you so much for your letter. My brother has written me quite recently, & his address you sent to me is quite correct. No.3 Section, No.13 Balloon Co. R.F.C. B.E.F. I cannot understand your letter of August being still unanswered by my brother & can only conclude that it has not reached him. He was most anxious, if possible, to trace the graves of our dear & brave boys , & told me himself that all trace of them seemed lost. All he found was a Cross to the memory of the brave lads of the 10th Royal Fusiliers. He then gave up the quest of finding the separate graves of your son & my brother, as it seemed hopeless to proceed any further, France being in some parts just a huge Cemetery. My brother A.D.Riches will be most interested to read your letter, & I am sure will be most grateful for your thought in sending us on the news your letter contained. I have written him & I feel sure you will hear from him giving you the particulars of his search.
Believe me I remain Yours sincerely
Ruby K. Ambrose

British Red Cross and Order of St John - Enquiry Department for Wounded and Missing
18 Carlton House Terrace SW1

Dear Madam
Our Graves Dept will do its best to trace your son’s grave. We think you may care to have this General Account of the action in which he died. Contalmaison & Pozieres are close together, NE of Arras.
With sincere sympathy, Yrs truly
GGB for the Earl of Lucan.

10th Royal Fusiliers. July 15 1916.
Our reports state that on July 15 the 10th Royal Fusiliers advanced on Pozieres N.E. of Albert. One soldier says:- “We made a double attack. We started first at 9.30 a.m. and advanced 1000 yards under machine gun fire, stopping at 1 p.m. at 6 p.m. we went over again and advanced another 100 yards, holding the ground until we were relieved the same night.” Other informants say that both the attacks on the village of Pozieres failed, but that the Battalion took and held the road on the outskirts, and also an orchard, “just outside where the village had stood.” Several accounts mention the “barrage and enfilade machine gun fire” through which men had to pass on the way to the Dressing Station at Chalk Pits.

Pencil draft
Dear Sir
Very many thanks for your letter of 19th inst. enclosing General Account of the action in which our son died also thank you for your kind sympathy. I heard from one of his comrades that their part of the battalion went into action at 11 a.m. on July 15/16, so that my son & his friend were killed a few minutes after that hour. He / The account from [one?] comrade’s letter was as follows / further said We found them both later that night. Stanley was bending over his friend & had been killed by a bullet in the neck.” As what remained of the 5th Platoon was withdrawn from that part of the line the same night he never knew exactly where the two friends were buried. Their families so hope that if the spot can be is found a small memorial stone could be placed there recording the manner of their heroic death. My son was killed through rushing to help his friend Riches who had been hit a few yards after going “over the top”.
Yrs sincerely
M. Messenger

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