A Folkestone (ish) In a Perfect World, would have been a Love Story

An American boy meets an English girl. He is a few years older and he sweeps her off her feet. A few weeks after he arrives in England they marry. It is now for them a perfect world. Nothing else matters they are young and so much in love. Love that they hoped would last for their forever.

It is straight out of an Imperial Romance novel, it captures everything belief,love, and romance. A belief in a just cause, love between two people, the romance of a wartime encounter.

He was an American, 25 years old and lived in Cleveland, Ohio. The “Buckeye State”, The British Empire was now at War with Imperial Germany. The British had gone to the aid of plucky little Belgium. The cause was good, just and right. So he left his home and enlisted in Canada. In many ways he was just what the Empire was looking for. Ex-US Army he had seen service, a trained soldier. The Empire, of which he now was a part, was sending troops as fast as they could to Britain. He was sent to Salisbury plain. possible on leave, or an a day pass, he met his English Rose in London.

She sees in him the romance of America, a real American from the West. All American heroes are from the American West. Sent by the Empire to save her from the Hun. He would save her, the King, and the Empire. Together they would sail away to their new home in the sun. A perfect world in the midst of a tragic one. They married in Hampstead in December 1914.(1)

In a book there would be a moment of tragedy, the hero would get killed performing a deed of unquestioning valour and glory. Death in his moment of triumph. Glory for King, Empire and his young English wife. She would spend her days in black. Weeping for the loss of her forever love. They would be immortalized and remembered for ever.

In this story the hero does indeed go to France, and dies in a hail of bullets. But it is not a perfect story in a perfect world. It is at times dark, evil, and sickening time.  First to name the hero and heroine. He is Freddie, she is May Alexandra, together they are the Arnold’s.

Freddie, did live in Cleveland USA with his mom. He did serve in the US Army. He also did enlist in the 1st Battery of the Artillery Brigade of the Canadian (Overseas) Expeditionary Force, as a Gunner/Bombardier in 1914. Being in the first contingent it is known he was on Salisbury Plain. After their marriage in December 1914 their address was 100 Risborough Road, Bayswater, London. Freddie did die in a hail of bullets in Belgium. He was shot by firing squad in Boulogne.(2)  Possibly the only American citizen executed by the British Army in the First World War. Between February 1915 and January 1916 Freddie had been admitted to hospital on two occasions as being sick, and once for shell shock. The third stay in hospital was from the 2nd January until the 22nd of May. On discharge he was posted to the Marlborough Details Camp. From here he went absent on the 5th June 1916. Possibly on the 7th June, or maybe on the 27th June Arnold was caught in civilian clothes. He had deserted. Freddie would be tried by Field General Courts Martial on the 5th July 1916. There never is a good time for a deserter to be recaptured. In a perfect world he would not have been tried four days after the start of the Somme offensive. That and to be captured and tried by the British. Freddie ad May’s perfect world was now disappearing With over 19,000 dead on the first day the British were not going to show any mercy. Freddie was executed on the 27th July 1916 at Le Portel.

Life was to become even more cruel. This was not a perfect world. Freddie’s Mom received a letter from the Canadian Record Office.

Madam:-

With deep regret, I have the honour to inform you that a report has been received to the effect that the soldier marginally noted was tried by Field-Martial at Boulogne, France, on the 5th of July, 1916, on the charge of “When on active service deserting His Majesty’s Service” and was sentenced by the court to suffer death by being shot”. The sentence was duly carried out at 4:37 a.m. on the 25th July 1916.

I have the honour to be…”

May had moved to Folkestone by this time and lived at 4 Radnor Park Crescent. Why did May moved to Folkestone? No idea. It might have been to be closer to her husband. Perhaps she had plans to try and get to Boulogne. May might have come from Folkestone. She, for whatever reason, had decided that Folkestone was the place to be. After Freddie had been discharged from the Army  May moved again. This time to number 19 Bouverie Road East. It seems life might settle down in Folkestone. The war was still going on it was now ten months since her husband was executed. Grief never truly ends, it get slightly easier with the passing of time. Ten months had gone by it was not a perfect world but…

That but was to arrive on the 25th May 1917. A German Gotha bomber had dropped a bomb on Tontine Street in Folkestone dozens had died. Another Gotha had dropped a bomb on 19 Bouverie Road East May was seriously injured by this bomb. The medically people in Folkestone were overwhelmed by the Tontine Street explosion and couldn’t cope. May was rushed to Moore Barracks Hospital Shorncliffe. It was here that May died.

Opposite the War Memorial in Folkestone on the cliff top there is a little sign on the railings. This is what it says:-

“After WW1, Folkestone wanted to record the names of its dead and details were requested from relatives. Mrs Butcher replied, believing her son had been killed in action. She received a Municipal Certificate of Glory and his name was inscribed on Folkestone’s War Memorial. I fact private Frederic Butcher of the East Kent Regiment  refused to go over the top he was tried by Court Martial. On 27th August 1918 he was shot by a firing squad. Probably his mother never realised how he died. It may not have been unique for a disgraced soldier to be included on a War Memorial but it was very rare. Today those wronged men have now been given a full pardon and their names are now recorded alongside those of their comrades.”

Crossing over to the War Memorial there is Private F Butcher’s name with his comrades. His name has been there since the memorial panel was inscribed in the early 1920s.

Freddie’s name, the wife of May of 4 Radnor Park Crescent and, on her death in 1917, of 19 Bouverie Road East Folkestone, is not there.

May is not commemorated by name in Folkestone either

(Freddie) C/40124 Bombardier Frederick Stanley Arnold, Canadian Field Artillery is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery.(6)

May Alexandra Arnold is buried in Shorncliffe Military Cemetery.

Sitting at May’s graveside today, chatting away, as you do. Gazing at the other graves it was tempting to be sad and tearful. Then I realised May and Frederick had, in a world of terror death and destruction, had had their day in the sun. May had died so young, 21 years old. Just though, a hundred years ago, fleetingly,  they had found their perfect world.

 

Sources.

  1. Free BDM UK web site
  2. Service Record
  3. Details from, For Freedom and Honour, by A.B. Godefroy
  4. Shot at Dawn, by Julian, Putkowski and Julian Sykes
  5. May Alexandra Arnold Gravestone Shorncliffe Military Cemetery
  6. CWGC web site
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3 thoughts on “A Folkestone (ish) In a Perfect World, would have been a Love Story

  1. Jessica Dromgoole

    I can add a few more details. May married Frederick on the same day and at the same registry office as her sister Harriet married Claude Crombie, another Canadian soldier (a quartermaster). She would have moved to Folkestone to be near them, and possibly to help care for their son Eric. It is Claude who finds her dying in the wreckage of her cafe in Bouverie Road East, and who then identifies her body when she dies.

    Margaret Care, a descendent of Stokes the Greengrocers’ family, is unveiling a plaque to all the dead, including May Arnold, on 25 May, 2017.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. flanders1914 Post author

      Thank you, Jessica, I appreciate your reply. Added knowledge is a welcome thing. I’m pleased Margaret Care is going to unveil a plaque. Curious to know who will be included on the list of names. I will not be at the unveiling because it is a local event. I live in Folkestone but am not local to Folkestone. I’m also anti-socail do not like being in a crowd. Looking for someone to help edit my next book though Damian Collins has said he would write the introduction. Thanks again. Peter.

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      Reply

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