My mother was born 13 years to the day after the death of her mother’s only brother in WWI. George Victor Smith was 20 in 1918 when he was killed in Normandy and his parents and four younger sisters must have remembered him every time Mum celebrated her birthday. Mum never knew though that it fell on the same day; her mother and aunts always told her that he died ‘sometime in the autumn’. I have an enduring memory of Uncle George’s photo hanging on the wall at my grandparents’ home as I grew up. The large sepia coloured photo showed him sitting with legs crossed looking solemnly at the camera. What I didn’t notice, until I saw the photo again recently, was the dirty boots. That photo must have been taken while on active service, straight out of the trenches of northern France.
Over the years I learned from my grandmother and great aunts little bits of the story. Apparently his bible was sent to his mother; and she threw it straight onto the fire, “it was covered in his blood, you see”, Great Auntie Ida told me one day. There was nothing else returned. We know the date of his death, we know from the war diary that there were 14 other soldiers killed on the same day in the same regiment; we know about the bible. However we don’t know where his body lies. George Victor Smith is one of the thousands of WWI casualties with no known grave. His name is on a wall in the small Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Pozieres in Normandy near where he died.
Last week I was honoured to be able to take Mum to visit that little cemetery in Pozieres and we found her Uncle’s name among other Lance Corporals of the Royal Engineers who lost their lives nearby. I say it’s small because it is smaller than I expected. There are, nevertheless, several thousand names of men with no known graves carefully and uniformly carved into the panels lining the walls, and row upon neat row of white headstones with well tended grass and flowerbeds lie inside those high walls at the corner of a field right beside the busy country road to Albert, the entrance a vast balustraded gateway behind which peace and tranquility reign.
For the first time in 93 years Great Uncle George had a visit from the family he never knew representing those he left behind. We may never go back but I think my grandmother, his youngest sister, would be pleased to know we were there, left a poppy and signed the book of remembrance.