Lest we forget (2018)

Each year I attend a Battlefields tour to France, Begium or the Netherlands. The tour is arranged by members of the Norwich British Legion. During 2018, my Dad’s local magazine, Lindfield Life, ran a series of Lest We Forget articles. And he challenged me to find one of the fallen on my trip that year. This is the article I submitted to the magazine.

We will remember them

I was in Lindfield recently, visiting my dad, John (a member of the Lindfield Perseveration Society), when he gave me a copy of the Lindfield Life magazine.  He specifically referred me to the Lest We Forget series it has been running. This listed the village’s Fallen in this, the hundredth year since the end of the First World War. Little did I know that this list of names was about to lead me on an emotional and humbling adventure.

I have a particular interest in the First World War (WW1) as, like many, my Great Grandfather perished in WW1 at the Battle of Arras (21 April, 1917).  In 2010, I was invited by my aunt to visit his final resting place; an incredibly moving experience.  And I have returned to The Somme annually ever since.  This year I was heading to the Western Somme, and my Dad challenged me to find and pay my respects to one of the “Glorious Dead” featured in the magazines.

Held over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, the visits are organised by a group of British Legion service men located at Norwich’s TA centre.  As well as visiting war museums and historical sites, we locate the cemeteries where soldiers from the Norfolk Regiment are buried. And we hold a wreath laying ceremony, complete with the last post and the prayer for The Fallen:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

Ex-servicemen and women, and their relatives, are encouraged to wear uniform and medals.   

Armed with the list of names and associated cemeteries, I asked our tour manager, Rusty, if we might pay our respects to one or more them.  With an already packed agenda, Rusty decided on Auchonvillers cemetery.  This held one of the names on my list, and also a Norfolk soldier.

Auchonvillers village resides in the heart of The Somme battlefield, and sits in the shadow of Thiepval memorial. It commemorates more than 72,000 service men who died on The Somme.  

Following the instructions in the Lindfield Life (Feb 2018), we arrived at the Auchonvillers Cemetery to seek out our man, Albert Edward Cormack.  The information in the magazine reads:

Company Sergeant Major 5460. 1st Battalion. The Border Regiment. Killed in action aged 37 at Thiepval on 6th April 1916, having been previously wounded while serving in the Dardanelles. Buried Auchonvillers Military Cemetery F35. Survived by his wife of Somerset Cottages, Lindfield Common.

In each cemetery, there is a book of names. Each beautifully-kept white headstone bears a letter and number, etched into its side, to enable you to find the fallen soldier.

But the name was not listed and, despite a thorough look, our man could not be found.  Those who had gathered to pay respects to our Norfolk boy started to rally. My concern that I could not find our Lindfield boy was probably obvious on my face.  

Rusty’s wife, Judy, a veteran of these visits, suggested I look up Albert Cormack on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.  Being grateful for mobile phones and a decent signal, we found that he was buried at Cemetery Auchonvillers Communal.  The communal graveyard, not the military one.  The website also supplied a photograph to guide us.

Thankfully Auchonvillers is a small village, and using our photo, we located a communal graveyard with a row of 15 commonwealth graves hidden on one side.  A cheer went up and we piled out to go in search of our man.

Suddenly, Albert wasn’t just an unknown soldier from a little village in Lindfield that none of us knew.  He had become a “friend” to whom we wanted to say a personal thank you for “giving his tomorrow for our today”.

A group of us surrounded his grave, and as I placed a memorial cross by his headstone, a prayer was said. One of our team, wearing his flag bearers uniform, stood in salute.  We gave thanks to a soldier who had given his life in the hope that this would be the war to end all wars.

It was an emotional tribute to a man that none of us knew. But the search had brought him to our hearts. Albert Herbert Cormack is someone I will now never forget.


Notes

  1. The War Graves website gives Albert’s widow as living in Croydon. We suspect she moved there after the war to be with family. Anyone who subscribes to Ancestry can find out more, as she is listed there.  The 1939 census states that she was living with her son and daughter-in-law
  2. The full information on the War Graves Commission site:
    Company Serjeant Major, CORMACK, ALBERT HERBERT, Service Number 5460.
    Died 06/04/1916 Aged 37
    CEMETERY AUCHONVILLERS COMMUNAL On North Boundary.
    1st Bn. Border Regiment
    Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.
    Son of Alfred and Jane Cormack;
    husband of Alice M. Cormack, of 2, Lynton Rd., West Croydon, Surrey.
  3. Inscription on his grave:
    5460 C.SERJT.MAJ
    A.H. CORMACK
    BORDER REGIMENT
    6TH APRIL 1916
    HE DIED THAT WE MIGHT LIVE GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN THAN THIS
  4. The prayer for the fallen is part of the poem, For the Fallen, by Laurence Binyon.
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