Among the 54,000 names of soldiers inscribed on Ypres’ iconic Menin Gate lies that of a Yorkshireman with family who continue to remember almost a century on from his death.
Until her grandmother intervened, Outwood Grange Academy A Level student Alice Kershaw had no idea that her family history was so entwined with the First World War or that at least one relative was among the brave men whose legacies are marked daily by the poignant Last Post Ceremony.
Almost every evening since 1927 up to 3,500 people have gathered at the Menin Gate – the largest memorial to the conflict’s missing in Belgium – to pay their respects to the fallen, including Alice’s great great great uncle.
Private Wilson Watson, of the York and Lancaster Regiment, was killed on April 23 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres – a firefight renowned for the Germans’ first use of poisonous gas. Pte Watson has no known grave.
Alice was among more than 70 students and teachers on a Government-funded Centenary Battlefield Tour (CBT) of France and Belgium when she paid her respects to Pte Watson at Saturday’s emotive ceremony.
The 18-year-old, from Outwood, told the YEP: “I hardly knew anything and my grandmother found out I was coming here and she said ‘there is a name you will know’, so I went on the internet to find everything I could.
“I’m so glad they are all acknowledged. I have seen his name on this massive memorial where it probably hasn’t been acknowledged before – I’m the first from my family to see it.
“I have always had an interest in history from a young age but looking into it deeper really opens your eyes.”
The academy is going to produce a display on its history corridor and its two students who travelled to Belgium and France will act as ambassadors for the trip in the hope that more students will unearth their ties to the conflict.
Amanda Shenton, history teacher at Outwood, said: “When we teach history we try and think about the individuals involved in it as not just names. It’s nice that Alice has a link within it.
“We are going to do work to say there are links within the school and Alice is a fantastic example. A trip like this shows this is history, this is real – it really sparks their interest.”
As part of the CBT programme two pupils and one teacher from every state-maintained secondary school in the country are being invited on free First World War battlefield tours until 2019.
The £5million scheme, which is led by the Institute of Education and tour operator Equity, is part of the Government’s commitment to commemorating the victims of the conflict 100 years on.
The battlefield tours involve students tracking down soldiers from their communities to their resting places abroad as part of tours of sites such as Somme, Ypres and Arras with teachers, guides and current British Army soldiers.
On announcing the CBT programme this year, Minister for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles MP said: “It is our collective duty to educate future generations about the enormous losses suffered and sacrifices made because of the First World War, and to keep the memory alive of those who fought for our freedom.”
Visit www.centenarybattlefieldtours.org for further information.