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‘One grave that speaks to the world’ by David Charters

‘One grave that speaks to the world’ by David Charters

written and submitted by writer and journalist David Charters.
photograph courtesy of James Maloney/Liverpool Echo.

We don’t know him. How could we? He fell a long time ago. And the trees in his cemetery were young then.

On the day they laid him there, he was young, too – not much more than a boy in some ways, but in other ways a true man, who had seen enough suffering to last many lifetimes.

All his comrades had.

But he belongs to us forever, as a man who gave his life to his country in the Great War, like many thousands of others from both banks of the Mersey

Now his Portland headstone tilts sharply to the left, beneath the evergreen holly leaves.

Inscribed on it are these words.

“In loving memory of Frank, dearly loved youngest son of William and Sarah Jones, killed in action, France, July 30 1915, aged 19 years.

He marched away so bravely

His head so proudly held;

His footsteps never faltered

His courage never failed

So do not ask if we miss him

Here is such a vacant place

He fought and died for Britain,

And the honour of his race.”

Next to him rests Ellen Johnson, who died in 1904, aged 88, proving that life could have been long, if it had not been for that war.

So Frank Jones lies alone amid the ruins of old Flaybrick Cemetery, which spreads for 26 acres beneath Bidston Hill, Birkenhead.

But, in the same way that he belongs to us as a local man, he belongs to the nation – one of the 995,939 Britons, who died in the First World War. They are his comrades in eternity.

And they have graves in just about every churchyard in Britain and our old empire. Of course, those are the men they brought home.

Even more lie under the white crosses in the mass burial grounds in France, Belgium, Italy, Turkey, the Middle East, Africa, the sea, and other theatres of death.

In those places are the names of men from our region, the chaps, both ordinary and grand, who marched away …

Our little country is forever stalked by a memory and the memory is of a ghost and the name of that Ghost is Young Death.

It is true the international death toll was much higher in the Second World War. Whole cities were destroyed by mass bombing.

But for the first time in this war, the centenary of whose beginning we are now commemorating, soldiers, many too young to shave, found their bravery matched against mechanised slaughter.

In August 1914, the call went out on behalf of the King for our young and single men to take up arms against the enemy. It was their patriotic duty.

And that call was answered loudly here.

But many thousands of those who answered it died. Churches, schools, colleges, villages and towns across our region have memorials dedicated to those who fell in the Great War (1914-18).

Even more were scarred mentally and physically. They never forgot their comrades who fell, the young men lost.

There are war memorials in almost every church, village and town on Merseyside, as well as many schools, colleges, factories, offices and clubs.

The First World War Roll of Honour in the Remembrance Hall at Liverpool Town Hall lists the names of more than 13,000 military men killed.

There are 2,009 names of soldiers inscribed on the war memorial in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead – and another 274 names of Birkenhead men killed in the Merchant Navy during the Great War.

The terrible toll was felt in the country and suburbs as well. The war memorial in Bidston Village has 21 names, Eastham Village 36 names, Upton Village 24 names and West Kirby (Grange Hill) 230 names.
The war also brought sorrow to much to communities north of Liverpool in what was then Lancashire.

This list of the dead gives us some idea of that. Ainsdale 44, Formby 120, Southport 1,261, Bootle 1,321, Hightown 11, Litherland 269, Maghull 26, Waterloo 436, Crosby and Blundellsands 263, Ince Blundell 13.

Liverpool Cenotaph On St George’s Plateau, designed by Lionel Budden with carvings by the acclaimed Herbert Tyson Smith, is regarded as one of the finest war monuments in the world.

Herbert Tyson Smith was also the sculptor and designer of the War Memorial opposite the Town Hall in Hamilton Square, Birkenhead.

The dead seem to numerous to count on this monument – 121 of them begin with B. From Babbs to Byrne, their names ran in the mud of Flanders.

*And there was another 19-year-old, whose name stains history. On June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Gavrilo Princip, a revolutionary seeking freedom for the South Slav people, had shot dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand, governor of Bosnia Herzegovina, and his wife Sophie.

Those bullets from his Browning 9mm pistol triggered the chain of events that began the Great War.

Princip, born poor in Bosnia. had enrolled at a school in Sarajevo, becoming embroiled in revolutionary politics.

As he was under 20, the minimum age of execution, Princip was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the murder of the archduke and his wife.

He died of consumption on April 28 1918 in Terezin, now part of the the Czech Republic. Before that his right arm had been amputated because of malnutrition.

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