If you have not already looked at the start of this Vinter Brothers story then I strongly urge you to do so. Click Here, to fully understand why Derek needed to take this very special battlefield tour
It had been a long journey for Derek in terms of time, from finding the Vinter brother’s medals to reuniting them with the family over 30 years. But the journey Derek was about to embark on was far more emotional; to be at the grave of Charles Vinter on the anniversary of his death. Then he visits his brother, Stephen, both casualties of World War One.
So it was to be on a late summer’s afternoon accompanied by his wife Mary, along with Kath Holland and her husband Brian, the journey was to begin. It was Kath who did the research to find the closest living relative, Andy Vinter; sadly he could not make the battlefield tour.
Sitting and chatting with Derek, waiting for our Channel Tunnel departure, we both asked and wondered what thoughts would have been going through the minds of Charles and Stephen as they waited to cross the English Channel a century ago to join The Great War.
With the comfort of today’s high-speed rail and road networks, it was a couple of hours and we sat at the hotel, over our evening meal chatting about the coming days. The next day was spent on The Somme Battlefield exploring and trying to understand the biggest battle of 1916, and one in which both the Vinter brothers were involved. ‘It is the sheer scale that is so hard to take in, so many young men paying the price.’ Was a comment by Mary as we looked at the actions of 1st July 1916, The First Day of the Somme. As the late afternoon fell all agreed that to look closely at The Battle of The Somme really helped you understand what it was that Charles and Stephen had endured.
The sun shone bright and the morning was warm as we made our way to the small Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery on the edge of the village of Franvillers, it was the 97th anniversary of the death of Private Charles George Vinter, Military Medal. He was aged just 22 and was serving with The Essex Regiment, sadly no record exists of why he was awarded the Military Medal. His grave sits proudly at the end of the row in the shade of a small and well-trimmed hedge, we all gathered as a quiet dropped on the cemetery, despite the torrent of thunderrain that had just fallen.
After reading the war diary and explaining where it was that Charles had fought and pointing to the battlefield in the nearby hills, Derek stood with Charles’s medals in one hand. It felt right that he should place the poppy cross and then make a short reading at his graveside before we had a two-minute silence. But no one was prepared for the church clock sounding 11:00 am as the silence came to an end, and a shudder down your neck.
After a look around the cemetery, Derek came over to say. ‘I cannot believe how well we keep the gardens and flowers in the cemeteries, I guess it is not much to ask for what they gave, but the cemeteries are so beautiful.’
As we left the cemetery part of a long journey had come to an end for Derek, but there was still one more visit.
It was a two-hour drive north into Belgium to find his brother Stephen, near the town of Poperinge, here amongst over 3,000 war graves lay Stephen. Early in 1918, he was evacuated to a nearby field hospital by ambulance train suffering from wounds he sustained in the fighting around Ypres.
Sadly he never recovered and died on 22 March 1918. Again thoughts and emotions raced through our minds as we gathered and paid our respects and honoured this young man from Lincolnshire.
It was a short drive into the town of Ypres and time to explore The Menin Gate and the many names remembered. All too soon Derek was back at the gate listening to the buglers playing The Last Post, then he stood under the Menin Gate, faced the buglers as he took the reading ‘They shall not grow old …’ to a silent thoughtful crowd, before laying a wreath in memory of both Charles and Stephen, who were then both remembered in that evening’s reading.
Derek’s journey was over; he had achieved his aim of returning the medals to the family, and I salute him for that and his endeavour in not giving up the quest in three decades.
But I think his four short days in France & Belgium, on a very special battlefield tour, brought home just what a medal and ribbon was truly about.