• Claire Jordan

"Only Goodnight, Beloved, Not Farewell"



The Spices were a family of hardworking market-gardeners from Northamptonshire who had settled latterly in the little village of Sutton Valence, nestled on a steep hill close to Maidstone in Kent.


Mum Mary and Dad Arthur married on Christmas Day 1890 and had a little girl named for her Mum, followed by four sons and three more daughters, some of whom were given mellifluous variations on flower names by their green-fingered Dad.


Mary’s middle name was Amalul and Daisy’s was Chrysandra but by the time they came to christen their youngest, she would be named after the humble Violet.


Eldest son Arthur Stanley Spice was 19 when he enlisted at Ashford into the Territorial Force in November 1912.


All he was actually committing to were an evening and a Saturday night a week of drill and marching about a bit. He would still live at home and keep his day-job, gardening with his Dad.


The most he would be away from home would be a fortnight for the annual training camp every summer, which really amounted to a paid holiday with your mates.


He can have had no idea when he signed those TF papers, still in his teens, just what they would ultimately mean.


Along with all Territorials, Arthur was called up on outbreak of War in August 1914 and his 5th East Kents (the Buffs) were swiftly dispatched to India.


In 1914, a significant part of the Regular British Army were still in far-off places, garrisoning the Empire. The idea was to send previously part-time soldiers like Arthur and his buddies to take over those duties, freeing up the professional Army to return to fight the European War.


He was out in India for a full year, embarking at the end of 1915 for the Mesopotamia. The British had sent a military force to protect an important oil refinery at a place called Abadan, south-east of Basra; this force was designated the Indian Expeditionary Force D (IEFD). They were up against Germany’s formidable ally, the Ottoman Empire.


Arthur with his 5th Buffs were holding front-line trenches on 21st January 1916 in the teeth of unending bombardments and deadly accurate sniper fire when he was hit by an enemy sharpshooter in his shoulder; the bullets ploughed into his chest and lodged there.


After a year sweltering and training for War in India, they had been in action for a matter of weeks at this point. Arthur’s mates must have been quick to staunch the bleeding or the wounds would have been instantly fatal.


He was sent back to a British hospital at Basra and then placed on a succession of hospital ships, first back to India, then to Egypr and finally homewards to England. They operated on him multiple times and he would rally, but the infections just kept coming, swamping his weakening system again and again.


In addition to his grievous physical injuries, he was also suffering from shellshock.


Arthur finally made it back to England aboard the Hospital Ship Ghoorha in mid July 1916, admitted first to the Tower Auxiliary Hospital at Rainhill in Lancashire, and then finally the Alder Hay in Liverpool.


Almost exactly nine months after he was hit, and two after returning to England, he died there on 19th September; his cause of death was given to be shock and exhaustion following gunshot wounds to his arms, and shellshock.


It was a very brave fight.


He was 23.


During those two last months in English hospitals, we can only hope that his parents, his brothers and sisters, made their way north from Sutton Valence to see him.


Six years younger than big brother Arthur was Edgar Spice who, when he went to see what the War had done to his brother, had already joined up.


Too young yet to join the Army, he had been placed in the 53rd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, designed to equip and train keen youngsters between 16 and 18 until they were old enough to go to War.


Edgar can only have been across the Channel for a month or two, and the second anniversary of Arthur’s loss two days earlier must surely have been in his mind, when he went into action with his regiment’s 9th Battalion on the Somme near Epehy.


“At 5.40am,” runs the war diary for 21st September 1918, “under cover of an artillery barrage, Battalion attacked with 7th Royal Sussex on left and 6th Royal West Kents on right. Battalion came under very heavy machine gun fire and was unable to advance beyond its first objective, Mule Trench.


At 1pm, under cover of a very weak barrage, Battalion again endeavoured to push forward. Very heavy machine gun fire was again opened and no progress could be made.”


Edgar was still just 18 but he had fallen over himself to join his brother with the big boys and, love him, now he paid the same terrible price. For Edgar, it was mercifully much quicker.


In the pretty village churchyard at Sutton Valence where Mum and Dad had brought their eldest boy to be buried two years before, they had Edgar added to Arthur’s headstone.


And when the time came to choose an inscription for the #CWGC headstone which will stand forever over Edgar’s body at Epehy, they would choose:


“Only Goodnight, Beloved, Not Farewell”



Top: Edgar.

Above: Mum Mary & little sister Violet.

Below: St Mary's Sutton Valence, Kent, and the Spice grave therein



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