OLAS Otley

Found and not forgotten

~ Martin Connor

Date: November 2016 (2011)

What initially struck me was that it wasn’t that far really, it took just nine hours travelling time from leaving the homes of where some of these boys lived in Otley to where they died in France. It doesn’t seem like a long time does it? Just nine hours from Cambridge fields to the fields of the Somme. I don’t mean to be disrespectful when I refer to them as boys but when I stood alongside my son Thomas aged 19, looking at the grave of another Thomas, that of Thomas Mann who like ourselves lived in Menston, who joined up in 1914 aged 16, and who was killed in action on the Somme on August 17th 1916 aged 18 then I cannot help but still think of them both in part as boys.

Like many others I have always felt a great personal debt of gratitude for the sacrifices so many of my country men and women made to protect my freedom and for many years I held a notion of finding and visiting the last resting places of all those recorded on the Memorial Stone and Roll of Honour of our Parish of Our Lady and All Saints. Last year’s publication by Chris Power, the History Group and Otley Museum of the booklet describing the stories of the fallen proved to be the trigger. In that booklet there are nineteen names associated to the Great War of 1914-18 and I decided that would be my target. Of the nineteen, sixteen have graves or memorials in France and Belgium, two in Otley and one in Malta. So having to put aside a trip to Malta for the moment that left eighteen to locate and on June 9th I along with my son Thomas set out to do so. We started our journey in Otley cemetery with John Walsh then we drove to Dover. We took the ferry to France and headed South East down to Picardy. Over the next two days we travelled back in a North Westerly direction to the Belgian coast at Nieuwport, stopping along the way at places such as Albert, Thiepval, Arras, Ypres and more. We visited all of the sixteen fallen we set out to find on foreign soil, eventually returning to Otley cemetery to end our journey with Egbert Corry.

Along the way we saw great contrasts; some have graves, others have no known resting place. Thomas Brogan is commemorated at Thiepval; the largest British military monument in the world which records the names of 72,000 men who fell in the Somme sector and who have no known grave. John Finnegan lies at rest in perfect silence amongst fields of swaying wheat in Queens Cemetery just off the Serre Road along with only 179 other identified souls. To reach the grave of James Mc Sorley you have to walk through a rural farmyard, to reach Joseph Currie at Arras you walk through the city streets. Every site has one thing in common though, they are all immaculately kept. No one could fail but to be impressed by the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who ensure all the memorials and cemeteries are maintained to the highest standards.

At Tyne Cot the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world which commemorates Joseph Bona, and Thomas Pearson we found the car park full of cars and bus loads of children visiting the site. At Sanctuary Wood where Norman Pawson is buried there was just a lone elderly man presumably visiting a Grandfather, Great Uncle or the like. We ended our continental leg at Koksijde in Belgium, it was a warm sunny afternoon and the scent of the roses and flowers that adorn the borders and gravesides filled the air and Tom and I sat down as we had everywhere else along the way to sign the Visitors Book which is kept in a tabernacle type arrangement at each venue. We were alone and after signing the book I turned the page to see who like us had visited and from where. In Koksijde there are graves from many Commonwealth countries and there were names in the book from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all the home nations and then as I turned a page there was a name from Otley, entered just two weeks previous. As I said at the beginning of this story it’s not that far really and I was heartened that others were making the journey also.

We returned to England and ended our trip by revisiting Otley cemetery to find Egbert Corry. Earlier in the trip we had visited his brother’s memorial at Arras and now we aimed to find him. Egbert had enlisted as a Private with the Bradford ‘Pals’ Battalion that were so devastated on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. I doubt if Egbert ever served with the Pals as he received a commission to the rank of Lieutenant and transferred to the Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment. However I am sure he would have learnt that the Pals suffered close to a thousand casualties on the first day of the battle, with the total Commonwealth casualty list for that one day alone numbering over 60,000 men. Just over two weeks later Egbert was seriously injured, he returned to England but later died of his injuries. He was the hardest of all to find as his is the only grave not to have a traditional Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone however we eventually found him, the last of the eighteen we had set out after.

John Walsh; Norbert Corry; Norman Pawson;

John Currie; Joseph Currie; Joseph Bona;

Thomas E Mann; John S Barrett; Thomas Pearson;

Thomas Brogan; James Mc Sorley; William Duffissey;

John Finnegan; Thomas E Duffissey; William Currie;

Edgar Barrett; Charles Shaw; Egbert Corry.

Eighteen found and none forgotten. . . now there is just Michael Nangle on my list. Now where did we put that brochure on Malta?


Martin Connor

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