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City’s hidden war graves offer tribute to the fallen

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visiting war graves in Crookes Cemetery with Stephen Stapleton, regional supervisor for Commonwealth War Graves Commission 
Deirdre Mills, director for UK area at Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visiting war graves in Crookes Cemetery with Stephen Stapleton, regional supervisor for Commonwealth War Graves Commission Deirdre Mills, director for UK area at Commonwealth War Graves Commission

  • by Ellen Beardmore
 

They died on the same day, both fighting for their country, and now these two soldiers are honoured side-by-side.

The war graves of Gunners David William Piper, aged 42, and 40-year-old George James Chandler are two of the most recent installed at Crookes Cemetery in Sheffield.

Although little is known about their personal histories, they both perished on February 11, 1942, as World War Two raged and they served in the Royal Artillery.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is encouraging people of all ages to visit war graves and learn more about their family history for the centenary of World War One.

Deirdre Mills, UK area director, said the stones in memory of Gunners Piper and Chandler had been installed only five years ago after some research uncovered their stories.

She said: “We are still getting requests and enquiries from the families of servicemen and women every day – decades after they died.

“These two soldiers may have been friends, who died in the same mission, and that’s why we are encouraging people to visit war graves and find out these things so they can discover the stories behind them.”

The peaceful cemetery on Headlands Road is used every day by walkers, relatives of those who are buried there and people passing through.

But many may not realise that there are 70 war graves tucked away between the hundreds of headstones.

Some belong to those as young as 23, like Private Harry Wragg who died in battle.

And several are remembered alongside their family members.

Corporal Christopher Jenkinson died in 1915 at the age of just 22, the same year as his sister Ethel Jenkinson, 29.

“Some of them are just heart-breaking when you read the inscriptions”, added Ms Mills.

One stone that rises above the rest belongs to Gunner Frank Rusby Styring, who received the Victoria Cross for his bravery.

The 27-year-old, whose parents lived in Fulwood, was serving with the Machine Gun Corps when he was killed in action on April 9, 1917, in Arras, France.

Inscriptions on the cross say that he ‘never knew fear’ and was getting a tank over the Hindenburg line, a German defensive position of World War One, pointing out the way so that his crew might get there safely. He was buried in France at the Beaurains Road Cemetery and his proud family also saw that he was commemorated in his home city with the eight-foot memorial.

The war graves commission said many soldiers have separate burial locations abroad, and headstones in the UK, as the opportunity for easy travel was not available and relatives could not pay respects to loved ones.

Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg was given a tour of the war graves as part of the commission’s work to encourage people to delve into their histories.

The Deputy Prime Minister told The Star: “In cemeteries like this it is ironic because they are places where people are laid to rest but they are also places where in many ways local history is brought to life because each gravestone tells a story.

“The commission has shown me the work that has been done for families to make sure gravestones are properly kept so those memories, which are incredibly important for all of us, of people who lost their lives for their country in those two world wars, are properly preserved for the future.

“I hope, particularly in the run up to August 4, that people take the opportunity to go online, do research about their own families, maybe they’ve got distant relatives who fell in the first world war and maybe that will also help reconnect children to their family history and our nation’s past.”

Mr Clegg also spoke about how part of his family was caught up in the Russian revolution, and his mother spent time in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Indonesia during World War Two.

He added: “I am like anyone, the more you look into your own family’s history and the way all families were affected, because everybody was by these huge wars, violence and conflicts of the last century, the more I reflect on how lucky we are that we don’t live in a time of huge bloodshed.

“There are stories from the cemetery that have stuck with me.

“I thought it was very moving that two soldiers, who knows, two Sheffielders, maybe they were friends and went out to fight together should so many decades later finally be properly commemorated.”

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

More than 300,000 Commonwealth servicemen and women are commemorated in the UK alone.

It is the job of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to care for cemeteries and memorials, not just in this country, but across the world.

The epic task can include following up on new enquiries from researchers or relatives and installing new stones, as well as making sure they are maintained.

In Crookes Cemetery one gravestone where the engraved words had worn away has had another memorial placed next to it to ensure it remains a ‘fit commemoration’ to the soldier.

The commission is installing 100 visitor information panels at cemeteries during the centenary, which will allow visitors to access stories through their mobile phones.

A ‘virtual cemetery’ has also been installed online to help teachers and their students learn about the people who gave their lives for their country.

Ms Mills added: “The centenary is an opportune time for us to connect with local communities and young people, and explain how the people who are buried in our graves got to be there, who they were, and where they were from.

“More than 300,000 Commonwealth servicemen and women are commemorated in the UK.

“Many died in military hospitals whilst being treated for their wounds or fell victim to the flu pandemic as the conflict drew to a close.

“Their graves reflect both the local impact of the war but also its wider historical significance.”

Visit www.cwgc.org to search the records of soldiers and cemeteries.

 

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