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.
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 www.cearnsbooks.co.uk
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. www.cearnsbooks.co.uk/page7.html
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”.