In Flanders Fields | Discovering My Family

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Guest post by Ellen Cole

After the birth of my nephew in 2009 I began thinking about all the family stories I could tell him, however I knew nothing beyond my Grandparents, which triggered my journey into my family history.

Knowing where I come from is of a great importance to me and I was eager to learn not just what my ancestor’s names were, but to also discover the types of lives they led. Whilst researching Two Pa’s (my Grandfather) side of the tree I came across a family, who still to this day intrigue me. They seemed very ahead of their time and quite unconventional for a late Victorian to early Edwardian family.

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Ellen’s Great Great Uncle’s Will offered little insight into the life he’d led

One person who stuck out for me from the word ‘go’ was my Great Great Uncle Edward, who fought in WW1. I was surprised to find someone in the family who had been part of the war, as no one in my family knew about him. I purchased numerous certificates to ensure that Edward was part of my family tree and thankfully my money hadn’t been wasted, this was an Uncle of mine!

Edward (a child of 11) was brought up by both of his parents until he was 6 when his father suddenly died, leaving his mother (Catherine) to bring up 11 children on her own. The family stayed together in their 3 bed-roomed house, where most of the clan (including the ladies) worked for the Raleigh Bicycle Company.

However, everything changed in 1916 when Edward signed up to fight in the Great World War leaving behind his wife and newborn child. Five months after joining the War, Edward was sadly killed in action (19 September 1916).

I wanted to learn more about Edward, however no one in my family knew about him and could not give me answers to my questions. A couple of months later, I was able to track down one of Edward’s direct descendants who was living down under. She was able to fill in many missing gaps for me as well as sending me pictures of Edward, his family and of course of his war medal. She told me that after the war, many members of the family moved around for work and everyone simply fell out of touch. This is probably why I had never heard of Edward before I began my family tree.

In 2013, it was announced that the WW1 Wills were going to be released. On the release date, I eagerly waited for Edward’s Will to see if it would offer me any further insights into his life. Sadly the Will did not say much, however it impressed upon me what affects a short statement like this might have had on my ancestors when Edward was pronounced dead.

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One of the many displays at the In Flanders Fields Museum

Now that the centenary of the war is upon us, I will be soon making a trip to commemorate my fallen Uncle. This journey will for me is about being educated about our rich history, whilst at the same time gaining a sensory experience of how what it may have felt like for a soldier at war. As a museum geek, I am very much looking forward to attending the In Flanders Fields Museum, which is an interactive venue showcasing the story of WW1 in particular the hardship and the aftermath of war. The Last Post Ceremony is something that I am particularly looking forward to experiencing at the famous Menin Gate in Yrpes. But, out of everything, there is nothing more important to me than showing my respect to all of those who protected our country and of course keeping the memory of my forgotten Uncle Edward alive.

You too can join the commemoration and pay your respects at the In Flanders Fields Memorial by booking yourself onto the In Flanders Fields Mini Cruise for this November. Whether, like me, you’re going to discover more about your family and say a final farewell, or you’re keen to learn about times gone by, it really will be a trip to remember.

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