Posted by Tim Bates (2017)

Stanley Victor Bradley was my dad's closest friend and companion during their time serving with the Queen's Westminster Rifles in 1917.

He was always "Bradley" to my dad.

It was common with those serving together in the army at that time to call each other by their last names.  As shown in Bradley's letter sent to my grandfather on 21st August 1917 letting him know that my dad had been wounded, Bradley wasn't especially aware of my dad's first names or how he was known by his family.  In the letter Bradley assumed that my dad was known by his second name, possibly since it appears that he, Bradley, was also known by his second name (Victor).  He guessed at "Arthur", whereas my dad's second name was actually "Alfred".

From my dad's journal ...

"In later years of peace I have sometimes pondered why in such close relationships the use of Christian names was rejected.  The answer I believe lay in some inner consciousness which refused to admit that friendships born and nurtured on the battlefield could be anything but transient and that by some curious quirk of the mind we were facing up to the inevitable."

My dad met Bradley on 1st May 1917, a few weeks after they had landed in France, at the holding camp at Harfeur just outside Le Havre ...

"It was here that I first met Stanley Victor Bradley.  On my way back to the billet a short tubby figure joined me.  The beaming smile was Bradley’s but the curious and shapeless jacket of greenish hue with no pleats to its bulging breast pockets could only be blamed on the quartermaster’s stores.  Bradley, I learnt in good time, was not one to be worried by the niceties of dress and I soon became aware that his main preoccupation was the enjoyment of life to the full under all conditions with goodwill to all men.

Time was short in 1917 and we soon became acquainted with each other’s relatively brief life histories.  At 25 he was five years my senior, a civil servant in the War Trades Department of the Board of Trade.  He had been at school with my cousin who had died at Loos, had a passion for tennis and was a fervent Wesleyan.  He was also a teetotaller and a non-smoker.  I never heard him utter the mildest of swear words except on one never to be forgotten occasion.  From that day forward Bradley, Forster and I were inseparables except on those occasions when the duties of the day broke up the trio."

The last recorded contact my father had from Bradley was a letter written on Sunday 4th November 1917.

Letter to Ernie from Bradley (4th November 1917)

In the letter Bradley says ...

"I have once or twice been in situations sufficient to have induced comrade Charon to have rubbed his hands together in anticipation but I have cheated him each time so far and propose to paddle my own canoe if possible."

In Greek mythology, Charon is the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead.  Bradley ends his letter with - "au revoir and best of luck".

Less than four weeks later Stanley Victor Bradley was killed at the Battle of Cambrai on 30th November 1917.

From "The War History of the 1st Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles 1914-1918" -

"November 30th was destined to be a glorious day in the history of the regiment. .... The losses of the Queen's Westminsters, though very light in comparison with those inflicted on the enemy, were heavy, amounting to 126 all told."
[ISBN 1-84342-610-2]

Local newspaper article announcing Bradley's death

Commonwealth War Graves Record
Google Maps entry for Moeuvres Communal Cemetry Extension

Record from Army Register of Soldiers' Effects

My dad's journal for Sunday 22nd July 1917 recounts a conversation he had with Bradley and their companion Forster, where my dad pondered on their upcoming fate ...

"On the assumption that one’s chances of getting through unscathed were slight I suggested a preference for the little finger of the right hand.

Bradley’s reaction was immediate.  His face registered anger and bitterness such as I would never have dreamed possible.  He spoke at last and his words shocked me to the core.  “I want no ‘blighty’ [a wound sufficiently serious to merit being shipped home].  I won’t have those bloody bastards over there mutilate the body God gave into my keeping.  If they do get me I want complete oblivion.”  Forster and I accepted this outburst in silence.  There was nothing more to be said.  Anyway, I regretted opening my big mouth in the first place.  The incident in itself was not one ever likely to be forgotten but the aftermath, some few months later, not only registered the memory of that day for all time but created in me a sense of wonderment which in my lifetime on this earth will never be resolved."

... and as my dad lay badly wounded in the trenches on 14th August 1917 ...

"It was here that Bradley, cheerful as ever, sought me out and kept me company as long as he dared.  I was never to see his beaming face again."