Great War:

A chance dis­cov­ery in a fam­ily tree took Rosie Cas­tle on an emo­tional visit to north­ern France

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE -

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

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