#FriFotos is the weekly photo sharing day on Twitter. On Friday November 11, the theme is “Fall”, but as is usual, it is open to interpretation. Fall is the term used for Autumn in North America. However, the eleventh of November is Armistice Day and a Public Holiday in much of Europe. It is a day when we remember the fallen. The fall that these soldiers made, is the one that will be foremost on my mind.
I intend to visit the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing, near the French / Belgian border not far from Messines. In the First World War, Winston Churchill spent some time in the trenches here after the failure of his Gallipoli campaign. Hitler also spent time nearby, at Messines, even painting the church in his spare time.
I will not be going there to remember Churchill or Hitler. I will be paying homage to my Great Uncle, the twin brother of my grandfather. My grandfather had volunteered for the British Army working with the horses. Uncle Ted was conscripted into the Royal Welch Fusiliers but was transferred into the South Wales Borderers as so many units had been decimated by the onslaught. The South Wales Borderers were the regiment famed for their defence of Rorke’s Drift in South Africa, immortalised in the film “Zulu”. It made finding out the location of his memorial difficult, as the family had been searching for him in the Royal Welsh Fulsiliers, until my brother’s research lead discovered the story of his last days and hours.
Uncle Ted was listed as missing presumed dead, on 11 April 1918. It was at the height of the Georgette Offensive in Flanders. German troops had overrun the Allied positions and were pouring through Northern France towards the Channel Ports. The situation was grave. This was the day Field Marshall Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary force gave his desperate order.
There is no other course open to us but to fight it out! Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our Homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.
Uncle Ted was last recorded by Estaires, in the Nord Department of France not far from Lille. They were under fire from mortars. After that date he was not heard from again. He was listed missing in action. His mother refusing to believe he was dead, left her front door unlocked each night in anticipation of his return until her dying day.
We don’t know if he lies in a Flanders Field, or is in a cemetery with a headstone marked with the words “Known unto God”. His name was carved on the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing in Belgium. The French already had a surplus of War Memorials and so King Albert 1 of Belgium offered to host the memorial originally planned for Lille.
Ploegsteert Memorial sits in The Royal Berkshire Cemetery Extension. British troops stationed at Ploegsteert, called it Plugstreet and this part of the line was known as Hyde Park Corner.
All I can do is pay my respects to my Great Uncle who fell in 1918, so that we can enjoy the freedom we take for granted today.