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Third Battle of Ypres centenary: Romford man pays tribute to fallen great-uncle at Menin Gate ceremony

PUBLISHED: 14:12 02 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:25 02 August 2017

The Menin Gate memorial to the missing, Belgium. Picture: PA

The Menin Gate memorial to the missing, Belgium. Picture: PA

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The great-nephew of a soldier killed during the First World War travelled to Belgium this week for centenary commemorations.

William Cuthbert at the Menin Gate with the wreath for his great-uncle Edward Martin Doughty, who was killed on the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres, July 31. You can see Edward's name at the bottom left of the image. Picture: William CuthbertWilliam Cuthbert at the Menin Gate with the wreath for his great-uncle Edward Martin Doughty, who was killed on the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres, July 31. You can see Edward's name at the bottom left of the image. Picture: William Cuthbert

William Cuthbert, 65, of Granger Way, Romford, observed a service with his family at the Menin Gate to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Third Battle of Ypres.

Often referred to as Passchendaele – for the two battles which concluded the campaign – the Third Battle of Ypres ran from July 31 to November 10, 1917, resulting in about half a million casualties (killed or wounded) in total.

On Monday, William, with his son, placed a wreath for his great-uncle Edward Martin Doughty, who died in the opening attack on July 31.

Edward’s body was never found, and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate, one of the Ypres Salient memorials to British and Commonwealth soldiers marked as missing during the Great War.

“The service was very emotional, as all the ‘personal’ wreaths were being laid to remember individual soldiers killed in the Third Battle of Ypres, the majority of whom were killed on that very day 100 years ago,” said William.

“It is difficult to say how it felt standing there, but the person next to me commented on how the soldiers on that day must have felt waiting to go over the top.

“During the wreath laying, the singing and music from the assembled choir and musicians was amazing and very moving and the sound of the marching band through the gate absolutely mind-blowing, due to the acoustics of the building.

“Full credit to the Last Post Association for staging such a superb and fitting memorial to all those remembered on the gate, and to the Royal British Legion representatives attending and taking part in the service. Words simply can’t express my gratitude to them all.”

Wreaths at the Menin Gate to soldiers whose names are on the memorial to the missing. Picture: William CuthbertWreaths at the Menin Gate to soldiers whose names are on the memorial to the missing. Picture: William Cuthbert

Edward enlisted just days after the First World War broke out, in summer 1914, and William believes he may have been a territorial beforehand, or on the reserve list for former soldiers.

William’s branch of the Doughty family saw three members go to war – Edward himself, who was a private in the Royal West Kent Regiment; William’s grandfather James Charles, who reached the rank of acting captain in the Royal Field Artillery; and Edward and James’s cousin Albert Edward.

Albert returned from Canada initially in the Ambulance Corps, winning the Military Medal, and became a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps, only to be killed in April 1918 when his plane crashed on take-off.

“Only James survived, but his experiences were to affect him for the rest of his life,” said William.

Battle of Pilckem Ridge (opening attack of the Battle of Passchendaele). Two pack mules carrying shells struggle through the mud near Ypres, Belgium, August 1, 1917. Picture: Imperial War Museum/Wikimedia CommonsBattle of Pilckem Ridge (opening attack of the Battle of Passchendaele). Two pack mules carrying shells struggle through the mud near Ypres, Belgium, August 1, 1917. Picture: Imperial War Museum/Wikimedia Commons

Edward was killed in the opening action of the Third Battle of Ypres, and records show he was not officially reported missing until September 1917.

The 26-year-old left behind a wife and four young children. His regiment had attacked on July 31 through “waist-deep mud under heavy machine gun and mortar fire”, with 250 soldiers out of 1,000 killed.

Edward himself did not live in Havering, but many family members have over the years, including one of his nieces, aged 97, who still lives in Romford.

“I have visited the Menin Gate on several occasions to remember Edward, but feel it is extremely important to remember all family members killed in action, particularly on the centenary of their deaths,” said William.

Crowds at Monday's ceremony at the Menin Gate, during commemorations of the centenary of the beginning of the Third Battle of Ypres (known as Passchendaele). Picture: William CuthbertCrowds at Monday's ceremony at the Menin Gate, during commemorations of the centenary of the beginning of the Third Battle of Ypres (known as Passchendaele). Picture: William Cuthbert

“They gave their lives so we would have a better world to live in, and it is only right we remember them.

“Being 65, I’m of the generation that was brought up just after the Second World War, and only 33 years after the end of the First World War, so the impact of both wars was still very much felt within the family and during my childhood.

“I remember relatives who served in the First World War and how their experiences affected them in later life. For me, it is an honour to formally remember them.”

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