On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour the UK will come to a standstill in the remembrance of all the men and women who have died in the service of this country. This year this will be on Saturday and on Sunday the national memorial ceremony will take place at the Cenotaph in London. It will be the first time that Queen Elizabeth II does not lay her wreath, but the Queens wreath will be laid by the Prince of Wales with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh watching on.
The wearing of poppies was started by the Royal British Legion in 1921, but the idea of the poppy came from Dr Lt Col John McCrae of the Canadian army after seeing the poppies growing at Ypes, Belgium. He had just lost a close friend to the war and it inspired him to write the poem In Flanders Fields.
Since then the poppies have been sold every year to help support those who suffered as a result of the war. Last year the legion was able to spend over £146 million helping veteran service personnel and their families.
But what does remembrance day mean for genealogists. Well for some it may just be researching someone, for others it may be their main focus, for me it means remembering my fallen ancestors.
This is 2 of the faces of the war memorial in Thorpe St Andrew, Norfolk. 3 members of my family are listed on there. 2 were brothers and the other was their cousin. I wish I had pictures of them, but alas I have no idea what they looked like.
The first to die was Corporal James Weeds on the 15 October 1914. He was in the light marine regiment serving on board HMS Hawke. The ship was off Aberdeen along with the rest of her cruiser squadron when she was struck by a torpedo fired by U-9 (U-boat 9). The ship capsized and of the nearly 600 men on board only 70 survived. His name is on the naval memorial at Chatham Naval Dock Yard as his body was never recovered. James was the cousin of my Great Grandfather George.
The next to die was Private Frederick Weeds the brother of the above James Weeds and thus my Great Grandfathers George’s cousin. Frederick was in the 7th battalion of the Norfolk regiment. He died on the 12 October 1916 on the Somme in Northern France. He is remembered on the Commonwealth War Grave Memorial at Thiepval, France along with over 72,000 other casualties. Again his body was never recovered.
The last to die was Private James Daniel Briggs and he was the cousin of James and Frederick Weeds and the brother of my Great Grandfather George. He was in the 1st Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment and he died on the 10 July 1917 during a battle with the German Marine-Korps Flandern alongside the river Yser near Nieuport in Belgium. 260 men died during this battle and they are remembered on the memorial in Nieuport as their bodies were never recovered.
What makes these loses even worse is the closeness of these men. On the 1891 census James and Frederick were living with their grandmother, my 3 times great grandmother along with their cousin George, my great Grandfather and their Aunt Julia my Great, Great Grandmother. I just can’t imagine what the family went through losing 3 of their own. James and Frederick had 9 living siblings and their father when they died. James Briggs left behind his parents, 4 siblings and a nephew (my Grandpa). Of the 26 grandchildren of my 3 times great Grandparents 3 died, that’s 11%. What makes it even worse is what happened in 1942. When he died in 1916 Frederick Weeds was married with 4 children. His youngest son Bertie was a member of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps. He died on the 25th October 1942 during the second battle of El Alamein in Egypt. He is remembered on the Alamein Memorial as his body was never recovered. On that day the 1st Royal Tank Regiment fought the German 15th Panzer Division and Italian Littorio Division. Over 100 tanks were involved and by the end of the day over half were destroyed, including Bertie’s tank.
There has been some discussion in the media as to whether or not remembrance day and the wearing of poppies is right as some feel it glorifies war. Well in my opinion, it is vital that we hold these ceremonies and wear our poppies with pride. If we don’t then the deaths of the millions who have died in war defending our country will have been in vain. Also the money we give for our poppies helps those who have both physical and mental scares as a result of the conflicts they served in. And remember not everyone who dies as a result of war was fighting, they may have been innocent civilians who died as a result of bombings.
I’ll leave you with part of a poem by Laurence Binyon written in 1914.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”