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Soldier lost in Ypres mire is finally laid to rest
Telegraph (UK) ^
| Sally Pook
Posted on 10/31/2001 4:31:43 PM PST by dighton
FOR more than 85 years the body of Harry Wilkinson lay forgotten in the mud of Flanders, seemingly lost forever on one of the bloodiest battlefields of the First World War.
The Lancashire Fusilier was killed during the first Battle of Ypres in November 1914, leaving a six-year-old son and a wife, Eva, who was pregnant with his daughter.
Buried where he fell, his grave unknown and unmarked, Pte Wilkinson's body remained undiscovered for generations until last year when a farmer chose to plough a field for the first time since 1914.
Unearthed beside his skeleton were fragments of uniform, his identity tag, a pipe and a bottle of rum. His arm appeared thrown over his head as if to protect himself from a shell blast.
Pte Wilkinson's family were unaware that their posthumously decorated grandfather still lay on the Ypres Salient, along with tens of thousands of young men whose remains were never found. His was the first body to be found and identified in Belgium for 20 years.
Yesterday, with four generations of his family looking on, his funeral was held, with full military honours, in a battlefield cemetery only a few hundred yards from where he fell.
"It is very emotional for us, to see him properly buried after all this time," said June Brammer, Pte Wilkinson's grand-daughter, whose mother was the daughter he never saw. "We had no idea he was still lying on the battlefield.
"We will never know for definite how Harry was killed, but we know he had a wound to his head. We believe his comrades knew he wasn't going to make it, so they covered him with his overcoat and left him with some rum."
Pte Wilkinson, who had been a fire-beater at Bury cotton mill, landed in France two months before his death on the Western Front. After fighting at the Marne and Aisne, he was sent to the front line near Ploegsteert Wood on the Ypres Salient. The following day, he sent a postcard to his wife with the wish: "May God be with you until we meet again."
Pte Wilkinson was among men from 2 Battalion ordered to support the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in a night counter-attack. They bayonetted their way through German trenches and seized a farmhouse but four of the Lancashires, including Pte Wilkinson, were killed.
Pte Wilkinson's widow, who never remarried, was told in a letter of condolence sent with a death plaque from the King that he had been awarded three medals posthumously: the Mons Star, the War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Mrs Brammer, who was three when Eva died, said: "I vaguely remember her. She must have had a very hard time. Fortunately she had a big family who helped her, although I think three of her brothers did not come back from the war."
Yesterday, Pte Wilkinson's medals were worn by his great-great grandson, Jay Wilkinson, nine, who watched as the remains of his distant relative were lowered into a grave at Prowse Point Military Cemetery, just south of Ypres.
Asked what he knew of Pte Wilkinson, he said: "I just know he was a hero of the First World War."
Mrs Brammer, 59, and Annette Wilkinson, 51, Pte Wilkinson's great grand-daughter, were visibly moved during the service, which was attended by the Duke of Kent and soldiers from 1 Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
The regiment was formed from four others in 1968, including the Lancashire Fusiliers.
After the salute by the firing party, Last Post was sounded, before the Colonel of the Regiment read the exhortation: "At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them."
The Reverend Ray Jones, chaplain of St George's Memorial Church, told those gathered: "We should rejoice in the opportunity to pay tribute to a soldier who has lain forgotten for so long and who is now, in a sense, reunited with his family and his regiment."
Later, a ceremony attended by the Duke of Edinburgh marked the 25,000th sounding of Last Post at the Menin Gate, which commemorates the 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Salient and whose whereabouts remain unknown.
It has been sounded every day since July 1928. As part of the anniversary, a different soldier, sailor or airman killed in the Great War is to be honoured each day for a year. Pte Wilkinson is the first.
Before Mrs Brammer left the cemetery she laid a wreath at her grandfather's grave. It read: "Harry, lost but now found. May you now rest in peace."
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2001.
TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: flanders; wwi
The funeral took place in a battlefield cemetery.
Jay Wilkinson wears his great-great grandfather's medals.
posted on 10/31/2001 4:31:43 PM PST
That is touching. May he rest in peace. It is good to celebrate and honor or Veterans, be they dead or alive. And after all these years, this family must feel blessed to have their "hero" great grandfather's remains found and interred in a military grave.
posted on 10/31/2001 4:37:50 PM PST
Touching story. Thanks for the post!
posted on 10/31/2001 4:40:41 PM PST
Reporters do us all well when they come upon and write stories such as these.
Interesting last words, "at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them."
like the history link-- good post.
posted on 10/31/2001 5:09:49 PM PST
A hero? What is a hero? Siegried Sassoon who won a Miliary cross plus other distinctions in that war, wrote a poen called The Hero. It is on-line. Look it up. What do you think?
posted on 10/31/2001 5:18:03 PM PST
To: Eric in the Ozarks
The entire poem:
FOR THE FALLEN
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up unto immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
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.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known,
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness
, To the end, to the end, they remain
. Laurence Binyon, 1914.
posted on 10/31/2001 5:20:00 PM PST
In Flanders Fields
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.
-John McCrae, 1915
posted on 10/31/2001 5:20:36 PM PST
What strikes me is how close this still is-his wife was pregnant with a child- if the child was born in 1915, and had given birth (or fathered) a child at age 35 (1950) that child could have fought in vietnam, and, if he/she had a child at 35, that kid would now be too young to take part in this war.
Granted, most people had their kids much younger, and therefore we have a couple of extra generations in there, but my dad had me at 34, so this isn't out of the question.
I like to think my dad was, sort of, anyway. He was born in 1906 and was a little too old to step forward for WW II. So he joined the American Volunteers in the China-Burma-India campaign as a civilian pilot. He flew C-46's over the Hump to help supply the Brits and Nationalist Chinese who were battling about one million Japanese troops on the Asian mainland. This million troops could have been better used in stopping the successful American island hopping campaign toward Japan but the little known CBI campaign helped this along.
He was in a crash, got some of the first skin transplants at a Texas burn center and survived to bring me into the world and live out a normal life.
On Memorial Day, when I visit the cemetery where he rests, I see WW II Vet plaques and little American flags on many veterans' graves but I take note again that his grave is unadorned and unremarkable. Dad was just an ordinary guy who accomplished a job needing done and didn't make a big production out of it.
To: Eric in the Ozarks
Great story about your dad. Have you read Sassoon's poem The Hero? It's easy to find on google.com. It's a great poem. May not actually be relevant for your story but says a lot about war "heroes" - about how ordinary they are and how impossible it all is.
posted on 10/31/2001 5:51:33 PM PST
My Great grandfather lied about his old age to fight in that war, and my grand father lied about his young age to fight in that war. The great grandfather was lost, the grand father was gassed, returned to the lines, was shot, returned to the lines and left for dead on Flander's field for three days.
When they went out to police up the bodies, they discovered he was somehow still alive. Lived until 1979 and his pension from the Canadian Army was all the way up to $12 per month.
posted on 10/31/2001 5:54:33 PM PST
To: Eric in the Ozarks
You Dad was a Hero, as was Pvt. Wilkinson, to their nations and to their families. Malignant cynics like "Gimlet" should not fowl a solemn thread such as this. There are other post for him to go and make his point. May your father rest in peace, and you the "Son of a Hero", honor him in your way. God Bless You.
posted on 10/31/2001 5:55:42 PM PST
Thanks. I will find it.
There were hundreds of 'civilian' pilots..."silent birdmen" was one name they went by...in WW II, Korea and later, Laos.
I note we have generously (and correctly) designated Royal Lao military vets who made it to the States with US veterans' benefits. There were plenty of average Americans who did as much.
To: Eric in the Ozarks
He's a hero to you, that's what matters. Anyone who goe's in harms way when they don't have to deserves at least honorable mention as a hero.
posted on 10/31/2001 6:44:45 PM PST
To: Eric in the Ozarks
No man who Flew The Hump was "ordinary".
Anyone who has read of their extraordinary exploits will agree: What a Hero you had for a father, and I am sure you are cut out of the same cloth.
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