At this morning’s launch of Pages of the Sea, Danny Boyle told us who he would be saying goodbye to on 11 November 2018.
“Walter Bleakley grew up in my home town of Radcliffe. When the war started he wasn’t in the first rush to enlist but waited until January 1915 to join up. He made the short trip to Ramsbottom along with his friend Andrew Bridge from Hawkshaw Lane End to volunteer with the East Lancashire Regiment. Another of Andrew’s boyhood friends Robert Young also stood in line – the three have consecutive army numbers.”
All three went to France later that year as reinforcements for the 1st Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment which had been fighting at the front since the start of the war. It was here they first met Platoon Sergeant Robert Smalley Jepson, who’d served in the Boer War and took a fatherly interest in the young soldiers. It seems the three friends worked for Sergeant Jepson in his quest to remember the dead of the battalion. Jepson had set up one of the first cemeteries on the Western Front at Lancashire Cottage in Belgium in 1914 and used his skills as a joiner to make crosses to mark the graves of his men killed in trench operations.
The three friends were Pioneers which meant they did the hard physical work of digging trenches, laying barbed wire and carrying supplies. But when July 1st 1916 arrived this didn’t excuse them from going over the top, on the First Day of the Somme. 07:30 was zero hour. Andrew Bridge and Walter Bleakley were both killed within minutes. Robert Young was wounded in the head, surviving only to die at Passchendaele. Walter was 26, Andrew 20.
Robert Jepson wrote to both families saying how much he would miss their cheerfulness and hard-working natures. He continued his campaign of remembrance until the end of the war and was affectionately nicknamed ”Tombstones” until his own death in 1942.
Sadly Robert Jepson was unable to mark the graves of the three friends – Walter and Andrew have no known resting place and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme. Robert Young is still missing in the Ypres Salient and is remembered on the Menin Gate.”
To say your personal goodbye visit the online gallery and find your match.