My Tommy’s War: Youth Mourning

This month’s ‘My Tommy’s War’ blog post features the fascinating story of the grief of a young woman on hearing of the death of her fiancé in the First World War. This grief was captured in a stunning oil painting by her father, Sir George Clausen RA.

Sir George Clausen was the great-grandfather of Bruno Derrick, who worked in the Advice and Records Knowledge (ARK) department at The National Archives. Sadly, Bruno passed away last year before he could see his blog posted. As a tribute to Bruno and with the agreement of his family, we have decided to post the story he was keen to share.

As with all of our ‘My Tommy’s War’ posts, it is full of details of research, which we hope will help you in researching your own First World War ancestor.

The blog is all in Bruno’s words. 

Youth Mourning by Sir George Clausen RA © IWM (Art.IWM ART 4655)

Youth Mourning by Sir George Clausen RA © IWM (Art.IWM ART 4655)

My great-grandfather, Sir George Clausen RA, was the son of a Danish immigrant and he was born in 1852. He became quite a well-known and well-regarded painter in the latter years of the 19th century, specialising in paintings commonly called ‘Rural Naturalism’ which celebrated rustic themes but, at the same time, drew attention to rural poverty and to the fact that country life could be harsh for poor people. Sir George became a member of the Royal Academy and was knighted by the King after the First World War.

The painting illustrating this blog post is entitled ‘Youth Mourning 1916’ and it now hangs in the Imperial War Museum. There is a story behind the painting. My great-grandfather was inspired to paint it because he had been so taken with the grief suffered by his daughter (my great aunt Kitty); prostrate with sadness after her fiancé (Geraint Payne) was killed in the First World War. 

Second Lieutenant Charles Geraint Christopher Payne was born in Shifnal in Shropshire on 23 April 1888. He planned to become an architect, but joined the Artists Rifles on the outbreak of war in August 1914. He was commissioned in January 1915, serving as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry. But he was killed in action at Neuve Chapelle on 12 March 1915 and was buried close to where he died. The Roll of Honour describes him as a ‘strong swimmer and keen boating man.’ He was also ‘an excellent ‘cellist and a member of the Hampstead Orchestral Society.’

Second Lieutenant Payne preferred to be called Geraint. His death is recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. His service record is in the records of The National Archives and has the reference WO 339/23362. The service record includes a copy of the telegram sent to his parents announcing the death of their son:

‘Second Lieutenant C G C Payne Highland Light Infantry was killed on 14 March Lord Kitchener expresses his sympathy’. 

(In fact he died on 12 March)

His father wrote to the War Office requesting details of the circumstances of his death. At this early stage of the war the Army was prepared to supply this information (although I gather that they did not do this later on). Lieutenant-Colonel Hill of the Highland Light Infantry wrote to Mr Payne:

‘Your son was shot at about 6 am in the head and killed instantaneously whilst looking over the parapet of the trench in which he was with his company.’ 

The manner of his death, perhaps, reveals his inexperience, for he had only just arrived at the Front. Lieutenant-Colonel Hill added:

‘He had not been long with us, but had endeared himself to all who knew him. He was a capable & zealous officer whose early death we deeply deplore’.

Geraint lived at 8 The Mount, Heath Street in Hampstead, close to where I live now.

The war diary of the 1st Battalion the Highland Light Infantry (WO 95/3929/1) records a day of intensive fighting on 12 March 1915, close to Neuve Chapelle. The battalion suffered heavily throughout the day:

‘A very misty morning. German attack at dawn preceded by heavy artillery bombardment for 1/4 hour overhead.’

Geraint was killed, probably by a lone sniper, at about this time, but fighting continued throughout the day: 

‘The casualties during the afternoon were heavy, bringing the total for the day to eight officers killed, four wounded, and nearly two hundred and fifty rank & file killed and wounded. Killed: Lieuts MACLEAN & EVERARD, 2/Lieuts PAYNE, COX, CLAGUE, CLOSE. Wounded: Lieuts MURRAY-LYON & PARR, 2/Lieut GIBBS.’

Geraint was awarded the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1915 Star for his war service. These medals would have been issued to his next of kin after the war ended, although not to my aunt because Geraint and Kitty were only engaged at the time of his death. The campaign medal roll shows that Geraint was No. 1724 Private Payne of the 28th Battalion the London Regiment (the Artists Rifles) before his commission.  

‘Youth Mourning 1916’ shows a naked figure against a blasted and desolate backdrop. The cross represents the dead of the war; my great-grandfather would have been thinking principally of the British dead, but the imagery can be seen as applying to the war dead of all nations. The painting was given to the Imperial War Museum in 1929.

My great aunt Kitty later married an Irish yachtsman and explorer but she died young in 1936. Sir George Clausen died in 1944. 

15 comments

  1. Sandy Fox says:

    This could almost be the story of my Great Uncle Joseph Knowles Ireland (Capt.) He died in 1916 leaving a widow and 4 month old son whom he had never seen. He, too, was a musician having been trained in composing at the Guildhall School of Music. His body was never found and he is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial.

  2. Michelle says:

    Fascinating! I’m a music historian and university professor, and I’ve been working with a printed music collection and diaries (from the National Archives) of an upper-class English woman who lost her son in the war. She bound up and annotated this music collection just days after his death, creating a memorial shrine to him with the music that she and him used to perform at their country house prior to the war. I have an article coming out about this project in an academic journal later this year, but I would be happy to correspond and potentially collaborate with those of you working on My Tommy’s War.

    1. Caroline James says:

      Hello Michelle,
      Apologies for the delay in responding to your mail. Would you like to drop me a mail at marketing@nationalarchives.gsi.gov.uk and we’ll see whether there’s something we can do.
      Many thanks
      Caroline

  3. ali_ geber says:

    i am teacher from iraq , nice to see your works on nice arts which i entrest

  4. Emma M says:

    Great blog Bruno. I am very sad to miss the conversation we would have had about the unimaginable horror of sending your sons to fight in the First World War.

  5. Charlotte Wright says:

    Hi
    Geraint Payne was my great – grandmother’s brother (maternal side) so this is an incredibly interesting blog for our family. Thank you!

    1. Caroline James says:

      Hello Charlotte.
      I’m so glad that we’ve been able to connect with a member of Geraint Payne’s family. Our aim with this blog series is to learn how to research First World War ancestors and to help people remember them.
      Thanks for getting in touch,
      Caroline

  6. T May says:

    Thanks for sharing and I love the painting: Youth Mourning by Sir George Clausen RA © IWM (Art.IWM ART 4655).

    1. Caroline James says:

      Hello,
      Thanks for your comment. I hope that through Bruno’s blog you have learned more about the painting that you love.
      Caroline

  7. Thomas Morris says:

    Hello,

    Geraint was my great uncle. I heard a story as a child that he had a copy of Tristram Shandy in his pocket when he was killed.

    1. Robert Alan Brown says:

      Hello Thomas. I am Robert Alan Brown and I think that I am your Second Cousin Once Removed. Your Great Grandfather, Alfred Payne , is my Great Great Grandfather. My Grandmother – Cecily Lois Payne was your mother’s cousin. Geraint is therefore my First Cousin Twice Removed.

      I do hope I have all this correct.

      Robert Brown

    2. Robert Alan Brown says:

      I am sorry – after all that is wasn’t correct – I think you are my THIRD Cousin. Too late in the evening.

      Robert Alan Brown

  8. tomos morris says:

    Robert,

    My third cousin once removed! I’ve tried to make diagrams on paper, but I cannot get my head around how we belong to each other…

    TM

  9. Mark Morris says:

    I have a copy of Geraint Payne’s last letter to his father, which actually explains the manner of his death. He had to buy the periscope that was used to look over the trenches safely from a London firm, but, as he complained to his father, they were back-ordered, so it hadn’t arrived yet. Hence putting his head above the parapet, with lethal consequences.

    Robert Allen Brown – if any any chance you should see this, I would very much like to get in touch with you (Alfred is also my great-great-grandfather), as I would like to know about Cecily Lois Payne (my great-aunt), about whom – and her subsequent family – I know next to nothing. I can be reached through ‘find a person’ at the University of Alberta website: Mark Morris

  10. […] and grief of war, now held at the Imperial War Museum. Claussen’s great grandson has written an account of how the painting came […]

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