June 17th 1916
Dear Mr French,
I am very sorry to have to write to you and inform you that your dear son was killed in action on June 15th. He died as every true soldier wishes to die – doing his duty nobly for King and Country. He was doing some sand-bagging on the parapet of the trench when four bullets from a machine gun hit him, and he died instantaneously. He lies buried amid comrades in a wood, and his grave is carefully tended by his friends in his battalion. I offer you my deepest sympathy and pray that Almighty God in his mercy will give you comfort and strength to bear up under this great blow. May I remind you of that text which occurs in the 15th chapter of St. John’s Gospel and the 14th verse? – ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’.
I am, yours sincerely,
M.A.O. Mayne, C of E Chaplain.
This letter received by Albert French’s family in Wolverton signified the end to a 16-year old soldier’s nine months in the army 1915-1916. It is also the final letter of the series published as a book in Your Loving Brother Albert (1978, right).
Parapet Song is the closing song for the eponymous play based on these letters. Based on the evidence of the circumstances of Albert’s death, it depicts a soldier in the trenches thinking of what he has left behind – and creates a harrowing finale to a story of courage and waste.
A special memorial to Private Albert French is at MK Rose in Campbell Park, Central Milton Keynes
Albert’s original letters and the subsequent drama script are in LAMK’s archive
The transcripts of the letters can be found at: www.mkheritage.co.uk/la/
The song is featured on the Living Archive Band’s album All That’s Changed Vol 2 (LAMK)