ANNE and TASH'S TRIP travel blog

 

 

 

 

 


Tuesday

Pierce

We left from the Gard du Nord by about 9 am, on the TGV to Lille, having first successfully run the gauntlet of the Metro. We were on our way to the Chapelle-d'Armentieres Old Military Cemetery, La Chapelle-d'Armentieres, Nord, France. Our great uncle, who was also Tashie's great-great uncle, Pierce McEncroe, had been laid to rest there during the First World War.

The journey north was untoward. We were a bit dismayed to find the weather overcast as the morning progressed. After two days sweltering in the humidity, it was a reminder of how quickly the weather changes in this part of the world; however, as the day unfolded it mirrored our feelings.

The people on the station at Lille directed us to the train for Armentieres, and we arrived there within the hour. A local taxi driver was unable to take us to the cemetery, as he had a "course" to attend, but he called a colleague for us, and we were soon underway.

Norm Wells of the Army Museum in Perth had been a tower of information before we left, and we soon found the cemetery. As with all military cemeteries, the grounds were beautifully maintained, the green grass cut and edges trimmed, the headstones immaculately white, the Great Cross at one end and the Stone at the side.

However, we could not work out the system of numbering. The taxi was waiting. The weather was deteriorating. I had almost given up looking. Suddenly, Tashie gave a cry of joy. She had found our relative. The code we had received faced one way and the headstones the other. It was all so easy in the end.

We had worked out a little service to follow for both brothers; at home we had been in tune with preparations for the coming Anzac Day, next week. We quickly put our plan into action.

At first, we contemplated the sacrifice Pierce had made. Then we rolled out the large Australian flag we had brought, to cover the soil in which he was resting. The wind frisked about the edges, making it necessary to weigh it down. We had a tiny Australian flag and a tiny French flag from home. Mandy and Simone used them to decorate the house for our going away party. We also had a gum leaf, one only, which my sister, Cathie, had collected in the bush outside Perth during one of her bushwalks. We lay these close to the headstone.

We said the Our Father aloud, and then had a few minutes' silence before saying the words of Lest We Forget from For The Fallen by Binyon:

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning

We will remember them.

We took some photos, and contemplated the sorrows of all the other families whose loved ones lay with our boy. He was only twenty one years of age when he died, and the others were not much older. The poignancy of the headstones marked "Known Only To God," or "An Unknown Soldier" was overwhelming.

Reluctantly, we left him there; Pierce McEncroe, the writer of letters, his teasing tones still evident on paper after all these years, in letters he had written in his beautiful calligraphic hand only weeks before his death. Our Aunty Agnes had treasured letters from both brothers, and cherished them for years. They are now in the Army Museum in Fremantle.

Pierce McEncroe, our relative, of whom we are so proud. We left our little tokens, furled our large flag and departed.

Francis

And so, we tossed up whether or not we could continue. Francis McEncroe is interred in a cemetery near Albert, involving several train trips to reach. We decided to push on, and returned on the train to Lille. From there, we took another to Albert, and arrived in the little town a bit after one o'clock. The tourist bureau was closed until one thirty, so we sat in the town square, and ate our lunch amongst the dazzling flowerbeds, full of spring flowers. Flags danced at the mast head, including one from Picardy, one from Albert, and one saying simply The Somme.

The Somme. One million men and their families know those words so well.

There were reminders of the Australian connection throughout the town, starting in the tourist bureau, where the young man was charming. He organised a taxi and we were soon on our way out into the countryside. We had a bonus of a tour through the tiny farming community of Wallencourt-Eaucourt, as the taxi driver was a little disoriented and spent some time off the main highway. However, the resting place, The British Cemetery of Warlencourt, was there on the roadside, and we soon found it.

"Lance Corporal Francis McEncroe, A. I. F. was the fifth son of John and Alice Lee McEncroe of Subiaco (WA). He enlisted in Perth in May, 1915, and left for Egypt the following month. After a short service there, he was sent on to Gallipoli, for a short time. He was evacuated and he met his brother, Pierce Thomas, who had also later joined the expeditionary forces; and as the brothers were enrolled in the same battalion they were sent on to France, arriving there in the early part of April. They fought together at Armentieres, were Pierce was killed by shell concussion on May 29th."

"Francis fought through an engagement on the Somme area, and was in the attack on Pozieres in July, where he was wounded, on the morning of the 29th July. After spending some weeks at the Military Hospital, Sheffield, UK, he was sent to Salisbury Plains Camp, where he remained until 27th October, when he, with others of his battalion was again sent to the front. A few days later, between the 3rd and the 6th of November he was killed at Ypres, within a few days of attaining his twenty first birthday." (A contemporary newspaper).

We followed our procedure of the previous visit, even down to Tashie being the one to find our relative. At first, we contemplated the sacrifice Francis had made. Then, again, we rolled out the large Australian flag, to cover the soil in which he was resting. This time, the wind was not quite so frisky. We said the Our Father aloud, and then had a few minutes' silence before saying the words of Lest We Forget:

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning

We will remember them.

Again, we took some photos, and contemplated the sorrows of all the other families whose loved ones lay with our boy. The rows of headstones were interspersed with blossoming trees, and the petals floated to rest in the green grass.

Francis McEncroe, our relative, of whom we are so proud. We left our little tokens, furled our large flag and departed.

As I sorrowfully write these words, I have the phrases of Binyon before me:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.

Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow

They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,

They fell with their faces to the foe.

* * *

Neither boy rose to prominence; they had little chance, but to us they are heroes.

* * *

The train system in France is spectacular. We filled in some time at the Museum and the lovely gardens of the town, and then walked down to the station, where the lady helped us on our way. I did have a mishap, twisting my foot on an uneven part of the concrete and spreading my length on the platform. However, no harm was done and soon we were on a connecting TGV to Arras, and home to Paris by six.

Tashie was a magnificent companion on this journey. Although still jetlagged and weary she supported me like a trooper. We came away with wonderful memories to last a lifetime. As the folk at home move into Anzac Day, we are content with our efforts to visit and honour our own.



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