From Shepreth to Silly: First World War soldier honoured for bravery and beer

PUBLISHED: 12:23 17 October 2018 | UPDATED: 12:23 17 October 2018

Sgt Jack Payne with his wife Emelie. Picture: Courtesy of Stephen Payne

Sgt Jack Payne with his wife Emelie. Picture: Courtesy of Stephen Payne

Archant

The great nephew of a First World War soldier who lived in Shepreth and Fowlmere before settling in Belgium has spoken about his “tremendous” uncle – whose longing for home-soil creature comforts saw him brew his own now-famous beer weeks before the armistice.

Celebrations outside the Belgian brewery. Picture: Courtesy of Stephen PayneCelebrations outside the Belgian brewery. Picture: Courtesy of Stephen Payne

Jack Payne was born in Shepreth in 1888, and went to school in the village.

He and his family moved to Fowlmere in 1906, and he joined the army in 1908, originally in the First Battalion Suffolk Regiment and then the second Battalion Northants Regiment.

Great nephew Stephen – who is from Fowlmere but now lives in St Ives, Huntingdonshire – said: “He really was a tremendous man. I knew of him, he came to see me when I was six years old and I remember him talking to me in English and partially in French, but it wasn’t until I started researching my family tree that I learnt more about him and the family.

“Sergeant Jack Payne was stationed in the Belgian town of Silly, where he met his wife Emilie and had eight children.

A new label has been created to mark the 100th anniversary of Sgt Payne's beer, bearing an image of him in uniform holding a glass of Silly Scotch Ale. Picture: Courtesy of Stephen PayneA new label has been created to mark the 100th anniversary of Sgt Payne's beer, bearing an image of him in uniform holding a glass of Silly Scotch Ale. Picture: Courtesy of Stephen Payne

“He lived in Silly until his death 1975, Emilie died in 1987.”

Stephen began chatting to the Belgian side of the Payne family on Facebook two years ago after his cousin in Foxton recommended using social media to keep in touch.

“It began with a couple of conversations, and now it’s mushroomed into something where I’m in contact with all my Beigian cousins,” said Stephen.

“I know that Jack – who we now know was born John – received the Croix de Guerre – commonly bestowed on foreign military forces – two distinguished military medals and several others in his military career.

Sgt Jack Payne at his wedding to Belgian sweetheart Emilie. Picture: Courtesy of Stephen PayneSgt Jack Payne at his wedding to Belgian sweetheart Emilie. Picture: Courtesy of Stephen Payne

“I also found out about the beer – he first produced Silly Scotch Ale for his comrades on October 13, 1918, it’s still sold in Belgium now and there has been a toast in his honour at the brewery to mark 100 years.

“He was imprisoned with his two eldest sons for four years by German soldiers and I was told he had to hide his medals, as if the Germans realised who he was he would have been shot.

“He lost his leg and they unscrewed his prosthetic eventually to stop him from escaping – he had quite a life.”

With the centenary of the armistice fast approaching, Stephen added: “I am very proud of Jack. I think his Belgian family did know more about us and South Cambridgeshire than we knew about them, so he did talk about his home.

Family from England and Belgium at Jack and Emilie’s grave. Picture: Courtesy of Stephen PayneFamily from England and Belgium at Jack and Emilie’s grave. Picture: Courtesy of Stephen Payne

“And his beer is still going, which is great for Shepreth and Fowlmere to have another snippet of history like this to put them on the map.”

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