Duhallow – yet another WW1 cemetery in the small town of Ypres. Like all the others it’s silent, peaceful and beautifully maintained. Like all the others it has rows upon rows of smart white gravestones, lined up like soldiers. Only this one is different. Because Duhallow is the final resting place of my Great Great Grandfather, Albert Garwood. Ypres is a small Belgium town with a big history. Made famous from World War 1 as the centre of intense and sustained battles between German and Allied forces. It has a picturesque town centre and is surrounded by flat green countryside in all directions. Walking through the quiet streets, with the sun shinning on our faces and the birds singing in the background, it is hard to imagine this place could ever be the setting of such horrors.
Thanks to the Eurotunnel, it took just a few hours from leaving our home to travel to Ypres, which sits close to the French border. I had made the journey with my Husband, Dad and 2 family friends – one of them a battlefield tour guide who gave us an invaluable insight into the War over the weekend, often through the lives of inspiring individuals who lived through it. Stories like Valentine Strudwick, one of many boy soldiers recruited illegally, who lost his life aged just 15.
Although we only stayed 1 night in Belgium, we fitted in a huge amount, visiting Commonwealth and German cemeteries, battlefields, museums and memorials. The real purpose of the weekend though was finding Albert Garwood. I only found out about Albert recently when a family member was finally able to track down his records. The picture above is him with his wife, Charlotte, and one of his 4 children, Dorothy (my Grandfather’s mum). Although he was past the mandatory age for joining the army, Albert volunteered for service during World War 1. He joined the Labour Corps, a body of troops put together to specifically carry out laborious tasks such as building and maintaining railways, roads, camps and canals. On 9th January 1918 Albert died along with 40 other men when a German aircraft bomber hit a nearby ammunition truck. I eventually spotted the gravestone engraved A.A.Garwood, in a tight row with the other soldiers who died alongside him. I felt a wave of emotion. Although I had already passed hundreds of gravestones that day, the person lying here was a part of my history. A part of me.
How sad it must have been for his wife to receive the news of his death. For his parents to hear that a second son had been lost to the war. For my grandfather’s mummy to grow up without a father in her life. How sad that Albert’s gravestone has stood here for 98 years unvisited. It’s impossible to get your head around the vast amount of suffering that our men endured and the sadness that was left behind following their deaths. About 11 million soldiers lost their lives. An incomprehensible number. But I can, almost 100 years on, feel the sadness of Albert losing his life. To understand what he sacrificed, how many people it would have affected and how much grief our family must have felt.
Later that day at 8pm, I attended the Last Post at Menin Gate , a memorial ceremony that has taken place everyday since 1927. It provided an opportunity to remember Albert along with all the other soldiers, on all sides, who died during World War 1. To think about the importance of remembering so that we can truly be grateful for all the luxuries we are blessed with today and to ensure that such horrors never be repeated again.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS By Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.
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