‘We will never forget’: Harold Wood woman touched by French family’s promise to care for uncle’s grave every Remembrance Day
PUBLISHED: 12:00 05 November 2019 | UPDATED: 11:12 06 November 2019
The family of a soldier who died during the Second World War were amazed to discover that for years a French family had been tending to his grave after they learned of the circumstances of his death.
Pauline Obee from Harold Wood was surprised when her mother, Edie Turner, asked to visit her brother's grave in France for her 80th birthday.
Edie's brother, Walter Macdonald Currant, was the youngest of 11 and he died at the age of 21 during the Second World War.
Pauline's grandfather was a farmer in Wiltshire and most of Walter's siblings didn't have to fight in the war because of their work in maintaining the farm.
Walter, known as Mackie, died in France six months after he was married in 1940.
Edie hadn't spoken much of Mackie when sharing stories of the war with Pauline.
"I think she found it too hard to speak of him," said Pauline.
"We were quite surprised when she told us, 'I'm 80 and before I die I would like to see his grave'."
Pauline told the Recorder that her mother was "overwhelmed" by the visit to Mackie's grave in France in 1995.
"We were so impressed with how beautifully it was kept," said Pauline. "My aunt, Effie Anderson, made enquiries to find out why it had been kept so well and through the War Graves Commission she got the address of a gentleman."
It was only after Effie died that Pauline discovered a letter in her aunt's possession with a response from the War Graves Commission.
Jack Squire had written a detailed letter to Effie in 1996 that revealed the circumstances of her brother's death in Rexpoede, 17km south east from Dunkirk.
On May 29, 1940, a group of 10 British wounded soldiers were hiding on the farm of Mr and Mrs Vandamme.
Mr Squire wrote: "Also at the farm, your beloved brother was hiding with a few of his pals in a rabbit shed attached to the left hand side of the farmhouse.
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"The farmer, his wife and the children were very kind to them. They helped the wounded, provided food for them.
"A few hours later German patrols came to the farm, inspected it and caught the lads hiding in the rabbit shed.
"The Germans disarmed the soldiers who were begging for mercy, and shot them.
"I was told by a member of the French resistance who was 16 at that time, that you can be very proud of your beloved brother, he gave his life for his country, for France, for liberty and peace and he was very courageous to the end."
The family buried the soldiers in their garden and by order of the German authority the bodies were later removed and taken to the civil cemetery in July 1941.
Mr Squire told Effie that every year on November 11, he and his family place a wreath at Mackie's grave in the Rexpoede cemetery.
He also sent pictures of his grandchildren laying wreaths at Mackie's grave.
"You can be assured that yearly I shall plant a cross on behalf of yourself and his family on the 11th November," said Mr Squire.
"One of my grandchildren lays the poppy wreath each year with the Mayor of Rexpoede at the village war memorial. Do you see Ms Anderson, we will never forget.
"I can speak on behalf of many living here in Rexpoede. The population will always remember how they suffered before death."
Pauline was touched by the letter and sent a Christmas card.
She received another reply from the Squire family in 2010 with some ribbon from one of the memorials and a map that showed where Mackie had died.
Pauline hopes that her grandchildren will one day make the trip to France and continue the tradition of paying their respects at Mackie's grave.
"It was just so kind of them to look after the grave over all these years," she said.
"Hopefully the grandchildren will want to visit.
"I think history has to be kept alive."