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A Grandson Returns to The Western Front – Again

You may have seen our news article about Mike Stokes travelling to find the place where his grandfather was taken Prisoner of War in 1918 (full story by Clicking Here) so moved by his experience he has visited again; read the account below in Mike’s own words. To read Ambers, Mike’s daughters account of this battlefield tour Click Here.

The problem with Matt Limb Battlefield Tours and the unforgettable experience is that you get hooked!  The experience of walking the battlefield and hearing the stories of individual soldiers only serves to fascinate you and create a desire for more knowledge. This is how I got caught up in a need to find out more, and ultimately a follow-up battlefield tour with Matt.

After my visit to France and Belgium with Matt, I felt satisfied that I had visited an area which was pretty close to the spot where my grandfather had been captured in April 1918. But after my return I discovered that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site had just completed a special section on the Spring Offensive of 1918 and this enabled me to delve further.

After further research and visiting various specialist online message boards I discovered that I could download the war diaries of the South Wales Borderers, I then had access to the daily movements of my grandfather’s battalion throughout the period he was in action. I discovered that on the day he was captured, the battalion was located at a place called Les Haies Basses, near Steenwerck.

So, I joined Matt Limb again – this time with my daughter Amber, but she has her own story to tell (Read Ambers Story – Click Here).

Could I find the exact location where grandfather was captured?

deadmans_penny

Mike Stokes with his great uncle’s “Deadman’s Penny” by his gravestone in Flatiron Copse Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery

As ever Matt surprised me by producing a large-scale map which identified that Les Haies Basses was the name of an individual farm – which we found and, to our delight, we were invited inside by the current owners. When we explained the reason for our visit we were made to feel very welcome and we were shown examples of military items and bits of The Iron Harvest, which are still being discovered in the adjacent fields. It is difficult to describe how satisfying this outcome was!

I knew that the two colleagues either side of my grandfather were killed just before his capture, so we spent a little time visiting the graves of South Wales Borderers soldiers killed in the vicinity on the day of his capture – a thank you, if you like, on grandfather’s behalf. I know he would have liked that.

As an added bonus, I also got to visit the grave of my grandmother’s brother who was killed during the attack by the Royal Welch Fusiliers on Mametz Wood in July 1916, on The Somme battlefield. We were able to enter part of the wood and Matt showed us how far the attack progressed day by day. At that spot, we were therefore within a few yards of where my great uncle had made the ultimate sacrifice.

My second tour with Matt was again an unforgettable experience, away from the tourist sites and gaining a real understanding of what the troops went through. So does that mean I can close my files and regard the mission is complete?

Somehow, I doubt it!

Mike Stokes

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