Alex Dempsey finds great-great Uncle's memorial stone at Thiepval Memorial in the Somme

Date published: 03 March 2015

Discovering his relative's name on a memorial stone in a first world war cemetery in Belgium had a profound effect on Alex Dempsey.

Alex, 15, a student at Whitworth Community High School, was on a trip with The First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme along with Georgia Fish, 15, and Acting Assistant Headteacher Peter Howarth.

Alex found his great-great Uncle Anthony B Ross’s name on the memorial stone at Thiepval Memorial in the Somme.

He said: “It was so emotional. Being a big lad you are not meant to show your emotion. Even though I never knew him and his death did not affect me personally, I got a connection when I read his name; he was one of my relatives.

“I placed a poppy on a cross next to the memorial.”

With help from a serving soldier on the tour, he was also able to work out where his great-great uncle fell and where his unknown grave would most likely be.

Before making the trip, Alex and Georgia researched four soldiers from Whitworth who also died in the First World War. They managed to locate all their graves.

Georgia said: “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to visit all those places. You see books about the First World War but they never really paint a picture until you are there.

“They have also preserved trenches in the Canadian Cemetery so you get a chance to see how the soldiers lived.”

The students witnessed the Last Post and silence at the Menin Gate in Ypres, which is observed every night.

Alex said: “The cemeteries are so beautiful. They are vast and the different cemeteries have different memorials. In the Indian one there were huge statues of lions and tigers.

“It was an eye-opening experience and I hope to return again with my mum.”

Both students are taking History GCSE.

Mr Howarth said: “Our students, as well as 15 other schools, joined a four-day tour to the Western Front accompanied by professional battlefield guides and serving soldiers.

“It was so much more poignant and meaningful to remember and pay our respects to people from within our own community.

“Georgia had the great honour of laying a wreath at the Thiepval Memorial on behalf of our group and respective schools.

“Going out to the battlefields and seeing the landscape and the history of the war made it easier for students to visualise the scale of the war and the lives lost.”

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