For years, I have often felt at a disadvantage. The crazy thing is that this perceived disadvantage was in fact because I was very fortunate. You see, all around me at school and later at college, there were friends who had lost grandfathers, or great grandfathers, or other male relatives to The Great War and of course, the Second World War. Throughout my knowledge of my family, I could not think of one who had fought in the Great War. I knew that my maternal grandfather William John Rawles had fought in the Second World War, and I learned at his ninetieth birthday that he had been commissioned in the field as well. But with all the talk in Northern Ireland of the Somme, the Ulster Division, it almost became that I felt we had somehow let the side down.
This morning, I happened to share on Facebook that the UK Culture Secretary has announced plans to commemorate the beginning of the war nearly a hundred years ago. An aunt then posted
I asked myself “About whom is she talking?” “What great great-uncle is that?” I went on to message her and ask these questions. I found that my great great-uncle, John Bovey, is buried in the British Cemetery, in Brebières, near Douai, northern France. He died on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and eighteen – the day that would become known as Armistice Day.
Corporal John E. Bovey died in 1918. His family no doubt on hearing of the Armistice expected him to return to them. Sadly, this was not to be. Unlike so many others, he died not on the battlefield in the middle of action, but of influenza. But he died in France, having gone to war to fight for his King and his country. And he died, aged just 21 years.
My grandfather, William John Rawles was born in 1919 and I understand was named John for his uncle. Although my second Christian name is John and there are reasons for it on both sides of the family, in one way, John Bovey’s name lives on in mine, and those of my cousins Richard and David, who both have John as a second Christian name.
It must be said, that I was born on my great-uncle John Carchrie’s birthday, and there was another great-uncle John on the Campbell side of my father’s family. I wonder how many of us have names that have meaning from history? I know that Andrew has Alexander which was his grandfather’s name and he died in the Battle of the Atlantic in the Second World War.
As we look towards the coming centenaries of the wars in the early part of the last century, we will find out more about our past, and sometimes it may surprise us. I note that the Government has announced that two pupils and a teacher from each state secondary school in England will be sent to the battlefields in France and Belgium to research local people and find out about their history. I hope to make the pilgrimage to Brebières and see the grave, and lay a wreath.
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, said,
“Above all, these visits are a reminder that the First World War is not ancient history but a shared history that unites our country,
“All of us have some connection with the conflict. No community was untouched by a family tragedy.”
For years, I had tried to find my connection to the Great War. Today that came home to me and I am proud that there is a connection even in my name. Were it not a bit difficult to change the name by which I am usually known, I would be tempted to say, call me John.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.At the going down of the sun and in the morning,We will remember them.