Paying tribute to Henry Weaver

The weather was perfect on that day in October 1999 when my family visited the town of Merville in France. It was the early days of the internet and I used my dial-up connection to organise the trip, feeling quite proud of myself arranging the hotel and train and bus journeys, all without being able to speak French.

My gran, Phyllis Grace Geake, nee Weaver, had never seen her father's grave until that day. Henry James Weaver died on 8th September 1916, killed by accident in WWI when a hand-grenade detonated prematurely whilst the men were training at the base during a rest period. Ten days later, gran was born.

My gran, mum, dad, aunt, my son and I took a train from Plymouth to London, then the Eurostar under the Channel Tunnel to Lille, where we stayed in a hotel. The next day we boarded a train to Armentieres and then a bus from there to Merville. I remember the bus journey to this day as the driving was eratic and we were veering all over the place. Scary!

When we arrived at the village we found a little French cafe where they dished up the best omelette I've ever tasted. Then we made our way to the edge of the town where the cemetery was situated. Gran was 83 and had arthritis but she managed to walk there. Being October, it was quite bitter but we were all wrapped up warm and someone had carried a little seat for gran to sit on when we arrived.

This photograph always seems so poignant to me, seeing my gran sat there with her thoughts after laying the wreath I'd bought from the Royal British Legion before we left England.

Phyllis Grace Geake (nee Weaver) by her father's grave in Merville Communal Cemetery
Phyllis Grace Geake (nee Weaver) by her father's grave
in Merville Communal Cemetery

Henry is buried in the shadow of the Great Cross, alongside the two other men who died in the same accident, Lance-Sergeant AW Mead and Private JS Litchfield. He's also commemorated on the War Memorial in his home village of Curry Rivel, Somerset, and his wife's town of Tavistock, Devon.

The grave of Henry James Weaver (3 Oct 1882 - 8 Sep 1916)
The grave of Henry James Weaver (3 Oct 1882 - 8 Sep 1916)

After we all signed the Visitor's Book, we made our way back to Lille and spent another day there before coming home. I was glad we managed to take gran to Merville and she went again with my brother some time after this. It was something she always wanted to do because I know she missed not growing up with a father. In fact, she was orphaned altogether before the age of 5 but, somewhat ironically, she was the one grandparent I had who spoke about her family, even though she had virtually no memories of them.

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