Tomorrow, I am travelling to Ypres, Belgium to begin a five day visit to Belgium and Northern France to pay respects to the fallen of WW1. In particular, we will be attending a commemorative service at York Cemetery, Haspres to mark the centenary of the Battle for Haspres on 13 October 1918, in which my great-grandfather, Oliver James, was killed.
I first visited York Cemetery in 2008 as a member of staff on a school trip with teachers and students from NDTC (North Doncaster Technology College, now Outwood Academy Adwick). I left a card, wreath and message in the visitor book and was tracked down a few weeks later by the Mayor of Haspres – and I was informed that I was, in all probability, the first direct descendant of any soldier in the cemetery to have EVER visited in 90 years! Later that year, I travelled back to Haspres with my father as guests of the town to be part of a ceremony in which the lane leading up to York Cemetery was dedicated to the York and Lancaster Regiment.
In the following ten years, I have made the pilgrimage to York Cemetery several times, mostly with the school, and each time a memorial service has been held, led by the students.
This Saturday, we will be joining a large party from Sheffield, who all have connections to the York and Lancaster Regiment, who are travelling to Haspres to join the town people in a commemorative ceremony to honour those killed in the Battle for Haspres on 13 October 1918 and in the Battle for Solesmes on 20 October 1918. After having attended the smaller ceremony in 2008, I am sure this event will be a fitting tribute to the brave men who have found their forever place in this quiet corner of the French countryside.
My great-grandfather is also remembered on the memorial at St Phillip’s and St James’s Church in Bentley.