John Henry Absalom 1898 – 1916 was my Great Uncle who died in the battle for Mametz Wood in Northern France in July 1916.
He was the older brother of my maternal grandfather, who was 12 when John died. My Grandad, George Owen Absalom O.B.E., a teacher and Headmaster, often talked of John, and of the ridiculousness of War and the folly of Governments.
On 8th November my cousin, H, put a post on Facebook with the above poster. A school in Nailsea, Somerset had contacted her because the pupils were doing some research into fallen soldiers and had found the photo of John Absalom that H had posted. They had chosen him to be one of the 32 soldiers they were honouring at their Remembrance Service on Friday, 11th November.
The posters made by pupils of Nailsea School:
Given that over 700,000 British soldiers died in the First World War, it is remarkable that Great Uncle john was one of those chosen by Nailsea. I contacted the school to ask if I could attend their Service. I received a very warm invitation to do so and an equally warm welcome when I arrived.
I was met by teacher Jeff and introduced to two pupils who proudly showed me round their really rather beautiful school. I then met with the tutor group who had created the poster for my Great Uncle John. I had taken with me a print out of a letter John had written to his mother
France, 13th 1916
Dear Mother and All,
Received your most welcomed parcel safely everything was allright packed a treat.
You can imagine how glad I was to receive it, quite a change from our Army diet, hoping you will continue sending them the same, the battery fitted my flash lamp a treat. Received John Bull and Reynolds a few days ago. We have had glorious weather up to date with the exception of a few showers just what you can expect this month.
Our furlow have been cancelled for the time being, but I think we will get it shortly again as they tell me that they often cancel it out here and in a few weeks it starts again.
We are going back to the line again tonight but it is a very quiet place.
Now that the weather is coming we are much more comfortable wile in the trenches.
According to the papers the allies intending to advance all along the line. The sooner it comes the better. Well as we are barred from saying to much about our doings out here I will conclude hoping to find you all as it leaves me in the best of health.
Yours etc John
mind write by return JHA
The Headmistress, Dee, read it out to us and it brought a tear to her eye. We chatted with the pupils and they asked a few questions. I showed them some photos of John’s family.
I asked what would happen to the poster after the ceremony and was told that they were going to present it to me – that brought a tear to my eye!
I gave Dee my desktop Peace Pole and I was given flowers, chocolates and a birthday card!
All very emotional!
I was so pleased I had thought of giving the Pole to the school. The thought had occurred to me after reading Cathy’s post about making her own Peace Pole – ‘ripples in the pond’, thank you Cathy.
If you would like to find out more about Peace Poles, click on this link.
We went outside for the Remembrance Service on this crisp sunny November Day.
I stood with the staff and around 900 pupils for a moving speech by the Head, and to hear the 32 names read out, the posters held proudly on display and the Last Post played beautifully by one of the pupils. It always gives me goose-bumps.
Back inside I was so glad to meet with Laura, the teacher who had instigated the projectthen I went to see the posters being put up in a display in the school’s magnificent atrium
Jeff showed me a cross which had been made by the pupilsI put John’s poster with the others, so that he could take his place with his comrades of the dayand had a farewell photo with Jeff
I handed in my visitors badge which just happened to be number 11 – adding to the feeling of magic and serendipity!
before saying goodbye.
What a birthday! What a wonderfully warm, heartfelt and meaningful time!
In my heart I took all my Welsh cousins with me and relatives past and present. My Great-Grandparents had no body to bury. I don’t know how they commemorated their lost son, I know his death affected the whole family very deeply and has helped to instil in me the importance of family connections and support.
John’s name is on the Thiepval Memorial along with 72,245 other soldiers missing in action. My sister Sue went there with a group in 2014 and read his letter out. I don’t think I could go there.
I am grateful to H for researching family history and posting information and photographs. I am grateful to Laura, Dee and Jeff, the pupils I met and the whole of Nailsea School for such a warm welcome and beautiful way of making this year’s Remembrance Day so very meaningful to so many people. It feels important, I can’t find the words to express that as well as I would like to, but my hope is that in remembering, we go forward and each one of us, in our way, work towards PEACE, in our heart, in our home, in our community, our country and our world.
With love ❤