Veteran remembers his uncle who died in the First World War


With Armistice Day taking place this Sunday, the National Memorial Arboretum has been welcoming servicemen and women, past and present, who have served their country to pay their respects to those who lost their lives in conflict.

With their family and friends at their side veterans such as Leonard Jeffs have been taking the time to visit the site in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire where there is a Field of Remembrance on display till the 19th November.

18,000 tributes were unveiled on Monday and one was planted by Leonard himself who was paying his respects to his uncle 2nd Corporal Harry Edward Jeffs who died at Vimy Ridge, France, 19th July 1917 at the age 26.

A cross being planted during the service at the National Memorial Arboretum. Photo: Joe Williams

The 79-year-old who served as a driver in the Royal Leicestershire Regiment said: “I never got the chance to meet him as he died in 1917 and I was only born in 1939.

“My father never really mentioned him at all and I don’t know why, all I know is during those years if you were in the war and came home, you never spoke about it.

“All that I did know I got off the internet and the War Graves Commission.

“It’s a sad thing really, I wish that I had met him.”

Leonard went on to explain that his uncle, who was one of eleven children managed to marry before he left for war at the age of 16.

“In effect, he was only married for two weeks. He married in 1916 and then he went to France and never came back. His wife, Laura Wright never married again, and she never moved from the house they had.”

Harry Jeff’s father died a year later on Armistice Day itself, 1tth November 1918 from the flu.

“Ever since then I wondered how did they manage? All the kids without a father.

“How they survived financially I just do not know.”

After searching the War Graves Commission, Leonard had found out that his uncle had been recognised for his sacrifice and was on a memorial at the Arras Memorial, located in Northern France.

He then decided to drive to go visit the memorial with his wife Jackie.

“We stayed two nights and the main aim was to see his name on the monument.” He explained.

“Well, when I did see it, I thought ‘yes’ I have actually been here now.

“As far as I know I’m the only member that’s been to see it from our (immediate) family.

“Being ex-army myself you do have a connection with the forces.”

Roses left as a tribute at the National Memorial Arboretum. Photo: Joe Williams

Leonard’s wife Jackie Jeffs, 75 said: “That was remarkable, we weren’t quite sure where it was, of course when you go there are so many names and then when we did find it we took a photograph to send to his father as his dad was getting on you see.

“So, he got emotionally sad about it but pleased we had done it for him.

“It’s nice for them to talk about old times because these people who served, it meant something to them.

“I find that really wives don’t always come but I do I like to see what they’ve done, what they’ve achieved, and we won’t get this time again.”

There is no longer a living member of those who fought on the front-line with Harry Patch passing away in 2009. However, their stories still live strong today with generations of families sharing their names.

Mark Ellis, Head of Commercial Operations at the National Memorial Arboretum emphasised the importance of recognising these tales of the armed forces and public sector alike as the Royal British Legion’s ‘Thank You’ movement culminated on Armistice Day this Sunday.

“It’s a great opportunity for the armed forces and the civilian community to come together so that the civilian community can recognise the work the armed forces do and for the armed forces to recognise how much that is appreciated.”

The National Memorial Arboretum Field of Remembrance is one of six Royal British Legion fields located across the country with the others located in London, Belfast, Cardiff, Gateshead and Royal Wootton Bassett.
Between them, more than 100,000 crosses and commemorative markers feature.

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Photo: Joe Williams


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