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One small act every year to honour two lost brothers

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: August 06, 2014

  • The mud at Passchendaele where Robert Leonard Hawkins fought and, left, Ann Smith's grandson Archie Pitt, five, with his father, Paul, lays a poppy cross at the Memorial Gates for his two great-great-great- uncles who died in the First World War.

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Ann Smith, parade marshal for the Ashbourne branch of the Royal British Legion, tells the story of two soldiers, her great-uncles.

"IN Flanders Fields the poppies grow between the crosses row on row."

The words are from the poem by Major John Macrae.

My father, W H "Smudger" Smith, would often recite this to my sister and I when we were growing up.

It became our "family poem".

Ours is a story of two brothers, Robert Leonard and William Henry Hawkins (after whom who my dad was named), who were brothers to my grandmother, Granny Smith.

As young men growing up they answered the call of "Your Country Needs You" and they enlisted into the Army.

After all, everyone said that the war would be over by Christmas!

Robert Leonard Hawkins was a Private in the 10th Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment, having transferred from the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry.

He was transferred because the Gloucesters had lost hundreds of men in the conflict.

He was on the Western Front and, after landing in France on August 8, 1915, took part in the Battle of Loos, the Battles of Bazentin, Pozieres, Flers-Courcelette, Morval and the Second Battle of Passchendaele.

He received the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1914/15 Star.

He was killed in action on April 18, 1918, at the age of 21, and is buried in a war grave at the Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery at Souchez in France.

William Henry Hawkins was in the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry.

He was also in France and served in many battles including the Battle of Aisne and finally at the Battle of the Bellewaarde Ridge at Ypres. This was a complete and utter failure and more than 1,000 men were lost.

William received shrapnel wounds to the head during this battle on the June 27, 1915, and was brought back to England with his injuries and was treated in a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital in Cheltenham.

He was too ill to continue back to Shropshire and, as a result, he died in the hospital at the age of 31.

William was also was awarded the Victory Medal, the British War Medal and the 1914/15 Star.

He is buried in a war grave in Cheltenham Cemetery.

It was to the main cemetery in Cheltenham that I went with my partner, Ian, and Ian's sister and husband, who live in Cheltenham, one wet and windy Sunday morning.

I knew I was looking for a war grave and I had the grave and plot number.

The cemetery was massive so we split up. The second war grave I found was William's.

I knelt down at the grave knowing that I was the first family member to visit his grave in 99 years.

It was very emotional and, as I laid flowers, I spent time just thinking about what he and Robert had been through and how much they must have suffered and what my grandmother had been through, losing two bothers.

She never talked about them, nor did any of the family that I can remember.

We have no photos of these two brave soldiers and I know very little about them so, in a small way, I would like them to be remembered at least once a year so their deaths were not in vain.

And so it is that, every Remembrance Sunday, my grandson Archie lays two crosses at our Memorial Gates in Ashbourne in memory of his great-great-great-uncles. Our family comes together through this simple act, bringing the different generations throughout the world together to ensure that, forever more, "at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them".

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