A chance discovery in a family tree took Rosie Castle on an emotional visit to northern France
Rosie Castle’s lost greatuncles
The sun was setting on the immaculate war cemetery at Vis-en-Artois, a few miles from Arras in northern France, the last rays painting the stone memorial columns a vivid orange against the cobalt evening sky.
There was a special reason why Norfolk woman Rosie Castle was there on that day, September 27. Exactly 100 years ago to the day, Private Walter Halverson, of the 1st Battalion, The Northumberland Fusiliers, died at the battle for the Canal du Nord. He was 19.
He was also the great-uncle of Rosie, who recently discovered her long-lost relative while researching her family tree. Rosie, who grew up in Aylsham, had been adopted as a baby.
Her discovery of Walter – and his brother George, who died at the Somme on July 1, 1916 – was a surprise but when she realised that the 100th anniversary of Walter’s death was approaching, she felt she wanted to commemorate it by visiting his memorial and also that of George, whose name is inscribed on the immense Thiepval monument.
“Being adopted, one of the things I have missed is knowing my family history. Most of my ‘natural’ family have passed away so finding out anything about them has been difficult.
“When I found out about Walter and George I was very moved, even though I obviously never knew them or much about them. It felt right to go to Walter’s memorial on the 100th anniversary of his death and think about him,” says Rosie. “To go to Thiepval and see George’s name up there was also very emotional.
“They were, from what little I know, just two young Englishmen, teenagers, who joined up to do the right thing and, like hundreds of thousands of other young men, gave up their futures for us. It’s very humbling to feel even distantly connected to them.”
Like many of those who died in the horrors of the Western Front, their bodies were never found. In each of the perfectly-preserved war cemeteries in France there are thousands of Portland stone markers bearing the simple, powerful lines: ‘A Soldier of the Great War; Known unto God.’
At one of these, a grave marking the remains of an unknown soldier of George’s regiment, the Royal Fusiliers, Rosie laid a flower and a brief message. “I’m so glad I went,” she says. “It was a very special moment.”
TOP:The war cemetery at Vis-en-Artois
ABOVE: Rosie looking at the memorial stone bearing her greatuncle’s name
RIGHT:A grave for an unknown soldier at Thiepval