War is Hell on Private Andrew Shaw’s Parents Too

by Lester Green


Lettter from William Thomas  (Source Library and Archives, Canada) Telegraph sent by William Thomas  Shaw. (Source Library and Archives, Canada)


We often hear about the soldier’s story during wartime but seldom get insight into the family left on the home front. We tend not to hear about mental and financial stress suffered by families. The military records for Pte Andrew Shaw are extensive. Correspondence between Pte Shaw’s father, William Thomas, and the Militia at St. John’s give insight into experiences of the Shaw family. The Shaw family endured 1155 days of mental torture and anguish, waiting for the return of their son after his enlistment  on May 12, 1916.

The Shaw family, like many military families, were very proud and supportive of their son’s decision to fight for King and Country. However, when the first correspondence arrived on Aug. 21, 1917, the grim reality of war arrived on their doorstep. The telegraph read: “Regret to inform you that Record Office London, officially reports #2740, Private Andrew Shaw, has arrived at Wandsworth suffering from inflammation connective tissue right thigh….” Their thoughts immediately changed to angrier and deep concern about the health of their son lying in an overseas hospital. Records do not indicate if there were any more correspondence concerning Pte Shaw injury sustained from the wound, but recovery and strengthening sent him back into war zone on the Western Front by Feb. 16, 1918.

In Jan., 1918 the Shaw family was shocked by the sudden death of their son, Michael John, who died at the age of 27 leaving behind his pregnant wife, Mary Margaret. However, their  nightmare was to get horrific with the arrival of a telegraph on May 21, 1918 stating: “Regret to inform that Record Office, London, officially reports #2740 Private Andrew Shaw missing April 12th no particulars given. Upon receipt of further information I will immediately notify you.”

News on June 15 was somewhat of a blessing but yet very concerning. Part of the message read: “….previously reported missing April 12, now prisoner of war at Soltau May 16, progressing slowly.” William Thomas and his wife, Margaret,  would have experienced mixed emotions. Joy and jubilance that their son was alive but extremely worried and deeply concerned about his health and being held has a prisoner of war in Germany.

Three weeks later, an updated telegraph reads: “….additional information has been received from our Record Office, London, concerning your son #2740, Private A. Shaw, who was reported to you on June 13, 1917, as “Prisoner of War” The information we have just received states that he is getting better slowly ….”

A letter dated Sept. 8 from the Militia at St. John’s shows the deepening concern that William Thomas is feeling about his imprisoned son. The last paragraph states: “I am sure it will be a relief to you and your family to know that your son is being looked after and has not been overlooked as you believed when you called on this Department a few days ago.”

On Sept 10, the family received rejoicing news. Imagine the relief that the family felt as they read and more than likely re-read on several occasions, the news about their son’s release from prison camp in Hannover, Germany. The telegraph must have also continued their anxiety about his medical condition, especially the words “G.S.W. left hip severe.” The family would have to continue with their prayers and concern about their son’s recovery.

The Shaw family’s excitement was clearly expressed in a message to their son on Sept. 13 explaining that he sent six parcels and that his family was all well. On Sept 14, William Thomas was informed that his message was sent but because it was a private message, it was sent at his cost. He would have to remit 90 cents to the Militia in St. John’s.

The news on Jan 3, 1919 was comforting to the family. The telegraph read: …..Visiting Committee of the Newfoundland War Contingent Association…. reports that he is now progressing favourably.”  The family received two more similar updates over the next two months.

On Mar. 10, William Thomas writes to thank the Militia for their updates but express concern as to when his son is coming home. On Mar. 22, the Militia responded to this letter and informed William Thomas about his son’s repatriation. The letter claimed that there would not be another draft arriving until the last of April or early May.

On June 1, 1919, Pte Andrew Shaw arrived home aboard the SS Corsican from Liverpool. Onboard were about 1000 soldiers met by a jubilant crowd. We do not know if the Shaw family was present but surely they eagerly awaited their son’s triumphant return from hellish war. Their nightmare was finally over.

William Thomas and Margaret Shaw lived to see their son marry Mary Stanford on June 15, 1921 in St. John’s. They witnessed the birth of their grandchildren from this marriage.