“Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten”
Those are the closing words on the scroll which accompanied the famous ‘Dead Man’s Penny’, sent to the families of soldiers killed in WW1. In some small way I have been trying to do my bit in keeping that memory alive.
We have just returned from our planned trip to France and Belgium and I am happy to say that we were on the Messines Ridge on 12th April, exactly 100 years after my Great Uncle William Neighbour Wakefield was killed there in 1918.
It was a very special day. To start with I was sad that it was so misty, meaning that the views from the ridge were not great. But then I thought that this could have been quite typical of the weather 100 years ago. We headed initially to the British Cemetery and, finding a number of graves of unknown soldiers of the North Staffordshire Regiment, decided to ‘adopt’ one. I placed a cross there for William, with his details written on it and his photo attached.
We then drove down the road towards Wulverghem and then up towards Kemmel, pretty much parallel with where the front line would have been on 12th April. Reading the war diary of the 8th Battalion North Staffordshires, the overall picture is one of confusion, with withdrawls being stopped and lines restored and difficulties getting information. The previous day the Germans had made good progress towards Hill 63 and the Battalion had beenforced to start withdrawing from the ridge, eventually moving back to Kemmel by the 13th. Heavy losses had been sustained. Somewhere in all this confusion William lost his life. A letter from the Regiment to his family states “He was buried by his friends after the action near the scene of his death”. Was he one of those soldiers subsequently moved to the British Cemetery at Messines or another local cemetery after the war? It is possible.
Later that afternoon we arrived at Tyne Cot and for the first time I was able to see William’s name inscribed there. It was satisfying to know that he is now commemorated in the country where he died. I placed another cross there for him.
During the course of that day and subsequent days we came across a number of others following a similar personal pilgrimage. The sheer scale of the slaughter is so hard to comprehend. Which is why it is so important to remember those who “left all that was dear to them…and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom”.