On my recent trip to the battlefields of France and Flanders, I spent some time visiting the graves of men who were killed alongside my Great Great Uncle during a night attack on 2nd December 1917. One hundred men from his battalion, the 11th Border Regiment, lost their lives in the attack; just 15 have a known grave with the remainder commemorated on Tyne Cot memorial.
One of those who does has a known grave is Private Alfred Merryweather, buried at Tyne Cot, plot XXXIX.C.10.
Alfred’s body was found at map reference V.23.d.7.2 (just to the right of the 11th Border Regiment’s frontage for the attack) in August 1920. Initially the body was not identified, and Alfred was due to be commemorated alongside his fallen comrades on Tyne Cot memorial. However the boots on the body were marked with a service number and text; 50022 MHN (possibly MAN). This was in fact Alfred’s previous service number, as he had initially enlisted with the 4th Manchesters.
Alfred’s headstone caught my attention with the epitaph “Some day, some time we’ll understand.” I often get asked what it is about the First World War that interests me, and it is something that I sometimes struggle to explain. Yet this epitaph, with its few short words, perhaps best articulates that reason.
There are a number of First World War headstones that feature this epitaph, but there does not appear to be a readily identifiable source for it. One can see its appeal to a grieving family, struggling to come to terms with the loss a loved one. In Alfred Merryweather’s case its choice perhaps becomes clearer with the realisation that his elder brother Charles also lost his life, less than two months earlier. His body was never recovered, or at least not identified, which gives the epitaph even more resonance as the parents maybe channelled the loss of both sons into the inscription on Alfred’s headstone.
Although separated by death, the brothers remain close, for although Charles has no known grave he is commemorated on Tyne Cot memorial, panel 58, just a few hundred feet from Alfred’s resting place. The brothers’ names are also both inscribed on their parents’ headstone in Philips Park Cemetery, Manchester.