As a boy, Grenville Scoulding thought of his grandmother as an eccentric old lady.
He recalls Maria Scoulding walking about Fornham All Saints, bent over, with a shoulder bag that allegedly held all her money. Her cottage was unmodernised, with a dirt floor, well and no electricity.
But a box of memorabilia of his late grandfather, Pte Samuel Scoulding, led him to discover the anguish she suffered in World War One that impacted on her entire life.
Grenville, 67, from Bury St Edmunds, was intrigued by Samuel’s death plaque, often called a ‘death penny’, and took it to the Suffolk Regiment Museum to ask what it was. They put him in touch with Samuel’s regiment, the Somerset Light Infantry and the gaps in the story were filled.
Farm worker Samuel and Maria married in 1911 and Grenville’s father Frederick was born in 1912. Samuel first joined the Wiltshire Regiment before transferring to the 7th Btn Somerset LI.
The Somersets’ war diary the 7th was virtually wiped out at the Battle of Cambrai. In spite of tanks being used en masse for the first time, the battle raged from November 20 to December 3, 1917, during which time 350 of the 7th’s 400 men became casualties.
Grenville showed me the letter Maria received in which and officer writes hat because no further information has been received about Samuel: “The Army council have been regretfully constrained to conclude that he is dead.”
Grenville said: “Look at the dates — he went missing on 30th November 1917 and this is dated 7th September 1918. She had to wait almost a year.”
Samuel died aged 32.
Grenville added: “I could never understand why she never remarried, but my aunt said she mourned Samuel from the day he went missing to the day she died.
“The loss of her husband affected her whole life.
“I feel upset she wasn’t able to talk about it.”
The box of memorabilia included an odd poster-size certificate recording Samuel’s name being on a memorial at Louverval, but not his medals. Then Grenville was given a box of medals his late brother-in-law had collected. He decided to give them to a collector friend, but as he looked through them he saw one had Samuel’s name on it. He now has Samuel’s WW1 and Victory medals framed.
He has been unable to research his other grandfather, George Bugg, who joined the Royal Engineers, because his army records were lost in the Blitz. But George had three ‘trench art’ shell cases he had embossed by hand. Grenville remembers them in George’s home, but it was only when he was given them, he realised one had ‘Cambria’ (sic) scratched on it. It seems both grandfathers were there.