“Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten”

“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”.

Grave of unknown soldier of the North Staffordshire Regiment
View towards the Messines Ridge
William’s name at Tyne Cot
A cross for William
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Doctor at the dolls’ house

A couple of months ago I had no idea of its existence.  When my cousin was making a start on clearing my aunt’s house, my Mum suddenly thought to enquire as to whether the dolls’ house was still upstairs.  If so, she would like to give it a home!

Their father, Alf George, had made the house for them in the early thirties.  He had no shed where they lived in Croydon, but Mum recalls that he would sit in the kitchen with his fret saw making things.  He was obviously quite a creative man – we have other evidence in the form of miniature paintings and poems.

The dolls’ house he made for his daughters was modelled on Steyning Lodge in West Grinstead, Sussex, where his wife (my Granny) had lived prior to their marriage.  He made wooden furniture for the house, too.

Steyning Lodge West Grinstead
Steyning Lodge West Grinstead in the 1920s
Steyning Lodge West Grinstead today

 

 

 

 

 

On investigation it turned out that the dolls’ house was indeed still there, on top of a wardrobe, and on a recent visit it was duly retrieved and taken back to Mum’s house, where we have all now had a chance to inspect it.  I’m amazed, really, that a) I had never known of its existence and b) it survived another generation of children playing with it.  It is remarkably intact.  There are still items of wooden furniture, floor and wall coverings and some little curtains which, as Mum said, had “seen better days”.  She promptly set about making some fresh curtains.

On the front of the house Grandad had painted a climbing plant and on the rear of the house, along with a well, is the image of Tubby the cat.  Mum caused us much amusement when she recalled having been told off by her Mum for standing on the house!  She must have been very small at the time.

Tubby the cat

She remembered other items of furniture, some of which I definitely had in my own dolls’s house.  When Mum visited at Easter I dug out a box which I thought could contain dolls’ house furniture.  We didn’t find what we were looking for, but Mum suddenly exclaimed “oh, it’s the Doctor!”.  It turned out that this wasn’t a new-found interest in the Time Lord, but that she had spotted a china doll which she had had as a child and which they called The Doctor, apparently because ‘he’ looked a bit upright and stern!  (This doll has always worn a dress to my knowledge).  She also found a few metal kitchen items which had been part of a kitchen range set.  So these, and the Doctor, went home with Mum and are now inside the dolls’ house.  The hunt will continue for any other original items which could join them.

The dolls’ house

 

Is there a doctor in the house?
Dolls’ house interior
Tubby the cat sitting underneath a table