I have been doing research on my great uncles who fought and died in The First World War. Last year I went on a tour of the battle fields in the Somme and Ypres, an experience I will never forget.
Great Uncle William (Bill) Cook (1886-1917)
William was born in 1886 in Worth Sussex to William and Emily, my great grandparents. William and Emily had moved down from Suffolk to Crawley, Sussex in 1885.
They had twelve children, William was their ninth and the first to be born in Sussex.
In 1911 William, age 25, was a boarder living with a family in Milford Haven, Hampshire. He was single and working as a gamekeeper.
In 1915 he married Ellen Meads in Ampthill Bedfordshire and they had two children Emily and William.
He enlisted in Bedford as a private in the Duke of Cambridge’s own Middlesex, second battalion. Residence at the time was given as St Albans.
I have not been able to find out a lot about his service, but it seems he was at some point also in the East Kent regiment (10149)
According to the Commonwealth War graves William was killed in action, age 30, on July 31st 1917 in the battle of Passchendaele officially known as the third battle of Ypres (31st July -10th November)
This was one of the most brutal battles of the First World war, up to 700,000 casualties among allies and German troops were killed or wounded in the heaviest rainfall in the region for thirty days. It resulted in a gain of just five miles of allied land.
His body if recovered was never identified and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres (ref panel 49 and 51).
I took this photo last year.
The Menin gate bears the names of more than 54,000 soldiers who died before the 16th August 1917.
Hundreds of thousands of servicemen marched through the main gate of Ypres on their way to the battlefields, most to their death.
It was very moving listening to the last post there last year.
Great Uncle Charles Albert Cook (1891-1916)
Charles was born in Worth in 1891.
In 1911 age 19 he was working as a gamekeeper.
He enlisted in Horsham on the 18th November 1915 when he was age 23 years and one month. On the attestation papers Charles is recorded as single, a farm labourer living at Bellevue Tilgate. His father, William, is listed as next of kin.
The medical form states: Height five feet nine inches, chest 36ins. Weight 136pounds. Distinctive marks- patchy rash on trunk. Fit subject to dental treatment on molars.
He joined the 9th battalion of the Royal Sussex regiment and was mobilised on Feb 8th1916.
In 1916 his battalion was involved in fighting at Hooge – Ypres Salient (14th Feb) Wulverghem – German gas attack. (30th April) Battle for Deville wood and Guillemont (August, September)
He was killed in action during the attacks on Guillemont August 18th / 19th 1916.
Guillemont held out for some time during the Somme battles and was finally taken on September 3rd.
Charles was only 25 years of age when he died. His body, if recovered, was never identified and he is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial,
Guillemont Cemetery is not far from where Charles would have been fighting. There are some 2,263 burials in the cemetery, over two thirds are of unidentified soldiers. It is quite likely Charles was actually buried there. I placed a cross in his memory ( see photo) on one of the many graves marked, ‘known only to God’
Charles received the British war and Victory Medal signed for by his father.
The Thiepval memorial commemorates more than 72,000 men of British and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20th March 1918 and have no known grave. Most died during the Somme offensive of 1916.
The memorial overlooks the Somme River in France, where there was some of the heaviest fighting. It is 45 metres in height and the largest commonwealth memorial to the missing in the world.
Great Great Uncle Alfred Lee 1896-1917 G/1781
My great uncle, Alfred Lee, was born in Staplefield, Sussex in 1896 to my great grandparents Henry Lee and Mary Harber.
In 1911 he was age 15 living with his family in Worth and had a job as a garden boy.
He enlisted in Horsham on July 24th 1915 and was in the 8th battalion of the Royal Sussex regiment. He was killed in action in the third battle of Ypres ( 31July to Nov ) on October 29th 1917.
He is buried in Minty Farm Cemetery south of Langemarck village.
Minty Farm was once used as a German blockhouse and in 1917 as a company HQ for Commonwealth forces. There are 192 First World War burials.
I placed a wooden cross with poppy on Alfred’s grave. It was a very special moment.
He was killed in action on October 29th 1917 and I was there a hundred years later on that day.
A debt by Shirley Anne Cook
So much depended
on those men: husbands,
fathers, sons, exchanging
and pen for gun.
So much depended
on those men, red-eyed,
voiceless, from gas and cold,
not grown old.
So much depended
on those men
advancing in rapid rifle rain,
the final whistle,
a final push:
those who returned
never the same.
So much depends –
on us remembering.
By Shirley Anne Cook November 2018