Finding London Ancestors’ Death Records- Spar Field Burial Ground

I mentioned in a former blog that I have been researching my London ancestors in recent months and found most of them were not buried in churchyards, but in the many private burial grounds scattered throughout London.

One branch of my family was buried in the Spar Fields Burial Ground at Islington. I found putting together a history of this burial ground has helped to not only understand the history of this family but has given me clues, where to search for other records to move my research on.

The Spar Field Burial Ground

Originally part of the fen and moorlands at Clerkenwell Fields, Islington, the area has an interesting history. It is the termination point of the New River which was built to bring fresh drinking water to the city in the early 17th Century.

The New River is an artificial waterway opened in 1613 to supply fresh drinking water to London. Water was taken from the River Lee in Hertfordshire and supplemented from springs and wells along its course to Clerkenwell, Islington, (near where Sadler Wells Theatre is today).

The design and construction of the New River were first proposed in 1602 by Edmund Colhurst and he was able to obtain a charter from King James I in 1604 to begin the construction. After surveying the route and excavating the first two miles of canal, Colhurst found himself in financial difficulties. There was some delay before the work was carried on by Sir Hugh Myddleton, and the project was completed in 1613 with a grand official opening ceremony on 29th September. The King himself invested heavily in the project as the river crossed the King’s estate of Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire. In order to give the project a firmer financial and legal structure, the New River Company was incorporated in 1619 by Royal Charter. With the involvement of Sir John Backhouse, the Company’s first reservoir was built on his land at Islington.

There were a great expense and engineering challenges with the project as it relied on gravity to allow the water to flow. The project also faced opposition from many landowners who were concerned that it would reduce their land value because of flooding and the creation of marshy areas that would trap stock. However, with the strong support of the King, the project was completed.

In the countryside, the canal was above ground,  with sections being carried across valleys in wooden aqueducts lined with lead, supported by brick piers. Improvements in canal construction in the 18th Century led to many of these sections being replaced by clay banked canals. In some areas, the New River went through underground tunnels.

New laws were passed making it an offense to throw rubbish or carrion into the river, while anyone washing clothes, planting sallow, willow or elm trees within five yards of the canal would incur the ‘King’s displeasure’.

Part of the canal tunnel emptied into a reservoir on Sir John Backhouse’s estate and it wasn’t long before it attracted much bird life and in fact, it soon became known for the summer sport of duck-hunting.

A public entertainment house called the Pantheon was erected nearby in Exmouth Street, for the popular sports of bull-baiting and prizefighting.

By the early 18th Century the New River Company had become a significant landowner in the Clerkenwell and Islington and had laid out streets and squares which took their name from people and other associations with the Company. They are still there today as is the New River.

Spar Fields Cemetery and Enviroments

This area of Georgian London was growing at a rapid rate and all the churchyards were full, and the Bunhill Burial Ground was some distance away.

The house and gardens of the Pantheon were sold to the New River Company and was closed.

It was re-opened as a chapel of the ever-growing parish of St James, Clerkenwell. When the new St James Burial Ground opened this chapel was sold to the Countess of Huntingdon, who turned it into a Dissenting Chapel in 1779.

Shortly afterward a group of private speculators led by the Marquess of Northampton leased two acres of the gardens behind the chapel for a cemetery.

Originally this private cemetery was designed to hold approximately three thousand bodies, but the call for burial space in London was great, and it wasn’t long before the Spar Field Burial Ground was taking more than a thousand bodies a year. Since it was not in the financial interest of the speculators to stop the burials, it soon became notorious for its overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

Many of the early burial services were held in the Countess of Huntingdon Chapel.

Lady Selina Shirley, the second daughter of Washington Shirley, the 2nd Earl Ferrers, was born 24 August 1707 in Leicestershire. She married Theophilus Hastings, 9th Earl of Huntingdon on 3 June 1728. In 1739 she joined the first Methodist Society in London and then in 1746, after the death of her husband she became involved in the Calvinistic movement with John Wesley and George Whitfield. Under the influence of these two men, she founded sixty-four chapels throughout England including several in London, one being at Spar Field, Clerkenwell.

This chapel was demolished in the late 19th Century and the Church of our Most Holy Redeemer was built on the site in 1888. This church is still there today near the London Metropolitan Archives. The cemetery has been converted to a park.

Spar Fields Today

I found several members of my family had their burial service in the Countess of Huntingdon Chapel and were buried in the nearby Spar Field Burial Ground.

The burial registers of Spar Fields Chapel of the Countess of Huntingdon Connexion are held at the London Metropolitan Archives. They have been digitized and can be found online through the websites of The Genealogist, Findmypast and Deceased Online. There are some 114,000 records in cramped and ink splattered handwriting but well worth the search to find the final resting place of one’s ancestors and related families in this part of London.

Good ancestor hunting to you all.

 

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Finding London Ancestors’ Death Records – Bunhill Fields Burial Ground

Over the last year, I have spent a lot of time researching our ancestors who were connected in some way with London. Some migrated there from the counties for economic reasons, but some others made that vast city their home for several generations. I have had many fascinating hours as I traced these ancestors through all kinds of records from ‘the cradle to the grave.’

As family historians, we look for clues for three events in an ancestors life– birth, marriage, and death. Not everyone married, but everyone was born and died.

I found with research in London I could usually find a baptism through church records, but I often couldn’t find a burial record in the area where the family lived. Looking further afield in place and type of records researched was the answer.

In the 14th- 16th Centuries people continued to be buried in the churchyard adjacent to the churches or in the churches themselves. In the larger churches such as St Paul’s Cathedral, the bones were stacked in charnel houses.

In London with plagues sweeping the city came the removal of charnel houses. However many of the ancient churches graveyards were already overcrowded with burials. The rise in non-conformist religions meant if people were not of a particular parish church they were not given permission to be buried in the churchyard anyway.

This led to the rise of ‘burial grounds’ both municipal and private. These were of varying sizes and were scattered throughout the city. I found over the years our families were buried in a number of these burial grounds rather than their parish churchyard.

I always try to find out the history of a record and why it was created. This helps not only to put my ancestor in time and place but often helps me with further clues for research.

I have prepared short histories of many these burial grounds in London to help me with my family research. I hope they help others who are struggling with death and burials in London.

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Bunhill Fields: Image from londongardensonline.org.uk retrieved 8 March 2019

Bunhill Fields

Originally the area known as the Bunhill Fields Burial Ground in Islington, London was part of the Manor of Finsbury, which was outside the city walls. It was part of what was known as the ‘prebend’ of Halliwell and Findsbury, which belonged to St Paul’s Cathedral and was established in 1104. (A ‘prebend’ is a stipend or sum of money or goods granted to a canon of a cathedral or collegiate church out of its revenue. It can also refer to the land or tithe yielding this.) In Medieval times it included a large area of fen or moorland stretching from the city wall to the rural village of Hoxton. Later this land was granted to Robert Baldock. In 1315 he passed it to the Mayor and citizens of London. Remember at this time only The Crown could ‘own’ and ‘grant’ land, although you might pass the use of such land to others.

In 1498 part of this otherwise open country was enclosed for military exercises particularly archers and later for guns. It became known as the ‘Artillery Ground” by which it is still known today. It belongs to the Honourable Artillery Company whose headquarters Armoury House, overlooks the grounds.

Nearby is the Bunhill Burial Ground. The name is believed to have derived from ‘Bone Hill’ which is possibly a reference to the area having been used by the St Paul’s charnel house. This is a building where skeletal remains are stored and is often associated with large churches and cathedrals. In 1549 the charnel house was demolished and the deposited remains said to have been more than a thousand cart-loads was moved to the fields outside London near their former estate, and were deposited on the moorlands and covered with a layer of soil. This built up a ‘hill’ across a marshy flat fen.

In keeping with such a tradition in 1665 the City of London Corporation the then ‘owners’ of part of these lands decided to use a portion as a common burial ground for those who had died of the plague and could not be buried in the London churchyards. As time went on the London churchyards were generally running of room for further burials and Bunhill became the preferred place of burials. The Corporation enclosed the ground with a wall although the area was never consecrated for burial use. A Mr. Tindal then leased the land and he allowed, for a fee, burials of any person of any Christian faith, so it became very popular for non-conformists, including Wesleyan. It appeared on a 1746 map of London as ‘Tindall’s Burying Ground’.

In 1769 an Act of Parliament gave the city of London Corporation the right to take out a 99 years lease on the property and they decided to continue to use it as a burial ground. Although they originally leased it to Tindal, in 1781 they decided to take over the management themselves.

In 1854 the Bunhill Burial Ground was closed, by which date, it was estimated that some 123,000 burials had taken place there.

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Bunhill Fields: Image from londongardensonline.org.uk retrieved 8 March 2019

Many had headstones and vaults erected over their graves. It is believed, tens of thousands were erected.  Many of these have been lost due to the ravages of time, however, some two thousand remain today in various states of preservation. Many famous people are buried here.

The Burial Ground registers from 1713-1854 are held by the National Archives at Kew, while other records, such as Interment Order Books (1779-1854) are held at the London Metropolitan Archives. These institutions have now digitized many of their records including the Bunhill Fields Burial Records. They have made these available online through partnerships with The Genealogist and Findmypast.

By using these records I have been able to find the final resting place of many of our 18th and 19th Century London ancestors.

 

Baxter Cousins’ Day

Last Sunday was our ‘Baxter Cousin’s annual get-together at Murwillumbah, in Northern NSW. Although there were many of the regular attendees, there were a few new faces and some who had not attended for several years, due to employment commitments. Now recently retired they were happy to reconnect with their cousins in this way.

Sadly for various reasons, there were many who could not join us on this occasion. Ill health was on top of the list.

However, those who did attend remarked how much they always enjoyed these get-togethers and hoped I would continue to organize them in the future.

James and Elizabeth Baxter (nee Dixon) was this year’s ancestral couple, whose lives were researched and shared with the cousins.

A few of us chuckled about some of the children’s comments about no Ipads, TV and other gadgets. They couldn’t believe most people walked everywhere, sometimes great distances.

All were glad, even the adults, that they were not apprenticed at five to seven years of age to certain trades. Nor were they keen on the discipline expected of children in the Georgian Age in England.

We are hopeful everyone continues to be appreciative of the lives we are able to live in this Modern Age and the opportunities available to us.

Below: Original image from CafePress, retrieved from Google Images and used  4 March 2019
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The venue has already been booked for 1st March 2020 in the expectation everyone will continue to make the effort to meet yet again, to catch up on family news and share more research and information on our Baxter ancestral families.

Harriet Hodgett’s Journeys By Sea- Part 4

“Harriet clutched the rail to steady herself, as the ship lurched when the wind caught her sails and lifted her forward.”

Harriet Hodgett’s fourth sea voyage had begun. Today it is the anniversary of the beginning of that journey 200 years ago.

Thomas and Harriet Hodgetts, with their two youngest sons, James aged 13 and Daniel 11, as well as daughters Sarah, 19; Elizabeth, 15; Hannah, 8; and Jane, 6 years, had taken passage on the schooner, Sinbad, for Port Dalrymple in northern Tasmania.

The family was joining their eldest son, John, and his family, who had made this journey some fourteen months before.

They left their eldest daughter Mary, her husband, Thomas Graham, and their three infant daughters, at the Hawkesbury River.

The Sinbad was a wooden, 2 mast schooner, of 44 tons, built in Sydney in 1818, for George William Barnard, specifically for the coastal trade between the colonies.

In the State Records of New South Wales is a hand-written document that records this voyage of the Sinbad.

On page 142 of the Harbour Master’s Registers, it states- ” No 11/194 Muster of the Master, Crew, and Passengers of the schooner Sinbad of Sydney- Berthen Registered 44 tons- bound for Port Dalrymple”. It then lists the five crew and eleven passengers, with pertinent details.

I know this document has been shared amongst Hodgett descendants. Although it is great so many are willing to share research, we always need to be mindful of copyright and legal requirements.

This document is not available on the Internet through one of the large subscription websites such as Ancestry.com; Findmypast or the Latter Day Saints, FamilySearch. Although the State Records of New South Wales has a partnership with these websites for some records, this document is not part of records available. Nor is it available through the State Records website itself. Not yet anyway.

However, you can get a copy of this record for your family records by visiting the State Records facilities or by post, by paying the nominal administration fee. That all important reference is-

” NRS 1289 Ships Musters, Dec 1816-1825 4/4771 pp 142-143, Reel 561″.

I need to remind you, that even though you can get a copy, it is still ‘copyright’ to the State Records, and you cannot legally make copies and distribute to others, as they do not assign ‘copyright’ to you when you get the copy. Nor can you put it up on websites without permission and attribution.

However, you can make a transcription and share with family members without legal problems. By making a transcription and sharing with family history researchers you do a greater service. Firstly they know that it exists, what it says and where it is from. Secondly, realize that in the future, your descendants, and researchers generally, will probably not be able to transcribe old documents, as they will not be able to read ‘running writing’ and the cryptic abbreviations.

I share with you a transcription of my copy of this document below.

MALH027314 002

By putting a header at the top of the page and transcribing word for word the whole document, my family knows in an instant, from whom this document came and when the work was done. They also know if they wish they can also get their own official copy from the State Records of NSW, using the reference. ( I also type these up to make a more tidy copy and add some notes).

Although it is wonderful to have this surviving document, it is important for our family history, to know how and why this document was created in the first place.

In 1819, the Colony of New South Wales was made up of several communities at Sydney, Parramatta, Hawkesbury River, Newcastle, Norfolk Island, Hobart, and Port Dalrymple. They were all part of the colonial convict system, although not all the people who resided there, were convicts. That is to say, there was a growing number of free persons in these communities. This included our Hodgetts family.

However, these free people could not move freely around between these communities or to any other place in the world without the permission of the Governor through his various officials.

The law required that all persons do two things before they could move to another place, particularly by sea. Firstly they had to publically advertise their intention of moving, by placing a notice in the newspaper, the Sydney Gazette. Our Thomas Hodgett’s notice of intention appeared on 13th and 20th February 1819. This made sure you didn’t leave any debts and gave people, who owed you money notice to pay before you left the colony.

Secondly, you had to get a written ‘pass’ from the Judge Advocate’s Office,  which checked your status, and how you came to be in the said Colony you wished to leave. You would be given this pass stating your name, your status, and sometimes age, to give to the ship’s master, to allow you on board the vessel, even though you had already paid for your passage. The information from this pass was then lodged with the Harbour Master’s Office and was entered into his daily register. Thomas Hodgett’s would have needed that pass when he and his family disembarked at Port Dalrymple to show the Government officials there he had permission to settle in that community.

Now we know what records were created, where can we get a copy of the corresponding documents for John Hodgetts and family, who had left Sydney some fourteen months before, to settle in Port Dalrymple?

World War I Family Hero – Leonard Ingram Mitchell

Leonard Ingram Mitchell, the eldest son of Reginald and Leticia Kate Mitchell (nee Bell) was born in the Hunter Valley in 1890. He worked with his father as a builder after he left school.

He was a young man of about 24  years of age when World War I broke out in 1914. By 1915 when further calls went out for volunteers, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces on 4 August 1915, at Newcastle. He was mustered into the 30th Battalion.

The 30th Battalion was raised as part of the 8th Brigade at Liverpool in New South Wales on 5 August 1915. Most of its recruits hailed from the Newcastle region and other parts of country New South Wales.

The 30th Battalion embarked on the troopship Nestor which sailed for Port Said on the Suez Canal.

There the 8th Brigade joined the newly raised 5th Australian Division in Egypt and proceeded to France, destined for the Western Front, in June 1916. Although being involved in the Battle of Amiens, the 30th Battalion’s first major battle was at Fromelles on 19 July 1916. It was tasked with providing carrying parties for supplies and ammunition but was soon drawn into the vicious fighting.

Len Mitchell was soon promoted to Corporal and later to Sargent.

Following the disaster at Fromelles, the battalion was rotated in and out of the front line along with others in the brigade but played no major offensive role for the rest of the year.

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In early 1917, the German Army withdrew to the Hindenburg Line. During the general advance that followed, the 30th Battalion had the honour of occupying Bapaume, one of the original objectives for the Somme Offensive.

However, the 30th missed much of the heavy fighting of 1917, being employed in flank protection and reserve roles at the second battle of Bullecourt in May 1917.

 

For the  Third Battle of Ypres which began in August 1917, they were brought forward again.

The preliminary bombardment before the battle lasted for 10 days, during which time 3,000 guns fired 4.25 million artillery shells. Along an 11 mile front the infantry attack comprised a corps of the French First Army on the left, the British Fifth Army in the centre and a corps of the British Second Army on the right of the attack. The German Fourth Army held off the attackers in most places.

Within hours of the start of the battle rain began to fall and crucially did not stop, carrying on into the following weeks. The constant rain produced conditions completely unsuitable for the continued movement of men, animals and heavy equipment, such as artillery and tanks.

The battle, however, continued to grind on in short phases for several weeks throughout the late summer and the autumn.

Success for the allies in late September with the Battle of Menin Road gave them hope to push on towards the Passchendaele Ridge. The Battle of Polygon Wood began on 26 September. The 30th Battalion were entrenched around Hooge Crater.

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It was at the Battle of Polygon Wood on 29 September 1917 that Len Mitchell was seriously wounded in the right shoulder.

He was evacuated to England. After surgery and convalescence, he was returned to Australia on the Field Marshall in March 1918. He was discharged as medically unfit on 23 May 1918.

Australian War Diaries can be found at the Australian War Memorial at https://www.awm.gov.au/ 

Unit Diary

Page for 29 September 1917, from the Australian Imperial Forces Unit Diaries 1914-18 War, 8th Infantry Brigade September 1917, AWM 4(Australian War Memorial), 23/8/22. (30th Battalion mentioned in daily plans.)

 

Leonard Ingram Mitchell’s full military records can be found at the  National Australian Archives at  https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/

He returned to working with his father in the building trade. He married Margaret Sylvia McInnes in 1926.

Len Mitchell had a brother and a number of first and second cousins who also served:-  Roy Hamilton Mitchell, Phillip John Vincent, James Joseph Thomas Bell, Louis Augustus Bell, Arthur Campbell Bell, and William George Blanchard.

World War I Family Hero-Roy Hamilton Mitchell

Roy Hamilton Mitchell the second son of Reginald and Leticia Kate Mitchell (nee Bell), was born in the Hunter Valley about June 1893.

His father had been a builder at Gloucester for many years before the family moved to Mosman in Sydney.

His mother had been born at Picton and was the seventh child of James and Elizabeth Bell (nee Crockett). James Bell had worked his way to Sydney as a sailor on a convict ship in 1837. His brother George Bell had come with him.

As a young man, Roy Mitchell was very keen on engines and was apprenticed as an electrical engineer to Brian Bros and Stanton Cook.

He was in his early twenties when World War I broke out. He enlisted on 1 September 1915 some three weeks after his elder brother, Leonard.

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After several weeks training, Roy embarked on 30 November 1915 on the troop ship, Suffolk, as part of the 4th Field Company of Engineers, bound for Egypt. These soldiers were to be deployed on the Gallipoli Peninsular. However, on arrival, they found that the Australian and New Zealand troops had been evacuated, and returned to Egypt.  (During the Gallipoli landings and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of the First World War, Tel-el-Kebir was a training centre for the First Australian Imperial Force reinforcements).

On disembarking Roy Mitchell was transferred to the 14th Field Company as a Sapper.

(A sapper, also called pioneer or combat engineer, is a combatant or soldier who performs a variety of military engineering duties such as breaching fortifications, demolitions, bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields, preparing field defences- such as laying razor wire trench fortifications, as well as working on road and airfield construction and repair.)

The 8th,14th, and 15th Field Companies were part of the Australian 5th Division.

Roy Mitchell displayed leadership and was promoted to a Lance Corporal before his unit embarked for the Western Front. This unit was originally deployed around Rouen in France. (In the First World War the city was safely behind the lines and became a major logistics centre with numerous base hospitals. Commonwealth camps and hospitals were stationed on the southern outskirts of Rouen.)

Campaigns for the 14th Field Company includes Fromelles, Bullecourt, Polygon Wood, Villers-Bretonneux, Morlancourt, Amiens, Peronne and the Hindenburg Line.

Polygon Wood- 2014

Above: Polygon Wood (Copyright Nola Mackey 2014)
Below: The Australian 5th Division Memorial (copyright Nola Mackey -2014)

5th Division Memorial

Much of the day to day life in the trenches for Roy Mitchell can be found in the Unit War Diaries at AWM4 14/33/1 March 1916 to AWM4 14/33/25 March 1918.

 

14th Field Company-29 Sept 1917

Page for 29 September 1917, from the Australian Imperial Forces Unit Diaries 1914-18 War, 14th Field Company September 1917, AWM 4(Australian War Memorial), 14/33/19.

As can be seen from the above extract this unit was working in the Butte area at Polygon Wood on 29 September 1917, when Roy Mitchell’s older brother Leonard, was seriously wounded in the shoulder. It is interesting to speculate if they met or knew each other was in the area. I believe although not impossible, highly unlikely, given their different jobs on the front line. (In the 8th Brigade Infantry War Diary, mention is made that the 30th Battalion and the 15th Field Company having had contact on 28 September 1917).

From Spring 1917 the whole war became more mobile, with grand offensives at the Battles of Arras, Messines, and Passchendaele, there was no longer a place for a tactic that depended upon total immobility for its employment. It was about this time the Australian Tunnelling and Mining Companies came under direct control of the British Engineers who changed tactic when the men were employed

Underground work continued, with the tunnellers concentrating on deep dugouts for troop accommodation. To assist the attack, the Royal Engineers constructed 20 kilometres (12 mi) of tunnels, graded as subways (foot traffic only); tramways (with rails for hand-drawn trollies for taking ammunition to the line and bringing casualties back); and railways (a light railway system). Just before the assault, the tunnel system had grown big enough to conceal 24,000 men, with electric lighting provided by its own small powerhouse, as well as kitchens, latrines and a medical centre with a fully equipped operating theatre.

To improve the logistical movement of artillery and supplies an extensive programme of road building was started. Ten field companies, seven tunneling companies, four army troop companies, and nine battalions were put to work repairing or extending existing plank roads. From the middle of October until the end of the offensive, a total of 2 miles (3.2 km) of double plank road and more than 4,000 yards (3,700 m) of heavy tram line was constructed.

 Except for a couple of bouts of sickness including Mumps, Roy Mitchell spent more than two years on the front line. He was on leave in Paris when the Armistice was declared.

He re-joined his unit and was transferred to the Australian Engineers, Mining and Boring Company.

This company was attached to the British Royal Engineers and was tasked with the rebuilding of roads and bridges in France to begin the mammoth task of moving of troops and equipment from the front lines back to Britain. From early December 1918 to March 1919 Roy Mitchell was involved in these activities.

On 7 March 1919, he finally transferred back to the 14th Engineers and was sent to England, where he boarded the Devonha for return to Australia.  The ship arrived on 8 May 1919 and an interesting incident occurred when it reached Adelaide. Details can be found here.

Roy Mitchell was finally discharged a few weeks later.

Roy Hamilton Mitchell had a brother and number of first and second cousins who served in World War I.  I have written blogs on the following:-  Leonard Ingram Mitchell, Phillip John Vincent, James Joseph Thomas Bell, Louis Augustus Bell, Arthur Campbell Bell, William George Blanchard.

Although Roy Mitchell showed courage and leadership during his years of service on the Western Front during World War I, it was his daring and courage after the war that made him famous.

The Last Post Ceremony, Menin Gate, Ieper – Postscript

In my last blog, I wrote about our very emotional attendance at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate, Ieper.

Menin Gate - West

After viewing the Last Post Ceremony, many of our tour group went to explore Ieper, but Vern and I returned to our hotel to have dinner in the restaurant there. We were ‘seated’ at a small table for two. An elderly couple sat at an equally small adjoining table. We were the only ones sitting in this section of the restaurant.

I had noticed this couple at the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate earlier in the evening. They had been standing in the crowd opposite me. Just as the ceremony ended the woman collapsed. A number of bystanders rushed to her aid and the couple was assisted to a seating area and taken care of by paramedics.

While we were waiting for our meal to be served I plucked up the courage to speak to the couple. I admitted I had seen them at the ceremony and enquired if the woman was feeling better.  The elderly woman couldn’t speak English well, but the gentleman did and spoke on her behalf. He thanked us for our concern and said she had recovered, but needed rest.

Hearing our accent they asked where we from and what had brought us to Ieper. We told him we had come to pay our respects to family members who had died on the battlefields of Europe many years before we were born. During the course of things, my passion for Family History was mentioned once or twice.

 

Over the next hour, we heard much about this couple. They had been born near Ieper between  World Wars I and II and had grown up in the area, but now lived in the south of France.

Their ancestors were from Ieper through several generations, and they loved to return to the city whenever an occasion presented itself.

They told us the Menin Gate and the Last Post Ceremony had been an important part of their lives growing up. Friends and family members always attended the ceremony, whenever they visited the city, in grateful thanks for the great sacrifice made by so many.

We learned that this couple were special guests at an International Dinner at the Great Cloth Hall that evening and the gentleman was to receive an award. Neither were in good health and the lady had become quite frail, but both were determined to return to Ieper for this special dinner.

Iepers - Cloth Hall

They both wanted to attend the Last Post Ceremony, as they had always done when returning to the city.  When the lady’s health deteriorated at the ceremony, the attending doctor suggested she should return to the hotel to rest and not overly stress herself by attending the gala event with her husband. Of course, the gentleman would not leave his wife’s side and so they planned to dine quietly at the hotel restaurant.

We asked if there was anything we could do to assist them in any way. They thanked us for our offer but said the wonderful city officials had taken care of everything for them.

Then the gentleman reached into his evening jacket and retrieved the official guilt edged programme of the  Cloth Hall Dinner and asked us to accept it as a special memento of our meeting and dining together that evening. What a beautiful and generous gift. Although I cannot read it, (I believe it is in Dutch), there is no doubt receiving this is one of my most treasured memories of our Western Front Tour.