As many of you know I have always had an interest in local and family history. I felt that the November magazine was the most appropriate time for me to produce this article..
Back in June my Son Adam and myself took set off to Belgium for the day, we did a coach tour of some of the Commonwealth War Graves of World War One. The tour was concentrated on the area of Ypres. The coach driver asked all of us if any one had any relations in any cemetery’s in this area. I said yes, I had, my Fathers Half Brother Norman, in a cemetery called Hooge Crater. My Father who was born in 1908 was the youngest from a family of sixteen Brothers and Sisters. The majority of them were half, or step Brothers and Sisters. I always knew that Father had lost his half Brother Norman in the Great War. Yet no family members knew where he was buried so I took it upon my self to try and find out, and eventually I did. This was at least twenty five years ago and well before the advent of internet research. I also discovered that his name was not included on the Memorial Plaque inside the Rye, Winchelsea, and District Memorial Hospital. Then quite by chance an opportunity arose to have his name added to it, this gave me a great sense of pride and satisfaction after such a great passage of time. I also have the honour of being the guardian of his Death Plaque, or Death Penny as some people call them. To be able to see his grave would now be the icing on the cake for me. Our driver was a little unsure of the exact location of the cemetery but he said that when we arrive at Sanctuary Wood he could enquire from other driver’s who would be there. As we drove down to Sanctuary Wood I noticed a large cemetery over the fields on our left I was quite drawn to it, and for some reason it was holding my attention. When we were preparing to leave Sanctuary Wood the driver made it known to me that he now knew the location of the cemetery I was interested in. A very short detour would take us there. Yes it was the cemetery that I had noticed earlier on our way in. On our arrival at Hooge Crater Cemetery Myself, Son Adam, and three work mates now ventured into this vast cemetery to find Son Adamgrave. We searched and searched but at first to no avail, by now disappointment was starting set in. There was a patient coach load of people waiting for us but the clock was ticking. All of a sudden one of the lads called out, “here he is Eric.” Within a minute I was standing in front of Norman Streeton’s Grave, it was then all my emotions kicked in, I found that my cheeks were awash with tears.
To touch his grave and to see it for my self was beyond description. As a final touch the lad who found the grave for me had produced a poppy for me, which I placed on his grave. I believe that I was the first Streeton family member that had been able to visit his grave, so after ninety years I feel that an unavoidable wrong has been put right, and hopefully he can now rest more easily knowing that his name is still remembered. It is not until you visit these area’s that you start to comprehend the enormity of it all, history books can never do this for you. We then went on to visit Tyne Cot Cemetery which is the largest Commonwealth Cemetery in the world. Once again it was a job to grasp the enormity of this place, but it bought a great calm over me, and made me feel very humble. It’s strange how some things put your own life in perspective. Our last call of the day was for the last post ceremony at the Menin Gate, which was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield of Rye.
Every night of the year come wind, rain, or shine the last post is still played. In such an impressive monument you can not help but be moved by it. On all the walls there are panels of names containing a total of approximately 54.900 Soldiers with no known grave, but the irony of it all is that there was not enough room to commemorate all of the names and a further 34.984 had to be recorded on a great wall at the head of Tyne Cot Cemetery. I understand that there are two more memorials in the area dedicated to men with no known graves.
One more thought has crossed my mind; we all agree that it must have been Hell on Earth to have experienced this war. (Or any war) There were a group of men who I feel must have had the most unpleasant and thankless task of all. Little is mentioned of these men, for they were the men of the exhumation and burial parties. So is it so little to ask that on Remembrance Day that we all try and observe the two minuets silence? It’s a small sacrifice to make compared to those who sacrificed the most precious thing they possessed, their own life.
“Rye’s Own”November 2007
All articles, photographs and drawings on this web site are World Copyright Protected. No reproduction for publication without prior arrangement. © World Copyright 2015 Cinque Ports Magazines Rye Ltd., Guinea Hall Lodge Sellindge TN25 6EG