Gallery/First World War: Mum would be comforted by knowing brother had a grave
As a girl, Mary Meredith was taken every November by her mother to the village war memorial to pay their respects. Today, Mary tells the stories of her uncles – one who survived the First World War and one who paid the ultimate price. James Marston reports
Armistice Day this year had special meaning for Ipswich woman Mary Meredith. Her thoughts turned to her uncles. “One of my earliest memories is being taken by my mother to the war memorial in the village I grew up in to pay our respects and remember,” she says. “This usually ended with my dear mother in tears, which usually meant my sister and I started crying as well.”
As a youngster in the Essex village of Stanford-le-Hope, Mary admits she wasn’t quite sure what the annual visit to the memorial was all about. “As we got older we realised that mother had lost a brother in the First World War. He had never been found and he never had a grave. To someone of my mother’s generation that was an awful thing; he had no resting place.”
Mary’s mother, Kathleen, died in 1998.
“When you lose your mum you think of all things you wish you asked. And I wish I’d asked more about my uncle Frank. Among the things that we found were the medals of our uncle Frank, including a memorial plaque which had apparently been sent to every next of kin of those who had lost their life in the war.”
Mary, of Winston Avenue, Ipswich, decided to find out more about her uncle Ernest Frank Bridger. “Frank served in the Machine Gun Corps, which was formed in 1915, and died from his injuries on July 28 ,1916.”
She made a remarkable discovery.
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“I found out he had a grave after all. Not only that but we found where the grave was and where it was in the cemetery. He is in the Abbeville Communal Cemetery in the Somme region of France. A cousin visited and placed flowers from the family but I shall always regret not knowing before Mum died. It could have brought her some comfort knowing he had a grave.”
Today, Frank’s medals are prized family possessions. But alongside them, Mary, 72, has another set of medals.
“When Mum died we also found her brother Bernard’s medals. Uncle Bernie survived the war and went on to marry and have a family of his own. He died in the 1950s.
“He joined the army at the outbreak of war when he was 15. He served in the Royal Norfolk regiment and was among the first to be sent to France. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him.”
One of Bernard’s medals stood out.
“To my amazement I realised that Uncle Bernie had been awarded the Military Medal in 1918 when he was just 19. Records show this was given for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire and for individual associated acts of bravery. My uncle was a very modest and unassuming man and I can never remember this medal being mentioned; even his two daughters were unaware of it until I mentioned it to them.”
Mary has not been able to find what Bernard did to receive the medal.
“During the Second World War the records were kept in London and the building they were kept in was bombed and the records lost. We’ll probably never know what Bernard did; whatever it was it must have been outstanding.”
Today, Mary passes on the family stories to her grandchildren, and her two daughters recently volunteered to place poppies at the Tower of London.
“This year is an opportunity to pass on those stories to the next generation and tell them what the First World War meant and still means. I get a feeling of pride at what both my uncles did in the First World War and the sacrifices they made.
“I’m very proud my daughters joined the volunteers and placed poppies. They did it in remembrance and respect of all those who took part in the Great War.”