Grandson organised journey to war grave as tribute
MADAM , – As we approach a time of remembrance, I thought I would send in a story my late husband Alan wrote about his grandfather, John Kirkham, who was killed in the First World War.
He fulfilled a lifelong ambition to visit his grandfather's grave in France.
Alan passed away exactly 12 months later, on April 22, 2009.
MRS D KIRKHAM Stoke
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I must have been about six or seven when I realised I only had one grandfather, when most of my friends had two.
I asked my father and he said that one of my grandfathers was killed in the First World War.
I was then shown a picture frame containing his war medals, together with a letter from King George V and a plaque with his name on to commemorate his death on active service.
As I was only a young boy I thought there had been a mistake, and that my grandfather was not dead but wounded, had lost his memory and was wandering France suffering from amnesia.
When I was older, I accepted the truth and I later looked on the internet to see if I could find exactly where he was buried.
I looked on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website and found that if you had the name and date of death of the soldier, you could find the cemetery if he had a known grave, or the place where his name was inscribed.
I was in luck as my grandfather was buried in a French cemetery along with 66 comrades and also a number of German casualties.
When my father died in 1990, I found among his papers a postcard with a photograph of my grandad and a Christmas card that he had sent from France.
The postcard also gave the information that he had fought at the Battle of Loos and the artillery was bombarding the German lines.
I was sorry that my father never got the chance to visit the grave and I was determined that if I had the chance I would go to France to see the grave.
In January of this year I received a brochure from Leger Holidays who specialise in tours of battlefields and war cemeteries advertising a tour mainly dealing with the German offensive which began on March 21, 1918, and which was concentrated on the Saint Quentin area.
Although my grandfather was killed in September, the cemetery at Berthaucourt was only seven kilometres from Saint Quentin.
I discussed this with my son and we decided to book.
Armed with the necessary paperwork we caught the coach at 6.50am to Dover, where we changed coaches and then boarded the ferry for Calais.
We arrived at the hotel and then met the tour guide, who told us the planned itinerary and asked if anyone had any special requests for visits and we mentioned why we had come. He promised to try to fit it in. If that was not possible we would have made our own arrangements.
Next morning, after breakfast, we set off.
After visiting the American Cemetery at Bony where 1,844 American war dead are buried, together with more than 330 names of the missing, we travelled to Berthaucourt Cemetery where my grandfather was buried.
It is a tragic coincidence that my grandfather enlisted on September 23, 1914, and was killed on September 23, 1918.
It was quite emotional to see the grave, and we placed two wooden crosses with poppies on it.
The soldiers' graves were all together in one plot at the French civilian cemetery.
And these graves were tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
My grandfather's grave is the third from the left on the front row. Although he enlisted in the Staffordshire Regiment, he was in the 46th Machine Gun Corps at the time of his death.
All the British headstones are made of white Portland stone. The German graves had multiple occupancy (either two or four) and were usually made of Belgian granite.
All German Jewish graves were single occupancy with a white headstone showing the star of David.
This was in marked contrast to their treatment under Hitler in later years.
After visiting several battlefields and cemeteries, we went to the Somme Trench Museum, which is situated in an underground tunnel.
On the fourth day, we returned home, tired but elated at having fulfilled a long-held ambition, and happy to see that all the military graves, whether English or German, were immaculately tended.