There is nothing like a mother’s love…

Blogger: GemSen

It’s Mother’s Day this Sunday and while some of us can spend the time with our mums there are others who will spend the day remembering them...

On the other end of the scale, during the First World War there was a generation of mothers who had suffered the tragedy of outliving and grieving for their sons.

A story in the Express today highlights a story of a grieving mother’s devotion and how she, despite it being forbidden, found a way to rest in peace with her beloved son, Lieutenant John Raphael, who was killed at the Battle of Messines Ridge in Belgium, June 1917.

John Raphael was buried at the military cemetery in Lijssenthoek, Flanders and Mrs Raphael’s last wish was to be buried with her war hero son but this was not allowed by the military rules of the time. Knowing this, and in ill-health in 1929, she went straight to the head groundsman, Walter Sutherland, at the cemetery to see if he could help...

Sympathetic to the plight of a whole generation of mothers who had suffered losing their sons and also husbands in many cases, Sutherland was open to her request — even at the risk of losing his job.

It’s not completely clear how the pact was made with Walter, but 13 months later a package arrived at the cemetery with Mrs Raphael's ashes and the gardener did what he had to do, in secret.

Walter found the fallen soldier’s tombstone and dug a small hole next to it burying the ashes beside it and replacing the turf before anyone knew what had happened, reported the Express.

Within a few weeks the signs of the burial were gone and the secret has remained in the workman’s family for more than 80 years. 

With the Centenary approaching, now Sutherland’s son George, 92, has decided to make public the secret passed to him by his father.

“My father was moved by her determination. He showed me where he had cut out an area of grass and slipped the urn underneath. What he did was in defiance of the rules so he knew that he could not mark her name on the grave but he said a short prayer and always said he had ‘done right’,” said George.

Walter and his family had no connection to the Raphaels but that didn’t stop them researching the soldier's background. At the outbreak of war John Raphael's dream to enter Parliament was placed on hold.

From August 1914 he served as an officer with the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment and later joined the 18th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He was hit by a German shell at St Eloi, 10 miles south of Ypres, early in the summer of 1917.  From the research it was understandable that his loss cast a shadow over the remainder of his mother’s life.

George Sutherland, who also tended the grounds at Lijssenthoek, added: “For years whenever I was planting or cutting grass near the grave I would always think about Mrs Raphael who, like all those other mothers, never recovered from losing a son in the Great War.

“I swear that my father’s actions allowed Harriette and her son to rest together in peace.”

The rules banning family burials in military cemeteries were finally relaxed in the 1960s.

Source: Express

Research your family history with Forces War records

Have you exhausted all avenues in your research? Can't find what you are looking for? Try Forces War Records and search our vast collection of records to find out more about your own ancestors  – there could be a war hero in your family just waiting to be discovered and remembered… 

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