My parents and I immigrated from Jamaica to England in the mid 1950s, writes Thornton Heath resident Beulah Coombs.
Every year, on Remembrance Sunday, my mother would watch the TV broadcast of the Cenotaph commemoration ceremony and would sigh and lament: “My poor brother died in the First World War”. Being a child, this just seemed like a fairy tale to me and I took little notice.
My parents returned to live in Jamaica in the seventies. I became interested in genelogy and when I visited my mother in 2007, in answer to my questions, she told me that in 1917, when she was aged three, she vaguely remembered her eldest brother, Robert, kissing her goodbye as he went off to England, to go and fight for ‘King and country’.
That was the last the family had seen of him. They were later informed that he had been killed.
Remembrance Sunday, in 2008, my daughter went to her temporary job and got talking to an older member of staff who happened to be a World War history enthusiast. He informed her about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website.
With his assistance, she, amazingly, was able to find details about uncle Robert – when he died (12th September 1917), his age at the time, (23) how he died (he had been wounded and taken to a ‘dressing station’) and where he died and was buried (Ypes in Belgium). There was even a picture of his Certificate of Commemoration displayed.
Back in Jamaica, my mother, then aged in her 90s, could hardly believe the news. She was even more incredulous when she was shown these details for herself, via the internet.
“After 91 years, I now know what happened to my brother,” she said, emotionally, looking at his Commemoration Certificate (which also showed her parents’ names), and at a picture of his inscribed headstone.
In November 2015 (pictured), two generations of relatives visited Uncle Robert’s grave in the CWGC cemetery, Canada Farm, Ypres, Belgium.
We were able to see further documents, including a war diary entry for the day he was killed. We learnt that he and other comrades, also soldiers in the 7th Battalion, British West Indies Regiment, perished from German bombardment of Canada Farm, Elverdinge, on which the soldiers had been camped, on 12th September 1917.
After 98 years, the fairy tale had come true.
*Also pictured is an image of one of the British West Indies Regiments. It may well feature Robert but the family have so far not been able trace a picture of him.