Letters detail end of the war
Personal jottings of a Lewis gunner provide insights into life on the Western Front
LETTERS are like a looking glass back into a time we can sometimes hardly fathom.
On November 11, 1918, a soon to be Stanthorpe grazier wrote to his parents at the conclusion of the Great War, proclaiming it the “greatest day in the history of mankind”.
The grandson of Stanley Devine Hannaford, Barry Flowers, with some help from other relatives, has compiled a treasure trove of letters that Stanley wrote throughout the span of World War I.
“Stanley was born on December 21, 1895, and lived a very private life,” Mr Flowers said.
“After three years as a machine gunner on the Western Front, followed by some 30 years on the land as a very successful grazier on his property, St Omer via Stanthorpe, Stanley enjoyed the coast lifestyle, and deservedly so.
“When my Uncle George and Aunty Ethne unearthed some letters that Stanley had written to his parents while on active service with the AIF, we were all taken aback with the contents – what a truly historical family story was unfolding.
“They surfaced as many family treasures and personal belongings did, well after his passing in 1982. The letters spanned from 1914 through to 1919.
“As with most servicemen he didn’t share any active service recollections whenever we interacted during those family holidays. Had these documents not surfaced, I would never have appreciated the impact that a close relative played in the war to end all wars.
“As a child growing up, fancy not knowing that your grandfather was a Lewis gunner, and what’s more, survived in that role – not for three weeks but for three years.
“As I retyped the contents of each letter I felt that Grandpa had come to life again.
“Every one of the letters tells a special story. For me, Stanley’s two standout scripts, because of their date, are the Remembrance Day jottings – November 11, 1918. What a special day.
“More significantly, what a special man this Stanley Devine Hannaford was.
What about his mother, too? Had Isabella Jane Hannaford (nee Devine) not stored all his scripts, an amazing part of family history would be forever unknown,” he said.
I FEEL it is my duty to write you all a letter on this the greatest day in the history of mankind, and I’m sure it is due to your daily prayers that I am able to be here, alive and well at this moment.
I have passed through an ordeal that I never wish to experience again and I hope this world will never be plunged into such a bloody strife again.
As I sit here tonight writing the bells are ringing in the little village church, and the boys are cooeeing like mad throughout the camp.
I am now longing to see the dear old Homestead, and the dear ones, which many a time during the years of hell, I thought I would never have the pleasure of seeing again.
I am going to put in the greater part of the evening in writing letters to different relatives so I hope you will excuse this short letter. Hoping this finds you well. I remain,
THANK God it is all finished with. We just received the glorious news about
3 o’clock this afternoon, and really I can’t realise that it is really over. Now I am dying to get Home, yes Home sweet Home, I wish it were possible to get a plane to take me back instead of that long, long journey over the mighty long leagues of ocean.
Anyhow please God I will be back early next year, won’t it be grand, just think of it.
This war to me seems now like a terrible nightmare, there will be millions of jubilant hearts tonight, also millions of sad hearts mourning over their dear ones who have paid the supreme sacrifice.
I am sure your prayers have guided me safely through this hell that has just ended, as I have had dozens of men smitten to death alongside of me and yet I have gone through the lot you may say without hardly a scratch.
I have seen the most immoral dirty dens on the face of this earth, but thank God I could say, “no old boy don’t touch it”, and I have never, whereas thousands of others have succumbed to the wily ways of women, and I tell you they are in a sorrowful plight today, what of their children to come?
This tour of the three continents over here have been an education. I can imagine how everyone in dear old Aussie feels tonight, and they are saying, “When will the boys be Home?” There is a rumour here now they are going to send them back according to their service abroad, if so I shall not be the last by a long chalk.
Tell Mother and Tom to stick plenty of grain into about half a dozen of those turkeys as I have not had a feed of fowl since I left Aussie, and feel as though I could eat six right now.
Who is that eligible young man sitting on the parapet of the Rocky Creek dam? Well dear dad the best I can wish you is a Merry Xmas and bright and prosperous New Year.
STORIED LIFE: Stanley Hannaford served in World War I before taking up residence as a grazier in Stanthorpe and then retiring to the Gold Coast.
Stanley Hannaford with father Samuel Hannaford.