When David McCarthy was invited to join Europe’s great and good at Mons for the World War One centenary service it was particularly apt.
For David, from Great Barton, had only just learned that his great uncle Frederick Francis Wood was buried there.
David said the family thought Frederick had died in the Somme in 1916 and was the F Wood listed on the Thiepval memorial with those with no know grave.
“Through the efforts of a cousin and a Canadian historian it was found that that was the wrong Wood,” he said. “Through clever detective work they discovered he was killed at Mons in 1914 but he was buried under the surname Heywood.”
Frederick joined the Coldstream Guards in 1910 but was discharged after two months as ‘not likely’ but later that year he joined the 4th Middlesex Regiment, using the name Heywood, presumably to hide his previous army record.
David said: “Whatever happened before, he obviously settled down because he was a lance corporal by the time he arrived in Boulogne in August 1914.”
Only 10 days later, he was among the dead in the retreat from Mons. David added: “The regiment had won the respect of the Germans because he and 45 others were buried by the Germans.”
David has now learned that the cemetery is on land donated to the Germans by a land owner on condition all were to be buried with equal honour regardless of nationality.
“They are buried in an unusual circular arrangement, facing a pillar the Germans erected in their honour,” David said.
He believes he was invited to Mons on August 4 because he had been invited by the Canadians to a service at Vimy Ridge to rededicate the memorial there which bears another great uncle, Percy’s, name.
Percy served with the Canadians. David’s great grandparents had 12 boys and a girl, David’s grandmother, and in 1911 emigrated to Canada with five boys, who all served with the Canadian army including one who went to Michigan after the war without contacting his family, so they thought he was dead.
On the evening before the centenary event, David and his daughter Esther were with other guests when the celebrities were brought in. He met the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who were there with Prince Harry, and David Cameron.
“Each spent quite a time with me talking about my uncles,” David said.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission took him to Frederick’s grave and ensured he had peaceful time there, but David wants to return to visit the cemetery without the crowds, lights and cameras.
“I found it a very moving occasion,” he said. “It was not just a privilege but I found it important to be there.”
He returned home to meet a grandchild, born while he was visiting a lost relative’s grave.