First World War Centenary Series #2: Grave Search

A week last Sunday my wife, three of my children and I went to Phillips Park Cemetery, in Manchester, to search for the resting place of some of my ancestors. Armed with a grave reference number, we went to view the place that my Great Grandfather Albert Cartwright, wife Ada, baby daughter Edith, eleven old daughter Margaret, and Ada’s brother George Campbell all rest.

I was also verifying my Mum’s memory that there was no headstone there, for reasons of my own. She recalls that when her Mum, my Gran Lillian, used to visit her husband’s grave, she would save some of the flowers that she brought with her for his grave, and place them on the  ground where her mother Ada was buried.  She didn’t recall any mention of the other family members. An on-line search told me that Ada shared her resting place with her other kin named above.

This is Albert Cartwright with Ada. He was in the 11th btn Lancashire Fusiliers. He died at home the day before New Year’s Eve in 1919, as a result of being gassed when fighting at the front. His war records were destroyed in the bombing of the Second World War, but I do have his death certificate. His cause of death is given as Lobar Pneumonia and cardiac failure. Those who suffered the effects of gas, with the damage done to the lungs and throat, were often susceptible to ailments like pneumonia and bronchial problems.

Ada died in 1927.

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Phillips Park Cemetery is a lovely, well kept cemetery near to Manchester City’s Etihad stadium. It houses, among others, the remains of men who participated in he battle at Rorke’s Drift, made famous by the film Zulu, and also the one that became known as the Charge Of The Light Brigade.

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First thing we saw was the war memorial.

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My children-three faces among the names.

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They loved running in the neat, open spaces. My Doctor Who-mad three and a half year old son marched among the graves as a Cyberman. Maybe a Phillips Park first. But he did seem wary around the many weeping angels. These evil denizens of time and space were in a bad way, many of them missing limbs or threatening with amputated stumps.

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This created poppy site was a nice touch-although at that time there were only a few of the flowers blooming.

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The blood flower.

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Eventually we located the site of the family grave, and Mum was right, there was no headstone. They lie buried in a plot between the light coloured headstone and the tree.

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Beneath that earth lie two generations of my ancestors. I couldn’t help but think of the ones who have stood here when that earth lay open, mourning for their loved one being gently lowered and covered from view. People of my blood, my line.

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When I was a teenager I lost a photograph of Albert, which had been taken at the front. Situated among the mud was one of those early, prototype tanks. Albert and a handful of other men were sat in front and on top of this tank. It was a great photograph, memorable and emotive. I have lamented its loss ever since.

With all the recent publicity about the First World War centenary, showing the many, too many, graves that lie throughout the world, and also the memory of the grave that I visited in Thessaloniki, in Greece, belonging to my other Great-Grandfather, I began to think. Albert  died as a result of his injuries in battle. Surely he would qualify for a war grave, as stipulated by the  War Graves Commission?

I shall look into it, try and get him a headstone as recompense for losing that photograph. Sacrifices such as Albert’s should not go unrecognised. Unmarked. Many times I had passed that spot of bare ground when cutting through the cemetery to go to the Manchester City games, and never knew that he, and the rest of the family, were buried there.

Whether I end up acquiring a headstone or not, I am glad that I located the site. It is not too far from the memorial that I attend every Remembrance Sunday that hosts my other Great-Grandfather’s name. I will be bringing an extra cross to stick into the ground there.

On the way out we sought out my Grandparents grave. My Gran, with my Grandfather, lies a five minute walk away from where she used to lay lowers upon that bare, anonymous ground.

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4 thoughts on “First World War Centenary Series #2: Grave Search

  1. It’s lovely that you want to commission a headstone for Albert. And yes, I think he deserves to be buried with full honors.
    Um, when I saw the angels, I thought of the Weeping Angels of Doctor Who. 🙂

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