Letchworth woman’s emotional trip to Belgium to pay tribute to relative killed in the First World War aged 19
- Credit: Archant
A distant relative of a teenage soldier killed just four days after he began fighting in the First World War has spoken of her emotional trip a century on to visit the spot where he died.
Nancy Jack has returned to her Letchworth home after spending three days retracing the steps of her great great uncle Private Walter Flanders, killed by a shell while fighting in Shrewsbury Forest near Ypres, Belgium, in 1914. He was just 19.
Walter left his home in Ridge Road – just two streets away from where Nancy now lives in Hillshott – to join the 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment on the Western Front.
Nancy admitted she knew little about her relative despite inheriting letters and war medals from her nan and dad, but had been inspired to delve into Walter’s history while the country marked the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War.
“I found a lot of letters and medals in the loft after my nan Agnes Large passed away in 1997, but I just put them in a cupboard and forgot about them,” said the 42-year-old.
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“My dad Chris Large died in July 2012 so they were passed on to me but I hadn’t really looked through them much until after visiting the poppies display at Tower Bridge in London to mark the centenary.
After posting about Walter on Facebook, a friend put Nancy in touch with Dan Hill, the project co-ordinator of Herts at War.
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The community-led project – which seeks to commemorate diverse experiences of the county during the war – has an exhibition space in Letchworth’s The Arcade, and Nancy hopes that some of the memorabilia can be put on display there.
She was also invited by Herts at War to join a three-day trip called The Forgotten Sector, organised in conjunction with Stevenage-based battlefield tour company Battle Honours.
The trip, which included visits to a number of Belgian and French battlefields and cemeteries, offered the chance for families to retrace the steps of loved ones who fought during 1914 and 1915.
“I thought visiting the place where he died would be a bit eerie but it was in a wooded forest and was really quite peaceful,” said Nancy.
“I felt really emotional when we got to the spot where he was killed and laid a cross.
“I found out so much more about Walter and his brother Valentine – who was killed aged 23 in April 1917 – thanks to Dan, Julian Whippy from Battle Honours and local historian Paul Johnson.
“Later we went to the Menin Gate war memorial and when I saw Walter’s name I had tears in my eyes.
“ It was difficult but I’m so glad I went – I might be the last family member who goes to visit him.”
Dan added: “One of our major aims from the outset of the project has been to uncover and re-tell the stories of those individuals from the county who fought and in many cases died in the Great War.
“Now 100 years on and with nobody left to tell their stories, we feel strongly that their lives and experiences should not be forgotten.
“In working with local residents and with support from Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund, we hope that we can make a contribution to this county’s combined history of which those residents 100 years before would be proud.
“Being able to take Nancy and other relatives of Herts servicemen to the spot that their ancestors fought a century ago was an incredibly powerful experience and one we are proud to have been a part of.”
To find out more about the Herts at War project and the Letchworth exhibition visit www.hertsatwar.co.uk.