From Plaistow to Passchendaele

Last Sunday I followed in the footsteps of family members long gone by taking part in the morning worship of the Parish church of St Mary’s, Plaistow.  A hundred years to the day, my great great uncle, Fred Cearns was struck down on the battlefield of Passchendaele, near Yprés.  I was at the church with my father to remember and honour his death.  

When my grandfather died he left a huge amount of paperwork and whilst going through it all my father came across a very unassuming exercise book.  On opening he discovered that it was an elegy of one brother written by a surviving brother, Percy and told with fondness, the life of a middle class family growing up in the East End of London and their adventures in the battlegrounds and behind the lines of World War I. Percy, the author had become a dispatch rider and on his days off would ride across Flanders to meet up with his brother.  

Percy as a dispatch rider

I was deeply touched when I read the book and was struck how similar our writing styles are, despite the hundred years divided between us.

So much so that I encouraged my dad to publish the memoirs and I provided the illustrations.  To date we have raised over £5,000 for Help the Heroes from the proceeds. There are still a few hard copies available and digital versions are available as an e-book. All of the background and additional history of the family is available as an online archive at

I was also profoundly struck last Sunday on the similarity between Percy and his great grandsons together with Percy’s granddaughter, Nicola who joined us for the occasion. Steven (great-grandson) on the left of the picture did his own research and retraced Percy’s journey when he revisited France and Belgium  in 1922.

The family plaques had been rescued when the old Victorian church had been pulled down. My father arranged for a display cabinet to be put in the new church to remember the family connection with the area and the loss. I was touched how Revd David Hoyte weaved into the service our presence and Fred and Percy’s connection and also by Sister Chris’s warm welcome to us all.  

I am not certain what Percy and Fred  would have made of it all on Sunday; the building and indeed the people who joined there for worship, would have felt rather alien but I am certain that they would have been comforted by the Christian faith still evident in their hometown and moved that we will indeed “remember them”.

Photo’s of the church as it was, Fred and his family


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