The stick, before I made the case for the book, I used to keep holding it and sort of… its very tactile. Now I give talks about Charles Streather because one of the other things that he left was letters that he’d written from the trenches to his wife, and his wife had kept them. Beryl [Kerby – daughter of Charles] never read them. She thought they were too personal, but Sheila, her sister, had got no such compunction and she read them and very kindly sent me some scans of the ones she thought I would be interested in, to do with the 216th Company locally formed in Nuneaton as it was skilled men and tradesmen.
Quite gung ho
You’ve got the Pal’s Battalions, but this was just a smaller version. So it was a Pal’s Company, and they were formed…The Fortress companies were formed to sort of look after the fortifications along the south coast, and the idea was they would never go overseas. Well, that didn’t survive long because the casualties started coming in from the Western Front. So they changed from a Fortress company to an Army Troops company and they all went overseas and… but as I say, Charlie had a good war and he was… his son-in-law told me he was quite gung ho. He’d never had a moment’s doubt about the rightness of the war or the fact we were gonna win, and he was always convinced that what they were doing was totally right and there were never, ever any doubt about, y’know, winning the war. I think he could be a bit – even reading the letters it comes across – some of his attitude towards that sort of thing. He must have been hell to live with!
Some of the things he recently wrote at the time, he used to say something about ‘I don’t want you spending all this money on me and sending me stuff, don’t waste your time’ and later he says ‘but I could do with some more socks, and if you are gonna send chocolate, put in in silver paper, don’t get the broken stuff cos it don’t…’ So on the one had he’d tell her don’t do it, and the next minute he’d give her detailed instructions.
Strict, but not unpopular
I never actually met him, but I’ve met lots of people who did and he was strict but not unpopular. They used to call him Wag, but I don’t know where Wag came from. People say it was the way he wagged the cane, but in his army career he was that name that as well, so I don’t know. But I wish I’d’a met him. I very nearly did because he gave the prizegiving speech at Alderman Smith the year I won a prize, but by then I’d already joined the RAF, so I wasn’t at the prizegiving, so I missed him!
I heard about him mainly through Beryl and then obviously once I started doing the research. Because when I first started coming to Chilvers Coton Heritage Centre, Beryl asked me to… I was looking for a project, something to do,
Editor’s note. Unfortunately the audio is too cluttered to share, so here is the bulk of the text! Rob gives talks on the subject, so if you want to hear more, contact him via the heritage centre.
This article was published as part of the Warwickshire in 100 Objects project, part of Warwickshire Bytes.