The Last Letter
The Irish Heritage Trust which manages Fota House in Cork is proud to be the gatekeeper of many stories. We know this one is all too common and many families safeguarded those last letters from the front as precious mementos. This letter dated April 1917 is 100 years old this year and it was sent from Charlie Beswick, son of Mr Beswick, who was the head Gardner on the Fota Estate from about 1899 to 1914.
Clockwise from left, Charlie’s last letter to his parents written on the 19th of April 1917; Eliza Beswick, standing in front of the head gardener’s house at Fota. The house can still be visited on tours of the kitchen gardens; the Beswick family, Charlie is standing front left with Brothers Arthur, Willie and his parents.
The Beswicks had three boys and you can see in the family photograph. Willie, Arthur (who took many of the family pictures), and Charlie, the youngest. Charlie grew up on the estate and later followed in his father’s footsteps: he trained in botany at Kew Gardens in London. At the outbreak of WW1 Charlie joined up, and we have a selection of postcards that he dutifully sent to his parents from the front. The address he uses is ‘The Gardens’ Fota House, Cork. No postcodes needed! Charlie commence his service as a private he later progressed to became an officer in the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and this image of him smiling and handsome in his lieutenant’s uniform belies the sadness that war brought to families such as the Beswicks.
The Trust was lent this letter written by Charlie to his parents dated the 19th of April 1917 and it is one of the most poignant and thoughtful messages from a young man to his family. His words are laden with significance and convey an outcome that he must have sensed was imminent and inevitable. Charlie sustained fatal wounds after leading his platoon into action in Cambrai in France and died three days after writing the letter on the 22nd of April – 100 years ago.
The letter reads:
Dear Father and Mother
I am just about to go into action leading my platoon. With God’s help I will return safely – then if not I shall do my duty to the best of my ability. If anything should happen please tell Willie and Arthur and all, also Ernie Mills that I thought of them and you all and thank God he has thought fit to make me of some use to my King and Country.
Your loving son Charlie
Pictured below: Charlie Beswick in uniform and the letter he wrote just three days before he died.
By the end of the War William and Eliza had moved to Bath, but their memory and that of their boys still lingers at Fota through their family album and especially through the house they once lived in, tucked away in a corner of ‘The Gardens’. Today visitors can see where he played as a boy in the orchard and kitchen gardens at Fota House. When we walk the paths where he walked and look at the family home it is hard to imagine how difficult it must have been to leave the leafy tranquillity of Fota to face the horrors of the trenches.
Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens, Co Cork, Ireland
Open from spring to September and by appointment at other times