Private George Collins
Right is a picture of WFA member, Fae Jones, standing at the grave of her grandfather, 204071 Pte George L Collins, 2nd Bn East Lancashire Regiment. George died of wounds on 27 May 1918 and is buried at Vailly-sur-Aisne British Cemetery. Although Fae had visited the grave twice before, this was a particularly poignant occasion as Fae had recently discovered further details of the circumstances surrounding his death.
After placing details about her grandfather on the 'Remember on this Day' section of the WFA website, Fae was contacted by WFA member, Fred Ashmore, who had further information and had written an excellent article in 'Stand To'. Fred's uncle (also Fred Ashmore) of the 1/6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry had also been involved in the Third Battle of the Aisne on 27 May, 1918 and he had, likewise, been wounded and taken to Casulaty Clearing Station No 37 at Mont Notre Dame. Fred had records to show that his uncle was buried at the Mont Notre Dame Military Cemetery before re-burial at Vailly-sur-Aisne, and that George Collins had suffered a similar fate. 46 British soldiers and 2 members of the Friends' Ambulance Unit were in the same situation, all finally being laid to rest at Vailly. Whilst on the tour Fae later visited the site of CCS No 37 at Mont Notre Dame and placed another memorial cross in the porch of the local church.
Participants on the tour were able to honour the memories of George Collins and Fred Ashmore, by sharing, with Fae, the placing of a posy on her grandfather's grave, and the placing of a wooden cross and poppy at the grave of Private Fred Ashmore. Thus, this moving occasion linked the stories of two individual soldiers who had died in the Great War. The link was only made possible, said Fae, through the invaluable help of the WFA.
Driver Thomas Gibbs
A Man I Never Knew by Paula Masters
I never knew him,
Never knew of him,
Until one day my father mentioned
Killed in the First World War,
His uncle, my great uncle, great uncle Tom.
And that was it.
The details were sketchy.
Died somewhere in France, sometime in August or September 1914.
Did he have one of those orderly, neat white stones
In a corner of a foreign field?
I asked, enquired, wrote,
And one day the answer came -
"Driver Thomas Gibbs 67076, serving with 88th Battery, Royal Feld Artillery
died on 17th September 1914, age 22. Sadly he has no known grave."
No known grave, no body buried, no in memoriam,
But only his name left behind in France, carved in stone.
So, not at the going down of the sun,
But at midday, in a small town on the banks of the River Marne,
Sixty six kilometres to the east of Paris,
I stand before the memorial,
"TO THE GLORY OF GOD ...THE LASTING MEMORY...OFFICERS AND MEN
WHOSE GRAVES ARE NOT KNOWN"
And read, under Royal Field Artillery, under drivers,
Clutching my crimson poppies
Gathered from Flanders' fields, I cry
And remember him, great uncle Tom,
A man I never knew.
Paula writes a post script:
The poem really tells the story of how I began my search (before the days of the Internet) for great uncle Tom, my father's uncle. He was a driver for the 88th Battery, 14th Brigade RFA, at La Montaigne Farm at Bucy-le-long on the Aisne, although he would have been with the horses at Brigade HQ in Bucy-le-Long. 40 horses were killed in shelling on Bucy on 16 September 1914 and it seems likely that this was where he was killed, although the date of his death is given as 17 September. In Ipswich, he used to drive the brewery drays for Tolly Cobbold. His qualifying date was 23/8/14. and he was at Le Cateau. He is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Ferte-sous-Jouarre, as well as various places in Ipswich, his home town.
It was with a real sense of pride that I stood at La Montaigne Farm and read my poem to great uncle Tom, knowing he had been there. it was also moving to know that he could have been one of the unknown graves at Vailly British Cemetery as remains were collected from Bucy.