Remembrance Sunday 2018 - The Profound Sympathy of a Stranger

The Roll of Honour in the south aisle lists the names of 135 men from Warmington who served in the Great War, including 25 who died.  The Reverend Flood, who was Vicar here for 37 years, paid for that beautiful framed list and presented it to the church in 1920, the same year the war memorial was unveiled.

Reverend Flood knew these men.  He had baptised many of them in the font at the back of the church.  He had married some of them.  He knew their families.

Included in the list is a 14-year-old who was amongst the first to enlist.  It includes some who were regular soldiers before the First World War began – one of those men was the first from Warmington to be killed – Albert Moisey – who died of wounds on 26th February 1915.

The Roll of Honour includes many men with the same family names which are familiar to us today in Warmington including Bosworth, Brudenell, Dexter, Garfield, Gilder, Martin, Upex.  There is something comforting to know that there’s a sense of continuation in Warmington.  The church looks very much as it did in 1918.  It’s a constant in the life of the village.  People come and go but this place of worship continues

The last of the Warmington men to die in 1918 and named on our war memorial is Harry Upex.  Harry, and his brother, John William Upex, enlisted in the Northamptonshire Regiment on the same day in July 1915.  They both disembarked in France in October 1915 and John William was killed in action exactly two years later.  Harry Upex married his sweetheart, Lizzie, on the 28th July 1918 and a few days later he went back to the Front.  He wrote Lizzie sweet, cheerful letters.  And then, on 31 August 1918, he was captured and was a prisoner of war.  Lizzie received cards and letters from him assuring her that all would now be well and he would be returning to her.  On the 2nd of November, his letter said this, ‘‘We will be pleased when it is all over won’t we, those are our good times to look forward to, and I think it won’t be very long now.’

Lizzie kept these letters and they’re now in the safekeeping of Steve and Sylvia Upex.  The little box of letters includes one from Captain Edwin Wesley Edwards of the 21st Canadian Battalion to Lizzie, dated 26th November 1918.  It tells Lizzie that Harry is in a civilian hospital in the little town of Spy, Belgium.  He ends with a PS which tells her that Harry died that evening and says, ‘You have the profound sympathy of a stranger, a Canadian’. 

I thought about Captain Edwards, his profound sympathy and his sensitively worded letter to Lizzie.  I decided to find out more about Captain Edwards and perhaps get in touch with his family to say Thank You.  Thanks to some helpful Canadians on the internet, I contacted Captain Edwards’ granddaughter, Ricki.  Remarkably, she and her husband have made the journey over from Toronto, Canada to be with us today.  Thank you, Ricki, and thank you to your grandfather who spent time at the hospital bedside of Harry Upex almost a hundred years ago.  He showed compassion to one of our Warmington men on his last day here on earth.  We thank your grandfather and we thank all those Warmington men who served.  We remember Harry, the other men named on the war memorial and all the men named on the Roll of Honour

Captain Edwards gave Lizzie words of comfort at probably the most heart breaking time of her life.  Those words also speak to us today.  This is his letter, read by Ricki

26.11.18

21st Canadian Battalion

France

Dear Mrs Upex

I am an officer in the above mentioned battalion and was before the war a clergyman in Canada.  Just this much by way of introduction.

My unit is resting in Spy, Belgium, today.  I heard about your dear husband who is lying in the civil hospital here.  I regret to say that I think I should tell you the truth, that he is very ill.  He was taken prisoner by the Huns and had to do a great deal of hard labour without proper food and shelter.  When the Huns retired from this town they left the prisoners to their fate.  The civilian hospital immediately provided for them and everything is being done that can be for them.  I had some conversation with the head French nurse and also your husband’s nurse.  They are very kind and good I can assure you.  I fear your husband has pneumonia and is now very weak.  I do not know his constitutional strength but one always has hope where there is life.  He is getting what food he can take and has need of nothing.  I wish I could tell you more.

One thing more I can tell.  He tried to talk about you and asked me if I thought he would be able to get home to you.  I asked him if he were trusting in Jesus Christ and he said “Yes” with great confidence so I am sure he is ready for death or for life.

Now you too must trust in the dear Saviour and as you have faced the loneliness and loss of war so far in His strength you will be able to continue.  I regret that I shall not be able to visit your husband again as we move on at an early hour in the morning.

Yours in the Great Service

E W Edwards Captain

Later.  I have to tell you your husband died this evening about 7 pm.  As I said my regiment is leaving Spy and I regret I have no information.  He was very weak when I saw him.  His struggles were not long continued.  You have the profound sympathy of a stranger, a Canadian who has a family of his own he has not seen for ever so long.  May God bless you.

REMEMBERING THEIR VISIT IN 2018, Ricki and Gord have sent the following message to all of us in Warmington:

Good morning to our Warmington friends,

It was just last year that Gord and I were asked to take part in your Remembrance Day service celebration for the centennial of World War 1.

Kathryn Baird began the search to find any relative of Captain Edwin Edwards of the 21st Battalion that was a Chaplain from Canada that had come into the hospital in Mons, Belgium to sit with Private Harry Upex, who was gravely ill. It was from this very short but meaningful visit that my grandfather wrote a letter home to Harry’s wife, Lizzie, sadly stating that her beloved husband would not be coming home to her. He also wrote again following hearing that Harry had died as he was moving his troops to the next destination that evening.

It was and remains a great honour to have had the privilege to read the letters to you on your Sunday service, which brought us together ever so briefly. Thank you to the family that found the box containing the letters and Private Harry’s medal in their attic.

To Sylvia and Steven Upex, who opened their home to us receiving us with friendly open arms. To Kathryn and Robert, who have also become part of our family.  We are truly blessed to have this friendship across the waters.

We were so sorry that our time was short lived and we didn’t get to have a longer visit with Warmington community at the time.

As Gord and I sit with our church’s Remembrance Day service we will be reflecting back to sitting in Warmington with all the home made poppies, the bells ringing and the invisible soldier sitting in front of us that day. We were truly moved.

Listening to all the work of tributes and displays that Kathryn did on the historical research of all the fallen from Warmington and to the ones that made it home to their families. 

We were so honoured to place a wreath for all the Commonwealth countries that also lost their lives in what they believed in. 

To be part of the Warmington family for Gord and I placing around the Memorial Monument a cross with a loved ones name written on it meant so much to us.

We so hope to reconnect with Warmington on a visit, but know our home is always open to you if you cross the waters to Canada.

Best wishes and a warm heart,

Ricki and Gord

November 11, 2019


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