A letter about Dick Fleming

At 5, Dick Fleming was sent to get fresh ammunition at the Dump at Railhead. I saw him just before he went. I then went down to the guns to relieve Elliot, and I hadn’t been there half an hour, when a message came to me that Fleming was slightly wounded in the head. Elliot came down later and told me I should never see him again. I nearly broke down – hardly believing it. Elliot then told me he had received a piece of bomb right through his head, that he was unconscious all the time, and his death was expected any minute.

From that moment my life seemed to change, and these shells and bombs which had seemed to do such little damage to our battery had now a very different aspect. The very thought that one so young, good and happy had been the only one to be taken from us, made me lose a bit of that confidence in myself that hitherto had kept me from fear. I only wish you had known Dick Fleming as I knew him. I was completely in his confidence, and a more delightful, gentlemanly, brave, keen, manly, cheerful and clean-minded boy has ever to my small experience – or anyone else’s who knew him – existed.

I don’t think that for a long period of time just before he died (he passed away at 9.30) I could think of a single fault, either that he could or couldn’t help.  He had everything!  Even brains. He had read more than anyone I know for his age, and he read quickly, as his brain worked quickly and he could take things in quicker than most people. You should have seen the letter the Colonel wrote about him. These are extracts:-

“I used to try and talk to him as much as I could, not to teach his his work – he knew that – but to learn something of manners and courtesy, which he possessed in a degree higher than in anyone I have met.”

“I have met one or two boys in my experience of his nature who have reached such a height of perfection possible in this world, that they have nothing else to learn, and in every case that I can remember, they have had an early death.”

An English Gentleman is what I would call him, though not a typical one, as that wouldn’t be a very praiseworthy attribute. An Ideal English Gentleman – an ideal man – is a perfect description of him.

How I shall miss him after the war! “After the war”, that was always his expression. He was full of adventure. He was going to Cyprus on his way home, or through Palestine, and one day he was going to take a trip to Newfoundland; he loved all sport, and there you could get any amount of fishing and shooting. His was not only talk, as in most people, he intended to do it. He had already proved his bravery in his mountain-climbing in Switzerland. Our trip to Cairo together I shall never forget all my life.

Our Major has written to his people. I should like to, but don’t want to burden them with letters that only add to their sorrow. What a fine fellow the British Empire has lost! A photograph of his grave in the heart of the desert I shall get if I can. On the day of the fight he was as cheerful as ever, and his heart was in it, and any of us would have died to let him see the end of the battle.

You should see the letters the men are writing home about him! One man wrote a long poem of Dick, but I am afraid it bordered on the comic, though every word of it was meant, and some quite pathetic.

He died on the day after his 20th birthday.

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