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Archive - Friday, 5 December 2008
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Research into roll of honour names leads to moving visit to foreign fields
A TRIP to the First World War cemeteries in Flanders and France proved particularly poignant for Pat Burgess.
Pte Ernest Harker Wilson, of Ravensworth, enlisted in the 10th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and died on Nov ember 9, aged 20
For the purpose was to find the graves of some of the 28 soldiers whose names appear on the roll of honour in her local church.
Once they were found, she and her husband, Malcolm, left details of their lives – and deaths – by the headstones and memorials.
“We took the remembrance cards so the men were no longer just a name and number – I wanted to put a bit of flesh on the bones,” she said.
Mrs Burgess researched the names on the roll of honour at Kirby Hill Church, near Richmond, and presented a book detailing the men’s lives in time for last month’s 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
Her interest was originally sparked by Sebastian Faulks’ novel Birdsong, which tells of life in the trenches, and a television documentary about war memorials.
The roll of honour carries the names of the 23 men who died in the First World War, and five in the 1939-45 conflict.
There were no regiments or other clues, but Mrs Burgess has managed to trace all but one through the internet and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
In many cases, relatives who heard about her project also got in touch with information and photographs.
The men were mostly from Kirby Hill, Whashton, Ravensworth, Gayles, Dalton and Newsham.
Her research uncovered some particularly tragic stories, including the three Johnson brothers from a farming family at Kirby Hill who all died in different First World War battles.
Stanley, a second lieutenant in the Suffolk Regiment, died in the battle of Delville Wood in 1916. His body was never found, but his name is among the 73,000 on the 150ft-high Thiepval memorial.
Percy died the following year at Ypres, while their brother Robert was killed fighting the Turks for Jerusalem.
The names of two brothers from Ravensworth appear on the Thiepval and Pozieres memorials, which stand in sight of each other.
James Scott Bainbridge was educated at the North-East Counties School – now Barnard Castle School – and gained a BSc with first-class honours at Leeds University before joining Rowntrees of York.
He became a Fellow of the Institute of Chemists and enlisted as a private in the 4th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, along with his two brothers, John Clifford and Harry.
He was quickly promoted to company sergeant major and was posted to France, where his knowledge of chemistry helped save men during German poison gas attacks.
He was mentioned in despatches in 1915, was wounded, and became a captain in 1917.
He died, aged 31, with his commanding officer in the 1918 Somme spring offensive, when they went to rally troops who stayed fighting to protect others pulling back.
He was mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig’s despatch of April 7, 1918, for “distinguished and gallant service, and devotion to duty.”
His body was never found, but he is remembered on the Pozieres memorial in France – along with more than 14,000 others who also have no graves.
His brother, John Clifford Bainbridge, was company sergeant major in Y Company, 4th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, and was killed in action on the Somme on September 17, 1916, aged 30.
The small parish suffered more tragic losses in the Second World War.
Frank Brook was head chef at the Morritt Arms at Greta Bridge, and lived with his wife and daughter in a cottage on the green at Kirby Hill.
He joined the Durham Light Infantry in 1940 and was taken prisoner by the Germans at Tobruk in North Africa. Handed to the Italians, he was put on board an Italian passenger/cargo ship sailing to Sicily when it was torpedoed by a British submarine.
Aged 30, he was one of a total of 783 men who were drowned and, although the submarine captain was cleared of any wrongdoing, the Ministry of Defence kept the incident secret until 1996, when they finally told relatives the truth.
Flying Officer Geoffrey O’Connell, 21, volunteered to stand in for a friend, whose wife had just given birth, on a night training flight on December 8, 1942.
Unfortunately, a faulty altimeter saw the plane fly into the side of a hill, killing the entire crew.
Flying Officer O’Connell is buried in Kirby Hill churchyard alongside his father, William, who volunteered as a commodore captain on the North Atlantic and Russian convoys to Murmansk.
He was torpedoed and, although plucked from the freezing water after only seven seconds, the icy water and inhalation of marine diesel fumes left him disabled. He died in 1947.
Sgt George Robert Burrell died, aged 24, in November 1945 during a terrorist attack on his camp in Palestine.
A member of the Burrell Coaches family of Newsham, he taught himself to drive at an early age. He was actually taken to court after police discovered him behind the wheel of a cattle wagon when aged only 11.
They stopped the vehicle because they couldn’t see the driver, but the magistrate was very understanding.
He complimented him on his driving, but suggested he should wait a few years before taking to the roads again.
He joined the Mechanical Equipment Company of the Royal Engineers and probably saw action in the Second World War. He was killed in Palestine and is buried in the Ramleh war cemetery in Tel Aviv.
Mr and Mrs Burgess, who live in Ravensworth, were impressed and overwhelmed by the scale and perfect state of the war cemeteries in France and Flanders.
As they searched row upon row of graves, they were struck by how many bore the words “A Soldier of the Great War” or referred to a soldier of a particular regiment if an insignia had been found.
They were deeply impressed by the crowds of Belgian, French and English people who attended services at the cemeteries and at the Menin Gate, where The Last Post is played at 8pm every night of the year.
This year, many thousands of poppies had also been planted by volunteers.
Although it is 90 years since the end of the First World War, Mrs Burgess is optimistic that it will be remembered for years to come.
“It would be a shame if it was forgotten, if the young generation forgot them,” she said.
“Having said that, the number of wreaths and floral tributes from schools in France, Belgium and England were amazing, so hopefully that will not happen.”
Mrs Burgess had her own thoughts when seeing the graves of the men she had researched.
However, she quoted the thoughts of a friend – “a tough little guy” – who recently stayed with them.
He said: “None of us know what there is after death, but wouldn’t it be nice if those guys could see someone had visited 90 years on and know they are still remembered.”
Mrs Burgess intends to add more information about the men as it comes to light; relatives are still contacting her.