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 One Family at War

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Individual Stories – WW1
Part 1

Lieutenant Stanley Muirhead Haycraft
               1891 - 1969

23 years old on entering WW1
2nd Field Coy

Letters and Photographs in Museum Page 


Stanley was the brother of Cecily Haycraft who married Lionel Dibdin.
He seems to have a very upbeat, born to succeed attitude, but then it will be noted that he was adventurous by nature and had been working for the British Government in Egypt before the war.

More details of Stanley can be seen in his Museum Page which includes facsimiles of his letters to Cecily and Lionel and photographs from his album


We are fortunate to have letters from him to both his sister Cecily and his brother-in-law Lionel.

Letters from Stanley M Haycraft to his Sister Cecily. 

14 March 1914 from the Turf Club Cairo
A letter to thank Cicely for sending a batch of photos “ you have done remarkably well Cis and I thanks you very very much for spending so much care and time on them old girl” and then going on to ask her to sort out his negatives in boxes ready for printing at the “Exchange” He was working on the Nile superintending the building of a “Dipper Dredger” for the Government costing £15,000. 
He was working with Percy Anderson who was a cousin of Lionel’s cousin. The works was just below the Barrage and was a ship building yard like Vickers at Erith. His letter has the tone of “British Empire” referring to his boy asleep on the floor outside the door, and the “Evil Eye”. His friend Anderson had two daughters, one finishing in Paris and coming out next season and the other at school in Cheltenham. 

3rd Jan 1915
Thanking her for things including some mits, complaining about the Army and Navy Stores and saying that it was rotten luck that all Lionel’s jobs were stopping. He wish Lionel could go out there.
Stanley was hoping that his group could go out to Egypt but not likely to happen.

2nd Feb 1915
He reports that he has written to Rex and hears that his division has not gone to Ypres.
He shows concern about Cecily’s financial position and “don’t forget you have a brother dear if things aren’t going very well.” He hopes Lionel will be able to fix something up.

15th July 1915
Requested that Cecily got a photo album on his behalf so as to stick in photos as he sent the home. He gave precise details of how the photos should be pasted and what camera he had.

15th Aug 1915
Stanley mentioned that they got the Daily Telegraph every day. He asks Cecily to tell Lionel that the chief problem in the trenches is drainage, so he should have no difficulty in getting into the Sappers as a Captain. Stanley, himself, has been confirmed as a special reserve which means he cannot be throw out of the army without a court marshall. He had walked several miles along the line between Armentiere and Ypres with the Bosch 100 yards away. The night after the news broke about Warsaw, Germans put up a board in the barbed wire “What about Warsaw” . By morning the English patrols had removed it. 
He could hear the vibration from the trenches and a shell had just dropped in his garden showing shrapnel everywhere. Despite all this there had been a local horse show.
The third battle of Warsaw of 5th August 1915 saw the Germans occupy Warsaw during the period of success that followed their great breakthrough victory at Gorlice-Tarnow.

25th & 26th August 1915
Thanks for various things and please send 2 ¼ plate printing frames with glass.
He went on to ask for a number of other bits of photographic equipment and requested that the parcel should not be marked as “photo material” in case the censor thought that he had a camera.
He says “Just going up to repair the front parapet of the fire trench so shall be between the Germans and our lines. Hope there is no moon”

6th September 1915
He thanks Cecily for the parcel, the glass was broken but this has been fixed at the “works”. 
He reports that the trenches are ¼ full of water – up to one knees.
He then goes on to report in some detail about the shell from both armies and how he could see their engineers doing trenches and by firing on them with 20 or 30 18 pounders they vanished. “ Of course it is the same with us.” One party of his could do not work at all because of the bombardment. He hopes that if he gets through this he will get some leave soon - “won’t that be ripping”.

23 Sept 1915
He thanks Cecily for the things that she sent and reports about the high level of shelling. He has ordered a Gramophone and some records as a present for their parents from the Army and Navy Stores, delivery 6 days, similar to the one they had ordered for the Officers mesh. They plan to play this to the Hun from the trenches.
Quote “ the piece of white heather is in my hat dear and will go down as far as I can get it tomorrow night”.

19 Oct 1915
Reports that they have got their portable Decca gramophone which is not a great success and they have to take turns to rewind it. He had finished nights and is back on days for 8 days. 
He referred to Cecily having had a bad time with the Zeppelins, just as they have behind the lines. He mentioned that he saw a Hun from the Gunners observation post and would like to have taken a shot at him but he was too far away. “The dead are heaped up on his wire and he hasn’t taken then in yet.” Good weather, no gas but a lot of colds about and he would like a cake very much. He asks for Fritz Di ? address.

4th Nov 1915
More thanks for cake etc and glad the gramophone and record arrived.
He is about to start night work and is looking forward to possible leave when they will do some theatres. He would like to go to E for a couple of days and “then come home for a rest with you all.”
“Everyone takes particular care of himself just before leave. I have often put Infantry officers in a moderately safe place when on working parties when they are going on leave the next day.” 
“We are changing our records with the 15th Field Coy RE and the Blackwatch as we are fed up with the old ones. .. I am supposed to be partial to “we all walked into the shop” when as a matter of fact I hate it. Other songs referred to are Jones to Chinatown and I am a Courtier (Gilbert and Sullivan). Stanley also mentioned that his is in the room with a deep mathematician who does calculus for a hobby. 

6th 1915
1st Anniversary of the 8th Div in France. He had gone to the trenches, which were full of water and mud, late at night to deal with a parapet that was slipping.

17 Dec 1915
Having a good time compared with those in the trenches. He and his team were billeted in a local farm and were able to play football and have hot baths

30th January 1916
Thanks for cakes etc He was disappointed to miss Rex whose division relieved his, and vica versa. He thinks they have gone up to Ypres. Stanley reports that he was in Armentiere the other night and was being shelled so he got out. Talk about Cecily looking for photos of the Suez canal and of Pepper (this would be Arden Pepper Hall N.Yorks.)
He say he is glad that Fritz (known to Cecily) have become a Captain. 

9th Feb 1916
Stanley writes to indicate that he realises that Lionel and Cecily are having troubles, probably money as there was not much work about. He asks that they keep him informed, sends some money and is pleased that Cecily is about to try for a job 
( presumably with the Sutton Gas Company). He mentions that if Lionel was to try for the Sappers then Dr Tudsbery ( of the Institute of Civil Engineers) could help. There is a comment that Rex was still in England and may soon be coming out to replace his division.

From medieval times to the 19th century one of the prime functions of the Engineers attached to field armies was to assist in siege warfare, either as builders of defences (fortifications) or their destroyers (siegecraft).
The term 'Sapper' originates from the French 'sapeur' and was used to describe "a soldier employed in working at saps" (OED) whilst in the act of besieging; for to get close enough to the walls of a fortress to lay mines to breach them, zigzag trenches had to be dug. These trenches or 'saps' were dug progressively deeper as they drew closer to the walls, the whole process was known as 'sapping' and the persons digging them, were directed by Engineers and, were called 'Sappers' . 

 22nd Feb 1916

"Dear Cis
I have written to Dr Tudsbery today & I hope he gets is before Lionel goes to see him on Thursday. Your letter did not reach me till yesterday. The mail has been stopped due to storms on the Channel. We have had awful weather and the water has risen everywhere. I have been drenched thro' several times a day. Coming home at 2am last Wednesday my horse could scarcely face it the blizzard was so strong.
I have been laid up with a bad cold but am quite well again now. I shall be home on March 2nd unless they begin a standoff.
There was storm here today & Jones & I walked out in front of our wire 60 yards from the Bosche. Everyone was sheltering. It seemed so funny for if the snow could have suddenly lifted we would have been as dead as door nails. Excuse more now dear . Hope to have good news of Lionel and you.
Enclosed copy of letter to Dr T
very best of Love 
Stan.

3rd March 1916
Enclosing letter about Lionel from Dr. Tudsbery. 
Thanking for photos ad please thank Cecily was doing some work that required the wearing of uniform. The whole earth round him was shaking because of the bombardment.

28 July 1916
Requested Photos. Was able to bathe in the River Ancre but about to take a huge pontoon wagon on bared-wire and corkscrew pickets to the front lines. 

The Ancre is a river which runs through Albert and then south-east to eventually join the River Somme near Corbie. Further upstream, however, its course is to the north of Albert, and it runs by the villages of Beaucourt, Authuille and Aveluy. There are a number of Great War sites of interest in and between these villages, as well as a number nearby which, although not strictly in the Ancre Valley, I have included here for interest.
The Ancre gave its name to two of the final phases of the 1916 Battles of the Somme, designated as the Battle of the Ancre Heights and the Battle of the Ancre (both in November 1916). The latter on the 13th to 19th of November made gains to the north of the river and included the taking of Beaumont Hamel.
Travelling north from Albert on the D50, the first of the three villages mentioned above to be reached is Aveluy.

1st August 1916
Stanley is pleased that Lionel is at Deganwy and got through the ground at Chatham. Where he was the weather was terrifically hot and shorts and cummerbunds were the order of the day. Mist heat and Mosquitoes. He hoped that Cecily had a good weeks holiday. Stanley reported that he had 2 patches on his head as he had been hit by a mortar splinter but a doctor had stitched him up and although the bone was bruised it did not stop him working. He was pleased to be able to have a go view of the Hun’s lines being attacked.

24th August 1916
Pleased that Cecily got up to Deganwy. Told C that he advised L about boots
Had got letters from Ger E Father and Poor old Dyer from hospital in London – sorry to loose him – ripping chap.

31st Aug 1916
Short letter to say that they were having a devil of a time. The Hun was 70 yards away and putting over 60 pound trench mortars.

6th Sept 1916

Stanley refers to Cecily's last letter being from Deganwy and he wonders if Lionel has any news.
He has got electricity laid on now out of his Hun dug out under a haystack, having sent one accumulator back for recharging ( an accumulator is a block of lead acid batteries probably glass containers with lead plates and sulphuric acid )

" They did do themselves well. Most beautiful ornaments & tapestry from chateaus and clocks & ??? Everywhere round these H.Q.dugouts When we get into their country there will not be much of their stuff ??? I have just had lunch at 3.00pm - got home this morning at 7.00am covered from head to foot in mud ( the water is 4 ft deep in places - what about wellingtons for this)

The Hun had blown a huge hole in the parapet just before I got there last night & was sniping through it but the sappers didn't mind, they merely ??? him
Hows Stan and Peter

Best Love Stan

7th Oct 1916

"My Darling Cis

Thanks awfully for your letters and congratulations. So glad to hear from Lionel on your letter and also had one from Rouen on 27th. He is in great form & feels very bucked with everything. I do hope he will come up near me. We are sure to meet soon as it is a very small world up there.
Am having a great time & look longingly at the leave boat when I see it go out.
Will you please thank Buck for his good wishes which I have just seen again on your old letter.
Am glad things are going so strong. It was rotten luck P? did not get leave.

Am going to call at the Red Cross & hope to find Miss Holland. B wrote & told me about her which one is it I wonder. I seem to remember two.
Am just going to write to Lionel - glad Peter and Stan are so great.
Best wishes to all at the office
Stan"

16th Oct 1916
A long and detailed letter thanking Cecily for letters and cakes and asking for more cake about 6 or 7 inch diameter with vanilla on the top. Also he asks her to sort out the Gramophone problem as the correct on was not in stock and record at the Army and Navy Stores.
He reports that they brought 4 airman down in the last few days.
He notes that Mrs Middleton is staying with Cecily, and he hopes that Norman is well.

Letters to Lionel
There are a number of  early letters to Lionel which give further insight into wartime activities but the following are shown here as they give details of his activities in 1917.

12th February 1917  From Avondale
To Lionel
Stanley had been staying a week with Cecily and was passing on to Lionel local and family chat and activities. It seems that Stanley is travelling about on a motorbike.

12th February 1917   From Spurrier's Sun & York Hotel - Chatham
To Lionel
By now Stanley was down at Chatham and wrote to apologies for sending the last letter to the wrong Company. He had sent Lionel some “solid fuel”. He has reported for light duty at S.M.E. and is posted to 1st Reserved Batallion. He offers to get Lionel anything he need as and send it out to him.

18th May 1917    From Chattenden Barracks Nr Rochester To 39 Divisional School
To Lionel
Stan congratulates Lionel for his "mention in despatches". He is enoying the work at Chattenden where they are building bridges.
"I have made several new type bridges & the latest is a 40 ft. span one - wood & steel 1 1/2 inch rod lattice bridge to take Heavy Commercial Lorry.
I have 2 parties pontooning at Upnor - 1 party steel girder bridging at Ravelin Brompton - 1 party suspension Bridge- 2 parties on Trestle Bridge & a Railway Bridge here. 
The work is topping
I have a Zenith 3 1/2 HP now & I get to Sutton in 2 hours from here."
Stan saw Cecily and WJD & Marian, 3 weeks ago just before they moved from Belmont.

12 September 1917  From Officer Mess Chattenden Nr Rochester

To Lionel
He hopes that Lionel gets leave soon as Cecily is looking forward to seeing him.
Stanley is running some training at Chatham as there is no Major is available. He is very busy as he is about to get married to Jean Miller on Saturday (15th Sept) at Scotch Church in Dollar Clackmannanshire near Stirling then they are going to Buxton for 5 days before going back to rooms near Rochester.

 

Mrs Midd ( Middleton) went to the Dibdin Family as a young girl and lived as an companion, nurse maid to the youngsters of W.J.Dibdin. She married Norman Dibdin and lived in Victoria Street and her husband worked in the merchant navy. Living is the basement of a tall block below a tobacconist near Victoria station she acted like a port of call and support to many of the Dibdin family, and was a wise source of guidance to the next two generations.

Lionel and Cecily had sent their best wishes and scraped together some money for a wedding present.
It seems that he was awarded the Military Cross.

There is also reference to him being back in Eygpt after the war.

Stanley Muirhead Haycraft died on 27 Dec 1969