“If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.
There shall be in that rich earth a richer dust concealed.
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware.”
Rupert Brooke, “The Soldier”
One afternoon, when I was about 15 I remember helping my grandmother sort through some boxes of old family photos. They were mostly the usual type of thing – my grandad looking very smart in his first suit, my mother as a 5 year old, squinting into the sun on Blackpool beach and so on. However, one old black and white photo caught my eye. The subject was a young man in army uniform, leaning quite casually against a pillar looking as though he didn’t have a care in the world. He bore a remarkable resemblance to my mother’s youngest brother, and I guess this is why he stood out. At the time it seemed odd to see such a familiar face in such an old photo.
I handed the photo to my gran and asked her who this chap was. She sighed and replied that this was my great-grandfather’s brother, who had died during World War 1, as far as she could remember in Ypres, 1915.
It was quite a poignant moment. Of course, I knew about the First World War, and I knew my great grandfather had fought on the Somme, but until then I had no idea that someone connected to me, someone so closely related that it was possible to see a strong family resemblance, had died in the awful carnage. This young man, my great, great uncle John, has been in my thoughts ever since. Not in a strange obsessive way, but I think of him whenever I see documentaries about the so called Great War, or at this time of year when Remembrance Sunday is drawing near.
So, this afternoon I set out to find him. It seems that because of where he died, and because his body was never found, he should be listed on the Menem Gate Memorial. Except he isn’t. I have searched and searched, but there doesn’t seem to be any sign of him anywhere. Well, I’m guessing he is there, I’m just not finding him. The fact that he had quite a common surname, and that I don’t know which regiment he belonged to does make the search a bit of an uphill struggle. I must admit I am a little disappointed, but I’ll keep looking.
If you have a relative who died or was listed as missing in WW1, you may find these sites of interest: