Lionel – Son, Brother and Soldier for 101 days – at Peace

On 23rd April 1917 Grandad Beck’s son Lionel joined the Royal North Devon Hussars 2/1 Battalion. His service was to last 101 days, just over 3 months.  From his discharge papers and the three letters Lionel wrote to his sister May, we find out about this time. Less than a year after he returned home,  Lionel died, his death certificate contained a surprise.

Lionel the soldier

We learn that Private Lionel Howard Beck was 5ft 6in with blue eyes and fair hair. Before his  call up, Lionel, worked as a shop assistant, most likely in Blandford where he lived at home with his parents and sister.  At this time Grandad Beck was Superintendent at Blandford and the family lived in the police station.

Supt of Police and young man in military uniform
Lionel with his father, Grandad Beck

18 year old Lionel joined the Royal North Devon Hussars at Dorchester, I assume this is when he had his photograph taken with Grandad Beck.  The 2/1 Battalion was part of the 2nd Cyclist Brigade, a 2nd Line Unit intended for home service for those unable or unwilling to serve overseas1  Lionel travelled to Holt Camp, Norfolk to join his unit for basic training.  Lionel first became ill on 4 June 1917. In his letter to May, Lionel writes that he went to the Field Hospital, Melton Camp on 21 June. The next day he was transferred to Norfolk War Hospital at Thorpe near Norwich.

Letters to May

In Lionel’s first letter to May on Friday June 22 1917, he starts:
My Dear May
You see by the address that I’m trying to keep you company.
Towards the end:
Of course I’ve not heard whether you had the roses, owning to shifting but I will hope for the best.  In my ward there are 47 beds.  I think it is much larger than the one you are in.
Now I will close hope you will soon be better, I shall only be here for a day or two so please don’t write.
I remain your loving brother Lionel.

From a surviving post card to May from her mother (below), we know that May was in the cottage hospital, Blandford, but do not know what was wrong with her. In his third letter Lionel mentions that May had an operation and she was expected to go home soon.

Family group photograph
Postcard sent to May at Cottage Hospital Blandford Taken C 1917 Lionel, Grandad Beck, May and Rebecca seated

Lionel tells us more about his illness, I am here for swollen glands.  My neck is very painful.

The next letter on Sunday 24 June Lionel tells us that his arm as well as his neck is dressed twice a day with hot fermentations. I almost dread the time when this is done, my arm is so tender. Lionel writes about his papers, on which the doctor had written “mass the size of egg on right side of neck”.

In the next letter sent on Wednesday 27 June, Lionel tells May about the operation he had the day before to drain the swelling.  He write about the sensation of the chloroform and how painful his neck was after the operation. I did cry when Sister dressed my neck this morning.

In all his letters Lionel writes about the hospital, the nurses are very nice indeed, they will do anything for us.  The ward had a piano, a bag-a-tell table and has lots of lovely flowers.  He writes about the food, which he enjoys, including some Strawberries that his mother sent him.  On Wednesday Lionel writes I am out on the veranda this afternoon, we have a nice view, we can see the railway, and a canal with a lot of sailing ships going up and down.

Medical Discharge

Lionel’s discharge papers tell us that he had Tubercular disease of glands of neck.  Not caused but aggravated by ordinary military service. Permanent.  They also say history of patient having been in sanatorium which suggests he had been treated for TB before.  They record that Lionel’s heart and lungs are normal.

Lionel was discharged on 1 August 1917, 101 days after he joined the army.  The discharge papers have various dates from 5 July .  So we can assume that Lionel knew he was going home, by the beginning of July.  He had spent just over 14 weeks in the army including nearly 6 week in the hospital, until he was discharged as a consequence of being no longer physically fit for war service.

Young man seated
Lionel – he looks older in this photograph so could have been taken after his discharge

The death of Lionel Beck

Lionel returned home to his parents at Blandford. He was awarded a pension of three twelves. His death certificate gives his occupation as Auxiliary Postman, Ex Private 2nd 1st Royal North Devon Hussars.  After he had been home for about 9 month Lionel died on 3 May 1918 at Blandford Police Station with his father in attendance.  Lionel died not from TB, as the family had been told, but from epilepsy.

He was buried in Blandford Forum Cemetery on 6 May, not far from the family home.  I suspect Rebecca his mother, never fully recovered from Lionel death, on her death she was buried next to her son.

Three ladies at grave side
Lionel’s sister May, Mother Rebecca and unknown lady (Aunt Beatrice?) at grave side

The text on Lionel’s memorial reads:
In loving memory of Lionel Howard Beck who fell asleep May 3, 1918 Aged 19 years
“Peace Perfect Peace”

1 Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_North_Devon_Yeomanry#2.2F1st_Royal_North_Devon_Yeomanry

7 thoughts on “Lionel – Son, Brother and Soldier for 101 days – at Peace”

  1. How wonderful that you have the letters still, but how sad all this must have been for the family, I assumed that Lionel died from TB and was surprised to see that it was epilepsy. Could it have been treatment or medication that brought on an attack? To see Lionel in his uniform he looked such a young boy, its heartbreaking. When I originally asked my late mother about Lionel, she knew nothing about him or that May had a brother, so I assume he was never mentioned in the family at the time. Do you know if his grave is still visible?

    1. Heather, when I first saw the photo of Lionel in uniform, I thought it couldn’t be when he was called up, as you say he looks so young. But the uniform is from the North Devon’s. Carol (Pitcher) has visited the grave, so yes it is still there, though Carol didn’t see Rebecca’s grave but she wasn’t looking for it. We only found out Rebecca was buried at Blandford recently.

    1. Alison, thank you for your comment. It is a sad story. It is fortunate that we have these photos, do you think the other lady is Aunty Bea?

  2. I have a small locket containing a photo of Lionel, mum said that on the day he died he went out into the garden, picked a lily, went back to his bedroom, led on the bed and passed away. I think maybe this was a rather glamourised version of the story told to mum by Laura May.

    1. Carol, thank you for sharing this story. A romantic story, from his letters Lionel loved flowers. It also suggests they had a garden at Blandford Police Station. It sounds as though May was protected from Lionel’s death, there was a stigma about epilepsy at the time. It wasn’t that long before this that people with epilepsy were put into asylums. Grandad Beck’s sister died in an asylum – epilepsy can run in families – so this set me wondering. Though it is possible, as Heather suggested, that the epilepsy was related to the TB.

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