Never Forgotten – an eleventh-hour appeal

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17 September 2018
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41856010_263311504323851_1974613997474807808_n-45401.jpg Details of the commemoration service
Susie Douglas tells the story of an appeal launched to find the living relatives of British soldiers for an upcoming World War I centenary commemoration in Orcq, Belgium.

Susie Douglas tells the story of an appeal launched to find the living relatives of British soldiers for an upcoming World War I centenary commemoration in Orcq, Belgium.

In the small cemetery of Orcq near Tournai in Belgium 16 soldiers of the 74th (Yeomanry) Division lie at rest. Of their number 8 were 14th (Fife and Forfar Yeomanry) Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) who lost their lives on 23 October 1918.

Orcq has never forgotten the sacrifice made by these men and the 85 others who were wounded in the action that formed part of the ‘Advance to Victory’. It was liberated by the British on 21 October 1918 after four years of German occupation, however, the German army put up a fierce resistance for a further 19 days. All the men of the Black Watch fell together on 23 October and Tournai was not liberated until 9 November, just two days before Armistice marked the end of the war.

Appeal for help

This year, to mark the 100th centenary a very special commemoration is planned for 20 October 2018 as a tribute to these brave British soldiers. This is where we need your help!

The appeal to find living relatives of the fallen was first posted by Bernard Demaire back in January. In August a group of volunteers headed by Chris Morris and his family, inspired by the story of their own ancestor’s experiences in a Japanese prison of war camp in World War Two, joined the quest. However, the families of the 8 men of the Black Watch remained elusive and the Morris family then contacted me last Thursday through my website with a request for help in the search.

It was time to muster the #AncestryHour troops and their crack team of professional genealogists! Led by Michelle Leonard, who is an expert in the field of tracing the families of World War I soldiers, ably assisted by Sylvia Valentine and with a bit of help from myself in 48 hours we had drawn up the family trees of all eight men and had begun to uncover their personal stories.  

At the time of writing we have made contact with the living relatives of three of the soldier’s families and have been able to share our discoveries with them. However, as many families have become fragmented and lost touch over the years, many more relatives will be out there. We would hate them to miss out on the opportunity of attending the special tribute ceremony in October. If you think you may be related to any of the men listed below you can contact us in confidence using this online form.

The eight men

Private John BARBER, Service Number S/25462. Born 1897 in Stoke Newington, the son of John Barber and Emily Matilda Leduc.

Private Thomas Robertson BARTIE, Service Number S/9729. Born 1886 in Duddingston, Midlothian, the son of James Bartie and Elizabeth Murray.

Second Lieutenant Frederick Kenneth CUMMING, Service Number S/25352.  Born 1900 Singapore Strait, the son of Alexander Cumming and Mabel Beatrice Carver

Private Thomas Chapman COCKBURN, Service Number S/12506. Born 1893 in Cockburnspath, Berwickshire, the son of Malcolm Cockburn and Georgina Virtue.

Lance Corporal Richard IZATT, Service Number S/26870. Born 1884 in Crossgates, Fife, the son of James Izatt and Mary Dryburgh.

Private Edward SOWERBY, Service Number S/6158. Born 1893 in Blackburn, Lancashire, the son of Frederick Sowerby and Alice Loxley.

Private Thomas WALLER, Service Number S/25347. Born 1899 in Dalziel, Lanarkshire, the son of John Waller and Jeanie Ogilvie.

Private Andrew WEBB, Service Number S/25378. Born 1896 in Carluke, Lanarkshire, the son of James Henry Richards Webb and Margaret Hunter Gilroy.

Even if you are unable to attend the event in Orcq this October, do please get in touch as we would be delighted to share the fascinating stories of the families we have discovered as part of this research. In addition to the ceremony, Bernard Demaire has compiled a limited edition 40-page booklet about the military operations at Orcq from October 21 to November 8, 1918 which will be on sale for the price of 5 Euros, with all proceeds going to benefit the children of the village.

It is truly heart-warming that the Village of Orcq and its people have remembered the British soldiers every year since its liberation and have gone to such extraordinary lengths to trace the living relatives of the fallen in order they be given the opportunity to attend what will be a very special tribute. A proposed itinerary for the day can be found Orcq’s highly informative website. An English translation appears below

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October 20, 2018

At 10 o'clock: ecumenical service celebrated by the Dean of Tournai, the canon Decarpentrie and an Anglican officiant

At 11 am: British soldiers salute at the cemetery

At 11:45 am: tribute to the monument to the dead

At 12 pm: planting the tree of memory also symbolizing the accession of Tournai to the natural park of the Scheldt plains.

At 12:30 pm: drink of friendship in Sainte-Agathe church

Please bear in mind that his may change, so do keep an eye on Orcq’s website for updates.

 

Note: Since publishing this blog on 17th September, you can read further about the project on the BBC website: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-45473706

 

Postscript: We have since heard from one of those attending the Orcq ceremony about the event. It's always great to hear the outcome of people's hard word and dedication, so we share a letter to that effect below, written to Sylvia Valentine of AncestryHour, who helped the Orcq team with their research.

 

Dear Sylvia,

I hope you are well.  I thought you might be interested to hear how it went on Saturday at Orcq. They had organised a tremendous church service as well as service at the cemetery, with music and involvement of families as well as young children from the village.  I went with my cousin Judy Pow, a cousin and therefore a great niece of Fred's and we both laid a wreath and then witnessed a planting of a tree in memory of the soldiers.  The honour and respect that the village hold these 16 soldiers is extraordinary and not at all what I was expecting, and I was extremely moved by all the events of the day.  At the end we were taken by the organisers of the day to the actual spot where Fred and his fellow soldiers were killed. 

So thank you very much for bringing this whole event to my notice and all the hard work you have done. I have to say, it was one of the most moving and humbling days of my life.

Kind regards.

Simon.

Well done Orcq for what sounds to have been a fabulous day and well done Sylvia for enabling the Cumming family to share the experience.