Monday 3 August 2009

Paying our respects in France.

Yesterday we returned from a brief trip across the Channel to France. The reason for our trip was to visit the grave of my great uncle who died, aged 21, in 1918 during the first world war. He was the eldest of six children who came from Hunstanton, a small coastal town in North Norfolk , England and was the brother of my late grandmother.
He was (I think) a motorcycle despatch rider from the Royal Engineers regiment
and he was sent to a camp
to deliver mail or messages. As it was getting late he was told to stay at the camp overnight before returning in the morning, but tragically his tent received a direct hit and he was killed.

The cemetery is just outside the town of Hazebrouk in northern France. It was used chiefly by field ambulances and fighting units of the 29th division from April to August 1918 for the burial of Commonwealth casulaties sustained during the German offensive. There are 226 first World War burials in the cemetery.

The cemetry is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Comission and we assume a local gardener maintains the land. We were hugely impressed by how beautifully kept it is. There are red roses and other plants growing in front of and between the graves and the grass is neat and manicured. It is wonderful that the final resting place of these young men, who appeared to be mostly in their 20's, is kept so lovingly and respectfully over 90 years after the war in which they died ended.The picture below shows the headstones from behind and doesn't show the planting to full effect.

The image below shows the headstone of my great uncle Charles Robert Nelson Crown. We were unaware that the the headstone was carved with the crest of his regiment (as were all the headstones) and a personal inscription which we believe his parents must have chosen. I had imagined something far more simple.

Charlie's parents or siblings never had the opportunity to visit his grave so I feel proud that three generations of his family - my dad, myself and my son - have now visited and paid our respects. His parents died in the 1950's and they never had the oppurtunity to visit their son's grave. To them France would have seemed so far away but to us it is just a few hours away. We drove to the Channel tunnel which is about 2 hours, drove onto the train and arrived in France after about 30mins and the cemetery was about another 30 minute drive. I wonder what my great grandmother and grandfather would have thought if they had been told that one day in the not too distant future you could drive onto a train that would take you under the sea to France.

Sadly my grandparents also lost their youngest son Sydney but this time during the second world war. He died age 27 as a POW whilst building the Burma-Siam railway and his grave is in the Chungkai War Cemetery Thialand. Maybe one day we be able to visit his grave too.

When we returned from our trip I stole a few minutes to look at a few blogs and was amazed by the co-incidence of the post by my seaside swap partner Viv. She wrote about an exhibition she had attended in New Zealand where she lives which was about the battle for Passchendaele, Belguim by New Zealand soldiers in 1918 during WW1.

Until next time, Maria.


Sal said...

That's amazing,Maria.
You must have felt so very proud.


Hi maria,

You did a wonderful thing visiting Charles' grave site.

And thanks so much for posting photos so I can see for myself where he lies.

Love, your brother John.

Kris said...

It's interesting. I know here in Australia young people are very interested in Australia's involvement in the world wars. At one point people thought that the remembrance day parades would have to cease as participants became too old, but their grandchildren or great-grandchildren have carried on the tradition. The cemetery in France looks beautifully cared for!

highwaycottage said...

Very bizarre coincidence :-) Both our relatives were called Charles too.

Lovely that you got to see the gravesite in France and pay your respects.

Poppy said...

What a lovely thing to do, you must have been so proud!

Thank you for sharing that, it was a lovely post.

Not long until the weekend…have a good one love Lou xxx

Anonymous said...

I know how you feel Maria. My Great Grandfather died building the Burma railway too of Beri Beri as a POW. We were lucky though as a friend of my mother's was visiting Thailand and tracked down his grave (the records are very good). She was then able to take several photographs for her which she then gave to his daughter (my Grandmother) who could then see her father's grave for the very first time. It was a very moving moment as I don't think she ever got over his loss as a child.

Brioni Greenberg said...

We visited the River Kwai section of the Burma Railway a couple of years ago. We visited the POW museum and the war cemetary. I have visited war cemetaries in a few countries and always find i am overwhelmed with emotion. I also find they are always beautifully and lovingly kept but that's nothing less than these soldiers deserve. We are heading to France next year to see the beaches/memorials from the D-Day landings. Hubbys much loved grandfather was an American soldier and was one of the first on Omaha beach and lived to tell the tale, but he never got back to France. We are going to go pay our respects on his behalf.