Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see…
That suicide is painless
This the long awaited suicide blog. The blogs are about The Great War, not about me. At a rough guess I should be able to write at least another two thousand blogs on the Great War, so I apologise if a) I scared you, or b) You were looking forward to my early demise. Suicide was as it is now not uncommon. I have always believed that if life can not get any worse it must, by definition, get better. Apart from which I want a telegram from someone on my 100th birthday. So for me there is no reason. There follows the story of two suicides. One, the first happened during the war, the other because of the war. The first a soldier is not commemorated on any memorial, apart from his Imperial (now commonwealth) War Graves headstone, the other an American National hero. One ignored, the other feted.
Private M1/5741 John “Jack” Johnstone, committed suicide on the 7th July 1916. Why it is hard to even guess a reason. Perhaps it was because of the date, he killed himself soon after the opening of the Battle of the Somme. Jack was only 21 he had his life in front of him. He was born in Grantown-on-Spey, the son of Jessie and the Reverend J Johnstone of St James’s Manse Kirkcaldy. At the time of his enlistment circa 26th October 1914 Jack was a resident of London, I think he had travelled to Rifridlo in Italy to visit his mother and enlisted while there. He was awarded the 1914 Star, British War and the Victory Medal. In 1920 we know his mother applied for the 1914 Star. Therefore we are fairly safe in an assumption that his mum at least was proud of him. Sadly Private M1/5741 John “Jack” Johnstone is not commemorated on any local war memorial. A sign of the times? We don’t know, but when the names are read out as they surely well be over the next four years, he will be ignored. Not for him and others like him, is there a campaign to get the forgotten suicides of the Great War commemorated. He was not shot at dawn, in the Chinese Labour Corps, mixed race, coloured, played football, or a national hero such as Colonel Charles W. Whittlesey.
Charles Whittlesey was the commander of the 1st Battalion, 308th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division of the United States Army, the “Lost” Battalion. During the First Meuse Argonne offensive Whittlesey and his battalion had already been isolated and had to be rescued. On the 2nd October 1918 they were going to be cut off again. After successfully breaking through a line of German defenders during an attack across a ravine the 1st Battalion found themselves surrounded. In an area of roughly 75 yards by 350 yards (I work in real money, you can convert it into metric if you wish) they fought off machine guns, shock troops, flamethrowers rifles and mortars. On the 5th October they were shelled by French Artillery. It never crossed Whittleseys mind to surrender, the Lost Battalion fought on. Finally on the evening of the 7th October lead elements of the 77th Division broke through. 191 men of Whittlesey’s Battalion walked out, another 479 were dead or seriously wounded. A legend was born. The reality was that nothing had been achieved by the Battalion and the death toll played on Whittlesey’s mind. He was given a field promotion and awarded the Medal of Honor. At the funeral of the American unknown soldier he was one of the pallbearers. An American hero. Everywhere he went he was asked about the Lost Battalion. Before joining a ship bound for Cuba he confessed to a friend he could no longer bear it. On the 26th November 1921 he jumped overboard. His body was never found.
Charles, and the lost battalion, unlike Jack will not be forgotten.