One of the first blog pieces I wrote was about my Great Grandpa Norman Dale and his terrible, ‘Saving Private Ryan’-esque experiences in the First World War (you can read that here). Norman was in the 2nd/6th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, alongside his brother Frank: the two youngest brothers, they were inseparable. One of their older brothers, Walter, was in the 22nd Battalion, and fought with/near them in Belgium.
Sadly, both Walter and Frank lost their lives in the war, and last weekend my family went to visit their graves in Coxyde Military Cemetery, 100 years to the day that Frank died. Through the help of the amazing Flanders Battlefield Tours we were also able to see where Walter and Frank are believed to have died, and discovered that both were killed by enemy artillery fire. Indeed, the graves at Coxyde are largely laid out chronologically, and Walter lies beside around five others from the same regiment, who all died on the 22nd July 1917 (potentially caught by the same shell).
Walter died 8 days before Frank, on the beach at East Ostend (somehow we tend not to associate the First World War with beaches – that is more of a ‘Second World War’ setting). It is believed that Frank and Norman were also on the beach, before moving in land to ‘Lombartsyde’ (Lombardsijde).
On the 30th July 1917, Frank was killed – although our tour guide suggested he may actually have been fatally wounded a day earlier. This fits with one of the stories passed down through my family; that Norman saw his brother hit and wanted to go to him, but was held back by his friends.
On the 22nd July 2017, 100 years after Walter’s death, a relation of ours visited Coxyde and placed photos of Walter and Frank (buried just 8 meters apart) by their graves. On the 30th July 2017, the anniversary of Frank’s death, we slipped a picture of him and Norman behind his portrait. After a century apart, the two beloved brothers are finally together again. RIP.
A poignant reminder that so many families suffered multiple losses. I am always struck by the epitaphs that name another family member in an unknown grave, and by family members like yours buried so close together.