BARNARD CASTLE, England —
But even so, this story was different.
Wilfred was the youngest son of a chimney sweep who scraped by in the slums of Barnard Castle, a market town nestled in a landscape dotted by herds of deer and turreted castles in northern England. When Wilfred was 12, there were 10 members of his family living in three rooms in Poor House Yard, according to the 1911 Census of England and Wales. While Wilfred was still in school, his 14-year-old brother, Frederick, was already working in a local mill.
For many poor young men, joining the army was an adventure, a chance to get regular meals and pay, especially since recruiters told them the war would be over in a matter of months. Local World War I buff John Pringle said the boys would have been anxious to leave the drudgery of the flax mill or the shoe-thread factory.
Wilfred didn't want to go, but did when his country called. A photograph taken at the time showed four of the brothers posing in their uniforms with a cute white dog at their feet. The image would remain on Margaret's mantel throughout the war.
Robert 22, died first, in September 1916. George Henry, 26, died less than two months later.
Frederick, 21, died in July 1917, while the eldest, 37-year-old John William Stout — who had their mother's maiden name because she was not yet married when he was born — died in October 1917. The fifth son, Alfred, died in July 1918.
Margaret's grief was apparently more than the vicar's wife, Sarah Elizabeth Bircham, could bear. Bircham, who organized care packages for troops in the trenches, wrote to Queen Mary about the deaths of Margaret's five sons and how she had a sixth son still at war.
The Teesdale Mercury reported what happened next, printing the reply of the queen's secretary, Edward Wallington.