17.3 – Peter Carroll, Gilbert and Elizabeth Halstead

You could be forgiven for missing Peter Carroll – his name is on the plinth of a larger, newer stone, whose inhabitants lived very long lives and whose names are picked out in black. But Peter is the reason this grave gets freshened regularly – he is one of the seven servicemen whose died in or whose bodies were buried in the UK. But he’s the only one of the seven here who isn’t a “Tod lad” and one of two (well, three, but that’s another story!) whose has a traditional gravestone.

Peter was born in December 1887 to Patrick and Mary Ann (Murphy) Carroll, who had married near the beginning of the same year in Ardee, Co. Louth. In 1901 he can be found living at Lamb’s Lane in Ardee with his mother and grandmother and siblings. Peter was the eldest, born when his mother Mary Ann was only 21. She and her mother Bessy are listed as lace workers. Peter is in school. Come 1911 and only Peter remains at Lamb’s Lane, living alone and working as a labourer. The Census return shows that he spoke both English and Irish and was a Roman Catholic. The 1901 Census doesn’t list Mary Ann as widowed, but tracking Patrick down beyond his marriage proved impossible.

Most of the rest of what we know about Peter comes from the newspaper article about his funeral, and his last letter home – we’ll read that at the end.

This is not the usual CWGC stone, and you may be wondering what the relationship was between Peter and the two people on the stone above him, Gilbert and Elizabeth Halstead. Gilbert was a Tod lad, born in and baptised at Mankinholes Methodist, who joined St John’s Ambulance at the start of the war and was stationed in Cork for training before going to the front. It’s unclear whether he met Peter there, or at the front, or whether they met later at Centre Vale Hospital where Peter died. CWGC record from stone being laid said parents dead (as we saw from the article), and info was to go via Mr. F Halstead, Unitarian Church Lodge – Gilbert’s father Frank. And if you have a read of “Todmorden and the Great War” by Philip Lee, you’ll see mention of a Mrs. F Halstead who worked at Centre Vale and who was honoured for her service there during the war. The newspaper article describing Peter’s funeral described him as “quite a favourite with the staff” so maybe the Halstead family were in a position to purchase a burial plot for him and did so out of compassion for the nice, tragic soldier who was far from home – they were nonconformists so it would be a little strange for them to buy a plot for themselves at the parish church. A secondhand retelling of a conversation with Gilbert’s last surviving son revealed that the plot had been purchased by Gilbert’s parents, who then forgot they had it and bought another for another family member, and was literally “going spare”…and they decided to not let it go to waste.

Interestingly, Gilbert’s service in Cork and possible friendship with Peter isn’t the end of his Irish connection. In December 1920, Gilbert made another trip back to Ireland, this time to Limerick, where he married Elizabeth Jane Whittaker. Was she another relative of Peter’s? Just a coincidence? Who knows.

The last letter Peter ever wrote was to his cousin Lizzie Donnelly, and ended up being preserved as his last will and testament – so we can read it today. In 1911 Lizzie lived at 2 Lambs Lane, and Peter at 13, so they shared neighbours and relatives at close quarters which might explain why he warned her about not letting on how unwell he was. Dated April 12th 1915 it reads:

“Dear Lissie – I am writing you those few lines to know how you all are – for god’s sake don’t be angry with me for not writing to you – oh if you only knew what I have suffered you would pray for me – I am lying on a bed 11 weeks now – I would not be able to write to you today either only it is a warm day and they put me sitting in a chair – I am in consumption – they are going to put me out on a balcony in a few days or so. Lissie I am very lonesome, god bless you and write to me soon – maybe this is the last I will be able to write to you but you will once in a while – a kind nurse lady gave me 5 stamps – and now for fear anything would happen to me and that I should not be able to write, you will get word from here – what you will do is write to newtownard 4th Battalion Staff Barracks to Quartermaster Kirk – and if you get no reply write to the accountant, 4th Battalion accountant’s office, Belfast, and tell him that I was at the front with the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and any money or any thing coming to me is yours by will – I want you to do this only if you get a letter that anything happened me – I know you of old so I know that I need not tell you to not mention anything about the nature of my illness to anybody, not even to friends – what they won’t know won’t trouble them – tell me is John McCoy at home, and all the news. Good luck Rosy and all – Yours Peter Carroll”

Peter died on May 1st 1915, nineteen days later.

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