HISTORY FEATURE: Adding pictures and tales so graves tell the full story

HISTORY detectives who helped a Rotherham family learn about their loved one’s wartime sacrifice are trying to track down the descendants of three more fallen soldiers from the town.

The Advertiser told last year how the Cooksey family had met up with Mart Janssen, whose parents put up Masbrough private Samuel Rigby and his comrades in the Netherlands in the days before he died in 1944.

They were brought together thanks to the efforts of a team of researchers at the volunteer-run Stichting AdoptieGraven Venray project, which allows people to adopt a grave at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in the Dutch town of Venray.

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Now the team are keen to hear from any living relatives of three more soldiers, two of whom died within three days of each other.

The first is Pte Thomas Henry Simpson, who served in the 8th Battalion of the Royal Scots and was aged 20 when he was killed on December 23, 1944.

He was the son of William and Gertrude Simpson, of Maltby, and his inscription reads: “At rest in God’s beautiful garden in the sunshine of perfect peace.”

The researchers also want to find relatives of Pte John Brotherton, a comrade of Pte Simpson’s in the 8th Royal Scots who died three days later, on Boxing Day, 1944, when he was 31.

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Pte Brotherton, who had worked as a hairdresser, was the son of Melvin and Rebecca Brotherton, of Rotherham, and his gravestone reads: “Loving memories never die, though day roll on and year pass by.”

The last of the three to die was Cpl Clifford Herbert Reed, who served in the Reconnaissance Corps of the 3rd Royal Northumberland Fusiliers) Regt and was 22 when he died on April 2, 1945.

Cpl Reed, who lived in Milton Street, Maltby, was the son of Herbert and Ethel Annie Reed, and left a widow, Edna.

His gravestone reads: “Cherished memories of a daddy I never saw — Stuart. God bless you — Cliff, Edna.”

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Chantal van de Vin, one of the research team, said: “Part of the adoption is to put effort in telling the soldier’s story. Who was he? Were did he live?”

Chantal said one key aim was to give each grave a “face” by getting hold of a photo of the soldier buried there.

She added: “The stones are there with the names on them, but by telling the story and showing a picture, the stone becomes a person — a person we honour for giving us freedom for which he gave his life.

“Researching the stories is a beautiful journey and Samuel Rigby is one of the 693 stories we have to tell.”

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The team’s research extends from social media and genealogy websites to community databases, war diaries, museums and military regiments’ histories and books.

“We also have help from our Miss Marples — a group of English Ladies who do genealogy research for us,” said Chantal.

“At this moment, we have already given 240 graves a face and we hope to get many many more.”

Of the 693 men laid to rest at the Venray, 692 are from the military with one civilian.

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All but one are from UK, Australia, New Zealand or Canada. More than 300 graves are still without photos.

“With permission of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, we offer the public the opportunity to symbolically adopt one of the 693 graves,” said Chantal.

“We ask our adopters to regularly visit the grave they adopted.

“We also like to get in touch with the families of those interred, and try to find a photo of each grave.

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“We print that photo on a metal plate that we place in front of the grave on special occasions, including Christmas Eve.”

* You can find out more about the project at www.adoptiegraven-venray.nl and the Adoptie Graven Venray, or search Venray War Cemetery on Facebook.

Long journey to brother’s final place of rest is over

By Gareth Dennison

INTREPID Horace Smith’s long journey of eight years and thousands of miles came to an end in a small cemetery in the corner of a cornfield in northern France.

At last, the 62-year-old had found the grave of his brother Samuel, who had been killed in the First World War.

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Horace was only six when Samuel — a private with 6th Btn York and Lancaster Regiment — lost his life in September 1916.

His quest to find his brother’s final resting place had taken him to 300 cemeteries across mainland Europe from the mid-1960s.

Now, in September 1972, Horace described it as a “wonderful moment” as he stood beside the gravestone in Stump Road Cemetery, about half a mile outside the village of Grandcourt in the Somme area of France.

“I promised my mother that one day I would go and find it and she would have been very happy to know that I have succeeded,” an overjoyed Horace told the Advertiser in a front page story on September 22.

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“I have toured France, Belgium, Luxembourg — all over the place,” he added. “I have been thousands of miles and seen thousands of gravestones in 300 cemeteries.

“But, until this year, my search had been in vain.”

Horace, formerly of Treeton, started looking while on holiday in Belgium in 1964. He visited a war cemetery and systematically looked at each of the 2,000 graves to see if Samuel’s name was there.

“Mother always said she didn’t believe the men were buried in war graves as we had been led to believe, and I promised that someday I would go and find the grave,” said Horace, who worked as a craftsman’s mate with British Steel at Ickles.

Horace obtained information from the Royal British Legion which showed that Samuel’s grave was registered as being in Stump Road.

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And sure enough, he found the name: Pte. S. Smith, 18545, 6th Btn. York and Lancaster Regiment, who died September 30, 1916, aged 23. Son of Samuel and Francis Maria Smith, of Well Lane, Treeton.

Horace said he planned to make another pilgrimage the following year to place a wreath of poppies at the grave of Samuel, whose name is on Treeton’s war memorial.

In the meantime, he brought home photographs for his other brothers, James William, Cyril and Johnny.

He also returned to his home in Hansdworth with some soil from the grave, in which he intended to grow a plant for his own memorial garden.

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Michael Greet, acting chief archivist at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said: “It is sad that Mr Horace Smith spent so many years and travelled many hundreds of miles in search of his brothers grave, when his parents knew the details all along.

“Their names and address appear in the cemetery register, which indicates that they responded to correspondence from the commission telling them where their son was buried, before the headstone for Pte Smith was engraved in the 1920s.

“Before the digitisation of our casualty records, families could also write to the commission for details of where their loved ones was buried or commemorated.

“Today everyone can search our website and see not only the commemorative details for every war casualty, but also some of the original documents compiled when the graves were first registered and marked by the commission.”

* Visit www.cwgc.org to find out more about the commission.

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