Posted 08 April 2012 - 12:01 PM
For those without access behind the paywall, here is the piece:
Published at 12:01AM, April 7 2012
It is one the most enduring images of the 20th century, indelibly linked to the maritime disaster that cost more than 1,500 lives and a century later still captures the public imagination.
But the picture of a newspaper boy on a London street corner holding a poster announcing the sinking of the Titanic hides another, more private tragedy. Six years later, that newsboy — my great-uncle Ned — was killed in France only a few days before the end of the First World War.
Edward John Parfett, who was 15 in the photograph, was born near Waterloo Station, the son of a scaffolder who had worked on the construction of Westminster Cathedral in the 1890s.
The picture was taken on April 16, the day after the Titanic’s sinking, outside Oceanic House in Cockspur Street, where the White Star Line had its offices. To judge by the bystanders alongside him, sales of the Evening News must have been brisk that day.
Although too young to join up when war came in 1914, two years later he answered the call of King and country and enlisted in the Royal Artillery. The story is told in the family that he served a period as a dispatch rider before being assigned to reconnaissance duties, working as a signaller under a forward observation officer.
In 1918, he was mentioned in dispatches for his gallant conduct and, although he did not know it when he died, he had been recommended for the Military Medal.
His officer, Lieutenant Percy Hunt, later wrote to Ned’s brother: “On many occasions he accompanied me during severe shelling and I always placed the greatest confidence in him.”
Ned, after whom my father was named, was one of four brothers from Cornwall Road, Waterloo, who donned Army uniform, but he was the only one to die. One served in the disastrous Dardanelles landings in 1915, surviving to become part of the army of occupation in Germany. Another emerged unscathed from the Somme, only to be wounded and gassed at the third battle of Ypres.
In October 1918 Ned was stationed at Verchain-Maugré, near Valenciennes, when he was given leave to return home which, as things turned out, would have meant he would have been in England when the Armistice was declared. But on October 29, when he was collecting a clean uniform for the journey home from the quartermaster’s stores, a shell dropped on the stores, killing Ned and two other soldiers — Gunner William Scott, a lad from Manchester, and Saddler Corporal Henry Strachan, a Scot who had married and moved to Plumstead.
The three men lie buried next to each other in Verchain British Military Cemetery.