‘The Fallen: remembering a lost generation’

Written by Ian Blair


My Great Uncle George William Alfred Blair was a Londoner born in Bethnal Green in 1893, who enlisted into the Territorial Force in 1915 and was ‘Killed in Action’ in the closing months of the Great War in 1918. He was one of three brothers who fought in the conflict, my Grandfather though seriously wounded survived.

Today, 14th August 2018, marks the centenary of George’s death, and I am travelling to France to visit his grave in the small British cemetery at St Amand, in what is now peaceful countryside between Arras and Amiens. Being part of a comparatively small family, it is quite likely that I am the first of his descendants to have made the journey these past hundred years, which made me more determined to visit his grave today to pay my respects.

 

St. Amand British CemeterySt Amand British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France


Accompanying me on the journey but not returning is one of the ceramic poppies from the ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ art installation that by Remembrance Day in 2014 filled the moat of the Tower of London. Anyone who saw the installation could not help but be moved, given that each one of the 888,246 poppies represented a member of the British military killed during the Great War.

 

Blair GWA GravestoneHeadstone of George William Alfred Blair (Age 25) of the 4th Middlesex Regiment


The last address I have for George was Marian Street in Bethnal Green, a small street off the Hackney Road (now foreshortened and with all the terrace houses long gone) lying in the shadow of the Marian Place gasholders on the Regent’s Canal. Two of these iconic structures still survive, and my thoughts always turn to him whenever I pass them on my daily travels, and I contemplate our both having known them albeit a hundred years apart. I find that tangible connection and continuity with the past and to an ancestor who I have never known, or even seen a photograph of, strangely reassuring.

 

Bethnal Green gasholdersA shared past and present: the Marian Street gasholders in Bethnal Green at sunset viewed from the Regents Canal


‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them’

Requiescat in pace

 

 Journey's End

Journeys End - Photo of the red poppy in front of GWR Blair headstone