war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper


The "We Remember" Booklet 2006



Peter Bates, by Simon Chambersr I never knew my grandfather. He died in 1917. The record says “Killed in Action” - but then in the deep and cloying mud of Ypres, old Wipers, you never know. However he died I hope it was swift. The conditions were terrible.   

I started doing my family history and amongst all the relatives in the old posed photos, there he was, in his uniform, with his wife and a little boy looking a bit dour with his centre parting. I think I would! That little boy was my father. Sadly he’s gone now too, in 1975. George Bates family, courtesy Peter Bates

There have always been “bits” lying around: my grandfather’s medal ribbons in a small brown envelope, a big round bronze plaque with his name on it, and an old letter from the grandly named Imperial War Graves Commission. And there was a ring. Well, not really a ring – half a ring. It’s probably not worth much, and it’s a bit discoloured. 

In 1986, I wrote to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to find out what I could about a grave. Private George Bates, they said, G/16787, “A” Company 1st Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment. Died on 3 October 1917, age 32. Buried in Plot 13, Row A, Grave 19 in Bedford House Cemetery, Enclosure No 4, Zillebeke, Belgium.  

Geoge Bates' ring, courtesy Peter BatesSo, I thought that I should go to Zillebeke and see his grave. The grave of my father’s father. My Dad once suggested going over to find it, but it was in the days when the continent was a world away and foreign. Not going then has grieved me ever since, because, inscribed on the gravestone is “Until the dawn breaks, from his wife and son Leslie”. Leslie, my father, never saw it, never knew that his mother, George’s wife, had asked that this should be written there.  

The old war graves letter says the half ring, with its initials GB, was sent to my grandmother to confirm that they had found George’s remains. It was cut from his finger as he lay. I have that ring. I put that half-ring on my finger and find that he had thin fingers. There is more to this story. But laying that ring on my finger now, I feel that I know him a lot better.

Peter Bates                                       

Peter Bates
George, Amelia, and Leslie Bates
the half ring

Copyright 2006 © Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved