The Great War soldier who ‘came back from dead’

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It’s difficult to imagine the grief felt by the parents of Private Sidney B Bryant when they were informed he had been killed in action in 1918.

It’s even more difficult to imagine how they felt when they received a letter from the man himself telling them he was in fact a prisoner of war.

Your son, though only a boy in years, was a good soldier and a brave man, extremely popular with the Company.

From the letter to Mr & Mrs Bryant in 1918

Joy, disbelief – and perhaps a bit of anger at the person who made the mistake in the first place.

News of Private Bryant’s death was published in the Sussex and Surrey Courier in May 1918 when, sadly, he was just another name on an ever-increasing list of men who had fallen in action.

Then, on June 22 1918, the following article was published under the heading “Grief turned to joy”.

Mr and Mrs Bryant, of the George Hotel Shades, Crawley, have recently had an extraordinary experience in connection with the war.

Both their sons are in the Army, and one of them, Private Sidney B Bryant, of the Bedfordshire Regiment, who went to France in November last, was officially reported killed on March 22nd, the intimation being accompanied by the usual form expressing the King’s sympathy.

The parents were naturally greatly grieved at this sad news, and, desirous of ascertaining some particulars of their son’s death, wrote a letter, in reply to which an officer of the Company to which the soldier belonged sent a communication stating: ‘Your son was spared all suffering. He was shot through the heart, in the battle of St Quentin and his death was instantaneous. I am sorry to have to tell you that owing to the nature of the fighting it was then quite impossible for us to bury our dead.

‘Your son, though only a boy in years, was a good soldier and a brave man, extremely popular with the Company. It is impossible for me to realise what the news of his death must mean to you. May I assure you that you have the sincere sympathy of the Company in your great loss.’

With this confirmation of their son’s death Mr and Mrs Bryant, much distressed, conveyed the sad tidings to the lad’s former home and a memorial service was held in the church where he used to be a member of the choir.

The joy of the parents can be imagined when, a few days since, they received a postcard, in the lad’s own writing, stating that he was a prisoner of war in German hands!

The War Office has now written expressing regret at the error and asking for the return of the official papers.

If ever a man had the right to say: “Rumours of my death...”

Another family to receive good news – though not as dramatic as the Bryants – were the Fulljames’s, whose son received the Military Cross in November 1916.

Lieut RM Fulljames was a member of the Durham Light Infantry, and received the MC for “conspicuous gallantry in action”.

The notice from the King stated: “He repeatedly reorganised his party, and after evacuating the wounded led forward the remainder to force a way through the wire.”

The young officer was only 19 years old at the time and his bravery was such that he was later awarded another bar to add to his medal.

He was not the only member of his family to serve King and country.

His father, Mr T Fulljames, saw service at the Front in the Sportsmen’s Battalion, and was invalided home in July 1916.

Another man honoured in 1916 was Sergeant WH Wood, of Horsham Road.

Sgt Wood was a member of the 2nd Leinster Regiment when he received the Military Medal, and was then promoted to Quartermaster Sergeant in the 73rd Infantry Brigade.

The Courier reported: “Going to France in September 1914, QMS Wood has had the good luck to go through the thickest of the battles without a scratch.

“That this good fortune may continue will be the sincere wish of many friends, who are also gratified at his well-deserved promotion and the presentation to him of the distinction mentioned.”

One soldier who was not so lucky was Private EL Taplin, of East Park.

The Private was badly wounded in France in November 1916 and had to have a leg amputated. He was reported as being in hospital at Keighley, where he was “happily, going on satisfactorily”.

In January 1917, Mr TW Jutsum,the Ifield school master, received a letter from Corporal CW Golden.

It is not known if the Corporal was family, a friend or a former student of Mr Jutsum.

The letter read: “A quiet Sunday afternoon here and thoughts have turned to Crawley and its happy memories.

“I thought you would be interested to know that my brother, Sergeant Golden, has won the Military Medal. You remember he worked for Mr Nash for a time. I believe he is now in or with the tanks. He was with poor old Collison when he went under.”

The Collison in question was James Ambrose Collison, of the 11th Battalion, Royal Sussex 39th Division.

Private Collison was the son of James and Ada Amelia Collison, of Swiss Cottage, in Alpha Road. He was born in Ifield and had enlisted at Cooden Beach, Bexhill.

He was killed in action near Cambrin on June 4 1916, aged 26, and is buried in Cambrin Churchyard.

Corporal Golden’s letter continued: “I have seen many old Crawley and Ifield boys out here and familiar faces in a strange country are links of home.

“My brother has spent a good long time out here and has been in a good number of scraps.”

Both the Golden brothers appear to have made it through the war.

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