The Sundays of my childhood were very different from today. The day of rest was observed much more strictly. There were no shops, very little television and only the radio for entertainment. For a child it was very boring as even playing out was restricted. Sunday was the only day that we spent time together as a family and like a weekly mini Christmas this created some wonderful shared moments and some less happy ones.
We would rise early to dress in our best clothes to attend Mass. Breakfast came later as we could not eat before taking communion. Once the service had finished we would return home for a fry up cooked by my Dad. It was the only meal he cooked during the week. It was always a little burnt but it tasted wonderful, especially after an overnight fast.
At 12 sharp Dad would be off to the pub to return at 1.30 when we would have dinner. The only time that we sat down to eat together as a family. Six of us when I was young and less as I got older. This was always a worrying time. If Dad had returned in a good mood, we could relax and enjoy the rest of the day. If anything had upset him, there would inevitably be a row which often led to him storming out saying that he was going to throw himself into the cut. I didn’t know at the time but Dad suffered from depression and mental health issues, though he would never admit it. He had at least two major breakdowns in his life and maybe more.
My family walking in the cemetery. My sister, Pat, Mam, my brother, Andrew, my sister, Colleen, me, and a neighbour’s daughter.
If the mood was good we would often visit my Mam’s family grave during the afternoon. When we lived in our first council house this meant a walk to the cemetery on Groby Road. In later years we travelled by bus. Upstairs so that my Dad and occasionally my Mam could smoke.
There was a long entrance drive in the cemetery which led to the Crematorium. I was always slightly frightened as we approached it, looking for the telltale smoke from the chimney. I did not realise that there were no cremations on a Sunday. To the left of the crematorium was a smaller path which led to my Mam’s family grave. Mam’s maiden name was Poulton and there were one or two Poultons buried in the grave. The majority of people buried there were Crowsons, the maiden name of my Grandmother.
I never knew Mam’s parents. My Granddad died in 1942 in an industrial accident on the railways. This allowed my parents to marry as he had opposed their wedding. Mam was a Protestant and Dad an Irish Catholic and mixed marriages were not encouraged. My wife, Vishva and I faced similar opposition when we married many years later. My Grandmother died in 1956 when I was 4. I have no memory of her. Her death allowed Mam to convert to Catholicism and my parents were married again in a Catholic Church in the same year. In the eyes of the Church, I and the rest of my family became legitimate.
There was one name on the family headstone that always fascinated me as a child. My Mam’s uncle, Henry Crowson. The inscription simply said he was buried somewhere in France in 1917. When I talked to Mam about it, she said that no one knew where he was buried. All they knew was that he had been killed on The Somme in 1917. My Mam went to her grave not knowing where.
I still visit the cemetery. Sadly, now on my own as most of my family have died. I go to see my Mam and Dad, to tidy up their grave and chat. Their grave is on the far side of the cemetery beyond the crematorium and some distance from Mam’s family grave. A few year ago I decided to find the family grave. I retraced our childhood walk and eventually found it in a semi abandoned area. The grave surroundings have gone but the headstones remain. Smaller than I remembered and tilting at an angle. I traced the names of each family member, trying to remember their relationship to me. There at the foot of the headstone was my great uncle’s name, buried somewhere in France.
It was at that moment I decided to find out more. I sat at the graveside and within minutes I had found him on my I Phone. I knew he was in The Leicestershire Regiment, I knew his full name and I knew when he died. Typing in those details revealed where he was buried. He lies in a Commonwealth War Grave in a village called Rousel just east of Peronne. I have the grave number and the original details of his burial. In a few minutes I was able to discover what none of Mam’s family ever knew.
Next week I am travelling to France with Vishva to visit his grave. As far as I know I will be the first relative to do so. It is appropriate to go now as he died exactly 100 years ago. We will visit on a Sunday. As I approach his grave I will remember those childhood walks to the cemetery when my family was still with us. I will remember them all. My sisters, Pat and Colleen who died much too young. My brother, Andrew who is disabled and suffers from mental health issues. I will remember my Dad’s troubled Sundays and his struggles with depression, which he never acknowledged. I will remember my Mam who never knew where her uncle was buried, just as she never knew where her oldest son, who died at birth, was laid to rest. And I will remember an uncle who went off to a foreign land to fight and die for his country in the war that should have ended all wars and didn’t. There is no glory in war that is the “old lie”. But there are memories and I will remember him, William Henry Crowson. May he rest in peace.