Norfolk family’s wartime story is finally revealed
PUBLISHED: 15:01 04 July 2014
Dick Rayner had always been keen to find out about his maternal grandfather and his involvement in the First World War.
There was a large photograph of him downstairs in his grandmother’s house, but no-one really spoke about the man from Norfolk who died in a Liverpool hospital.
Alan William Stedman was a gardener from Rougham when he enlisted in the army in 1914 and joined the 28th Field Ambulance.
He was a member of the Red Cross before joining the army and went out to France in 1915.
While there, he served in Ypres Salient, Vermelles, the Somme and the Battle of Loos.
But in 1917, he was taken ill in Arras and was sent back to England, to Belmont Road Hospital in Liverpool.
“I was always interested in finding out about my grandfather, but I was working and it takes time,” said Mr Rayner, who lives in Spixworth.
“I did some research on the Stedman family and went to see Fred Stedman, my mother’s cousin. He gave me a letter, which my grandfather had written to his broter from hospital. It was pretty choky. I think that’s the best description without being overly emotional.”
The letter details a visit Alan’s wife Bessie had made up to Liverpool with their daughter Elsie - Mr Rayner’s mother.
She was just two and a half years old at the time and Mr Rayner has no idea how the pair made the long trip.
“Elsie is a beauty and I long to get home to her,” Alan wrote to his brother.
“You should hear her shouting ‘ta ta Daddy’”.
But he never made it back to Rougham alive. Alan died of colitis in Belmont Road Hospital on February 10, 1918, aged just 31. A telegram was sent to his wife, informing her of his death and a letter followed expressing the sympathy of the King and Queen.
Both were short and to the point, sent out to everyone who lost a family member in the war.
Mr Rayner said neither his grandmother or his mother really spoke about the man they lost - and he doubts his mother remembers visiting him in hospital.
It was only after his mother died that he pieced together what had happened to her father and he felt he needed to share his findings.
“This has been very important for me,” said Mr Rayner.
“I never knew my grandfather. It’s been extremely choky on occassions. I went to read the letter to my mother at her grave, which I found very distressing, but I felt I had to do it. I know she won’t have heard it but it meant a lot to me.”
Mr Rayner said he now has a great interest in the role of the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War.
“I have formed the opinion that they, like the Royal Engineers and the nursing profession are undervalued by historians,” he said.