James Simpson by Henrietta Sandford
My Great Uncle James was introduced to me through my grandmother’s stories. He was a great part of my childhood, a man whom I never met, dead at twenty, drowned at sea following a torpedo attack off The Lizard. The oldest of four children, educated at Manchester Grammar School and a good Methodist boy, he enlisted as soon as he was 18 and joined the Navy as a signaller. We have countless letters and diary entries from him, telling of his training at Crystal Palace, his 36 hours in a lifeboat after a first attack, singing hymns to keep up morale, invoking his mother not to worry and advising his sisters to work hard, help their mother and practise the piano daily. He never got home for Christmas in 1918 but asked them to save the cake that he never got to eat. At present, my husband Mike, an ex-history teacher, is typing up his letters and diary for posterity, finding out about the U-boats and military tactics. I wear my poppy not just for James but also for his mother, who used to sit beneath the memorial on Plymouth Hoe and who told my own mother that when the telegram came, “I turned my face to the wall and said ‘My son, my son’.” Although James was much loved by so many, tears were not shed at his memorial service in the Middleton Junction Chapel. “A lady doesn’t cry in public,” my Granny told me – more’s the pity.